POPE Francis has asked Catholics to pray each day for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the family.
He also appealed for the Church so that it could be even more “dedicated and united in the witness of the truth of God’s love and mercy for the families of the world, (with) no one excluded either inside or outside the flock”.
Prayers, “not gossip”, were needed for the synod, and “I invite even those who feel distanced or those who aren’t used to it to pray”, he said at his weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square yesterday (March 25).
The Pope dedicated his catechesis to the day’s feast of the Annunciation of the Lord and the 20th anniversary of St John Paul II’s landmark encyclical on the value and inviolability of human life, “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”). The day also marked the Day for Life in some countries.
Meanwhile, in England, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster urged priests to end debating the upcoming synod on the family in the press after more than 450 priests published a letter calling on the Church to retain the prohibition on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Holy Communion.
“Every priest in England and Wales has been asked to reflect on the synod discussion. It is my understanding that this has been taken up in every diocese, and that channels of communication have been established,” Cardinal Nichols, who is president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said in a statement yesterday (March 25).
“The pastoral experience and concern of all priests in these matters are of great importance and are welcomed by the bishops. Pope Francis has asked for a period of spiritual discernment. This dialogue, between a priest and his bishop, is not best conducted through the press,” the statement said.
Set to appear in the March 27 edition of the London-based Catholic Herald, the priests’ letter explained that it was written partly to counter “confusion” over the moral teaching of the Church as a result of some synod fathers pushing for a relaxation of the ban on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion.
It was signed by 461 priests and appeared on the website of the weekly magazine on Tuesday (March 24).
“We wish, as Catholic priests, to restate our unwavering fidelity to the traditional doctrines regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality, founded on the word of God and taught by the Church’s magisterium for two millennia,” the priests wrote.
“We commit ourselves anew to the task of presenting this teaching in all its fullness, while reaching out with the Lord’s compassion to those struggling to respond to the demands and challenges of the Gospel in an increasingly secular society,” the letter continued.
“Furthermore we affirm the importance of upholding the Church’s traditional discipline regarding the reception of the sacraments, and that doctrine and practice remain firmly and inseparably in harmony,” the letter said.
The priests concluded their letter by urging all participants of synod on the family October 4-25 at the Vatican “to make a clear and firm proclamation of the Church’s unchanging moral teaching, so that confusion may be removed, and faith confirmed”.
At his audience, Pope Francis said the day was “a little special” in his series of general audience talks on the family as it represented “a break for prayer”.
Special prayer cards with the Pope’s prayer for the synod on the family were distributed to the more than 17,000 people who turned out in the pouring rain for the audience.
The Pope asked people to keep the card with them and recite the prayer as often as possible. He led the people both in the prayer on the card and in reciting the Hail Mary.
He said the Hail Mary touched upon “the beauty of this bond” between God and the family – the beauty of God wanting to be born a child into a real human family.
St John Paul’s encyclical, Pope Francis said, explained the importance of the family as “the womb of human life” and as an institution blessed by God to be a community of love and life, entrusted with “the mission of procreation”.
In fact, Pope Francis said, “the bond between the Church and family is sacred and inviolable” as the Church “is solemnly committed to taking care of the family”, which was a gift of God, in good times and bad.
“The Church, as mother, never abandons the family even when it is disheartened, wounded and demeaned in so many ways,” he said, “not even when (the family) stumbles in sin or distances itself from the Church.”
The Church, he said, “will do everything to try to take care of it and heal it, invite it to conversion and reconcile it with the Lord”.
Given that commitment, the Pope said, the Church needed prayers that were “full of love for the family and for life” and a community of people who knew “how to rejoice with those who rejoice and suffer with those who suffer”.
Pope Francis asked that prayers and the synodal process itself be driven by “the compassion of the Good Shepherd for his flock, especially for people and families who, for different reasons, are ‘troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd'”.
Prayers for the synod were for “the good of everyone”, he added.