For Synod, Families Are Evangelization’s Natural Home
by David Gibson
“The transmission of the faith from one generation to the next” always has “found a natural home in the family,” the October world Synod of Bishops said in its concluding “Message to the People of God.”
Viewing the family as evangelization’s natural home, the synod said that “a new evangelization is unthinkable without acknowledging a specific responsibility to proclaim the Gospel to families and to sustain them in their task of education.”
The synod delegates, who came to Rome for the assembly from all parts of the world, spent three weeks exploring the many dimensions and demands of the new evangelization.
Explaining what “new evangelization” means, the synod said it encompasses three efforts. It addresses those who never have heard the Gospel, fosters “continuing growth in faith” for all in the church and reaches out to Catholics who “have become distant from the church.”
When a general assembly of the synod completes its sessions, it generally releases both a “Message to the People of God” and a set of propositions that it forwards to the pope.
The propositions are intended for the pope’s possible use in developing a major document called an apostolic exhortation on the synod’s theme. The Vatican released an English text of the propositions that it described as provisional and unofficial; Latin is their official language.
It is no surprise that the synod’s concluding documents underscored the role of the church’s married couples and families in the new evangelization. After all, a number of bishops addressed this directly in brief speeches during the synod’s early days.
Furthermore, on the synod’s opening day Pope Benedict XVI spoke of matrimony as “a Gospel in itself, a good news for the world of today, especially the de-Christianized world.”
One of the synod’s 58 propositions is subtitled “The Christian Family” (No. 48). It explains:
“Established by the sacrament of matrimony, the Christian family as the domestic church is the locus and first agent in the giving of life and love, the transmission of faith and the formation of the human person according to the values of the Gospel.”
As a grandparent I appreciated what this proposition said next – that “the whole church must dedicate herself to supporting families in the catechesis of children and youth.” It added, “In many cases the grandparents will have a very important role.”
It seems noteworthy that this proposition on the family also addresses the pastoral needs of divorced Catholics who have remarried without receiving an annulment of their first marriage, as well as unmarried couples living together and some others.
“The new evangelization should strive to address significant problems around marriage, the case of the divorced and remarried, the situation of their children, the fate of abandoned spouses, couples who live together without marriage and the trend in society to redefine marriage,” the proposition states.
Accenting the church’s pastoral care for all these people, the proposition adds this exhortation:
“The church with maternal care and evangelical spirit should seek appropriate responses for these situations as an important aspect of the new evangelization.”
Similar points about divorced-remarried Catholics and certain other couples are found in the synod’s concluding message. It had been pointed out during the synod sessions that Pope Benedict recently discussed the church’s pastoral interest in divorced-remarried Catholics.
In remarks June 2 during the World Meeting of Families in Milan, Italy, the pope said that “the problem of divorced and remarried persons is one of the great sufferings of today’s church. And we do not have simple solutions.” These people are loved by the church, “but it is important they should see and feel this love,” the pope stressed.
He said that “even if it is not possible to receive absolution in confession,” divorced-remarried Catholics “can nevertheless have ongoing contact with a priest, with a spiritual guide.”
In their concluding message, the October synod delegates said their thoughts went out “to the many families and couples living together which do not reflect that image of unity and of lifelong love that the Lord entrusted to us.”
The synod conveyed a message to these couples and their families “that God’s love does not abandon anyone, that the church loves them too, that the church is a house that welcomes all, that they remain members of the church even if they cannot receive sacramental absolution and the Eucharist.”
Catholic communities were urged by the synod to “welcome all who live in such situations and support those who are in the path of conversion and reconciliation.”
Caring for Families
All the bishops who participated in the October synod, despite coming from widely diverse “geographical, cultural and social situations,” wanted to reconfirm the “essential role of the family in the transmission of the faith,” the synod noted in its “Message to the People of God.”
But the synod did not want to “ignore the fact that today the family … is assaulted by crises everywhere.” It said the family “is surrounded by models of life that penalize it and neglected by the politics of society, of which it is also the fundamental cell.” Moreover, the family “is not always respected in its rhythms and sustained in its tasks by ecclesial communities.”
That is why the synod felt impelled “to say that we must particularly take care of the family and its mission in society and in the church, developing specific paths of accompaniment before and after matrimony.”
The synod thanked “the many Christian couples and families who, through their witness, show the world an experience of communion and of service which is the seed of a more loving and peaceful society.”
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.