The synod’s halfway mark; “the drama continues”

VATICAN CITY — Meeting the press after the reading of the synod’s midterm report, leaders of the assembly told reporters the document is very much a work in progress and that already that morning many synod members suggested changes and phrases that need more precision or greater study.

Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, the synod relator who led the drafting of the report and read it to the assembly this morning, said it was a huge challenge, for example, to take a theme 30 bishops spoke about — in different languages and with different terminology — and synthesize it.

Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio “Chito” Tagle, one of the synod presidents, described the report as “a mirror,” reflecting the first week of discussion. However, he said, it is a provisional document and will be the object of discussion in small groups, which will propose amendments to the text. “The drama continues,” he said.

Cardinal Erdo said there already were calls from synod members to include in the text a recognition that there exist “disordered forms of cohabitation,” but there were even more calls to give greater emphasis to “the special value of marriage lived according to God’s plan.”

Even once the synod concludes Oct. 19 — with the final report being voted on Oct. 18 — the work will not be over. Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, special secretary of the synod, told reporters that the hope is that bishops around the world will discuss the final report with their people, especially married and other lay Catholics, and bring their reflections to the 2015 world Synod of Bishops on the family.

Several questions focused on the midterm report’s seeming openness to gay people and to Catholics who have been divorced and civilly remarried; the bishops were asked about the lack of clear-cut statements.

Archbishop Forte told them, “There is always a risk, especially for those called to be a teacher or a prophet, to want to cut things with a hatchet,” responding with a simple yes or no. But the complexity of a situation must be studied first. “One who does not use this logic risks judging the person rather than understanding them,” and understanding is the aim of the synod.

A recurring theme at the news conference was how the synod on the family reflected or continued in the line of the Second Vatican Council, which met 1962-1965.

Cardinal Tagle said the experience was like the Second Vatican Council in that it was striving to be “a church that is not self-absorbed, a church that knows how to exist as a missionary church, listening and dialoguing with the contemporary world. I think that is what the synod fathers were affirming.”

Archbishop Forte said taking seriously the idea that the church on earth can grow in holiness means “to place ourselves in a position of listening, which is one of the most beautiful experiences we are living in this synod.”

The listening, he said, applies also to the church’s attitude toward members who are not fully living church teaching on marriage and the family, yet are trying to love another person faithfully and responsibly.

The sense of the document is to “welcome the positive wherever it is found. And it certainly does exist,” he said. “To discern, to appreciate all that is positive in these experiences is an exercise of intellectual honesty and of pastoral charity.”

Synod synopsis: What’s being said behind closed-doors

Synod 2014

VATICAN CITY — The latest discussions coming out of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family are continuing to focus on the challenges today’s families face.

This morning the auditors — almost all of them lay couples or individuals — took the floor to explain the pastoral situations they face and the approaches they take in their work to help families. Today’s briefing also covered talks by the synod fathers from yesterday afternoon.

Here are a few highlights of the latest that’s unfolding:

The church needs to show its concern for children who are living in broken families, one bishop told the assembly.

One idea is to set up “support groups,” so kids — so often the victims in difficult family situations — can get additional help. Kids who find care  and support in the church also can be a bridge for getting the parents back to the church, some said.

 —-

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, the English press briefer, said the same bishop wanted to see this focused pastoral care extended to all children, emphasizing that kids of same-sex couples shouldn’t be denied the sacraments because of their parents’ irregular situation.

 —-

One “new element” that emerged in discussions was the idea of a “penitential journey” for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told journalists this topic received “detailed and intense” discussion.

One synod father offered a model of how couples would have to reflect on a number of questions, like the impact their divorce has on the children and spouse, and how the damage and errors could be repaired.

It’s not “a simple solution,” but it would be part of a wider, longer journey of reconciliation to bring the couple back to the church.

 —-

Talks continued on the need to streamline the process of verifying the nullity of some marriages. Now with the new commission Pope Francis has created for this task, synod fathers expressed hopes some agreement could be reached on a simple and uniform procedure for the whole church.

Synod participants also wanted to see more lay judges, especially women, working on marriage tribunals.

People also recognized that engaged couples often see the marriage preparation course as “an imposition” or “a duty” to put up with so there ends up being no real learning or appreciation for the teachings.

Courses then become too brief and are spending too much time on “social and juridical” matters rather than the religious and spiritual side of the vocation of marriage. Marriage should have the same lengthy and intense preparation and follow-up care as religious vocations have, according to today’s briefing.

 —-

Attention again turned to the unfair pressure Western countries put on African nations by giving economic aid only when a recipient country promises to promote abortion, contraception and same-sex unions — things that go against not just church teaching, but traditional cultures as well, assembly members said.

“Our poverty doesn’t mean we have no dignity,” Father Rosica quoted one synod participant as saying.

 —-

Jocelyne Khoueiry, a synod expert who spoke to reporters at today’s news conference, said everyone agrees that the indissolubility of marriage is sacred and must not be changed. However, two different approaches for protecting this truth have emerged, she said.

The ideal situation is for the church to use God and his mercy as its guide and “integrate the truth of marriage” without compromise while being close to those who are suffering, she said.

 —-

The synod assembly put out a message of support for all families who are affected by the world’s conflicts, especially families from Iraq and Syria.

Thanking the world community for the assistance they’ve shown so far, “we invite people of good will to offer the necessary aid and help to the innocent victims of the barbarity underway,” the synod fathers wrote.

 —-

And lastly, it’s the final blow to Latin at the synod.

After Pope Francis switched the synod’s official language from Latin to Italian, Father Lombardi now said the small working groups — that have now been set up and are divided up by language — would not have a Latin group. Miseret Latin lovers!

Vatican rule: “No Tweeting from synod hall”

VATICAN CITY — Many members of the Synod of Bishops have Twitter and other social media accounts. But they won’t be tweeting or posting from the synod hall.

Obviously, Pope Francis as the church’s chief legislator is free to ignore that rule given this morning by Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the synod. But he can also appeal to the fact that his @Pontifex tweets are posted from the Apostolic Palace and not the synod hall.

Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris (on Twitter @avingttrois), Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach of Barcelona (@sistachcardenal) and Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa (@CardinalNapier) all spoke at the synod this morning, but you would not know that from their Twitter feeds.

Cardinal Baldisseri made his announcement after the morning prayer and brief remarks by Pope Francis. A couple dozen photographers, camera operators and reporters are allowed into the synod hall each morning for the opening prayer. We were not told we couldn’t Tweet. So we did.

popeinhousenexttweets

The synod by the numbers

VATICAN CITY — The extraordinary Synod of Bishops formally opens with Mass Sunday and begins its working sessions at the Vatican Monday morning.

Synod 2014Pope Francis is expected to attend all of the working sessions, along with 253 other people.

By the numbers:

— 191 voting members are expected: 162 attending because of the office they hold (114 presidents of bishops’ conferences, 25 heads of Vatican offices, 13 heads of Eastern Catholic churches, and 10 members of the synod council); three elected by the men’s Union of Superiors General; and 26 named by Pope Francis.

— Of the 191, 42 come from Africa, 38 from the Americas, 29 from Asia, 78 from Europe and four from Oceania and the South Pacific. The voting members include 61 Latin-rite cardinals, one Eastern-rite cardinal, seven Eastern patriarchs, 67 archbishops, 47 bishops, one auxiliary bishop and seven priests.

— The synod members will be assisted by 16 synod staff members and appointed experts (also referred to as collaborators), including one married couple. Members also will hear from and work in small groups with 38 observers (auditors), including 12 married couples.

— In addition, eight other Christian churches and communities will send delegates as a sign of their shared concern for the pastoral care of families today.

Participants in the 2012 Synod of Bishops in the Vatican synod hall with Pope Benedict XVI. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Participants in the 2012 Synod of Bishops in the Vatican synod hall with Pope Benedict XVI. (CNS/Paul Haring)

 

Pope Francis’ baseball moment

By now, more than 24 hours after it happened, there are probably only a few dozen people who haven’t seen Pope Francis bobble the baseball thrown to him from the stands — er, the crowd of pilgrims — at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square yesterday.

If you’re one who hasn’t seen it, watch this closely:

Here’s a better shot, taken by Claudio Peri and distributed by the European Pressphoto Agency:

Pope Francis reaches out to grab a baseball thrown by someone in the crowd as he leaves his general audience in St. Peter's Square Sept. 24.  (CNS photo/Claudio Peri, EPA)

Pope Francis reaches out to grab a baseball thrown by someone in the crowd as he leaves his general audience in St. Peter’s Square Sept. 24. (CNS photo/Claudio Peri, EPA)

As you can see in the video, Pope Francis leaps and almost catches the high throw. According to Rafael Walter, who posted the “Popeball” video to YouTube, the toss was made by a member of the Koeppel family from St. Edward’s Church in Palm Beach, Fla., reportedly in the hope of raising money for their parish.

For anyone who knows baseball, the error is on the throw, not on the attempted catch.

Scenes from the pope’s garden at Castel Gandolfo

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy — Even though Pope Francis has decided not to head out to the cooler climes of Castel Gandolfo for the summer, members of the CNS Rome Bureau decided to spend a morning there.

The director of the papal villas, Osvaldo Gianoli, gave us a three-hour tour to promote the opening of the gardens to the public — when they buy a ticket and follow a guide.

In addition to our story and video about the visit, I thought I would share some more of the photos taken by our intern, Henry Daggett.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The pope is setting aside a special day for those in their ‘Golden Years’

VATICAN CITY — Celebrate Grandparents’ Day with Pope Francis at the Vatican!

The Vatican is inviting the world’s older generation to a special day and Mass with the pope in St. Peter’s Square.

All you have to do is “apply” to request attendance by writing to events@family.va or by sending a fax to +39.06.698.87272.poster elderly

 

“The Blessing of Long Life” event will be held Sunday Sept. 28 — the world day of prayer for the synod of bishops on the family — and a few weeks after National Grandparents’ Day in the U.S. (a number of countries celebrate Grandparents’ Day sometime in September or October).

The Pontifical Council for the Family, which is organizing the event, has chosen verse 18 from Psalm 71 as the theme for the day:

“Now that I am old and gray,
do not forsake me, God,
That I may proclaim your might
to all generations yet to come…”

 

Pope Francis very forcefully reminds people of the untapped riches our elders have to offer with their life experiences, faith and wisdom. He has said communities that do not care for and respect the elderly don’t have a future because they’ll be rootless without their memories.

Pope accepts kiss from elderly woman during general audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Pope Francis greets an elderly woman in a wheelchair during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square March 5, 2014. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The pope once said that, when he is feeling blue, he loves to read chapter 26 of Deuteronomy, which talks about God’s plan of letting new generations reap the fruits of their elders.

“To look at the elderly is to recognize that that man made his life’s path toward me…to realize that I am just one more link, that I have to honor those who have preceded me and that I have to allow myself to be honored by those who are going to follow.

…The wisdom of the elderly has helped me a lot and that’s why, time and again, I tend to venerate them.”

— then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in the book, “On Heaven and Earth”