- Trying to square the circle
The opening days of the Synod on the Family have revealed distinct differences of opinion between the participants. How can their commitment to church teaching be matched with compassion for those who struggle with it?
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The Church in the World
Pope Francis has told members of religious orders they need to be prophets who can “wake up the world”, saying a younger generation that is living in what he referred to as “complex situations” especially needs them as its teachers. Previously, the Vatican provided only a brief summary of the topics the Pope touched upon in his closed-door conversation on 29 November with the Religious superiors (see The Church in the World, 7 December 2013). However, in late December, the Italian media engaged in a flurry of speculation on whether the Pope’s references at the time to children with parents in “anomalous unions” implied a new approval of gay unions.
Lengthy excerpts from what Pope Francis said were then made public on 3 January by Fr Antonio Spadaro SJ, editor of the Italian Jesuit fortnightly Civiltà Cattolica. “Education today is a key, key, key mission!” the Pope said during the three-hour conversation in November with 120 international heads of men’s communities. He said teachers needed to find new ways of proclaiming Christ, particularly to so many youngsters whose parents are separated or in same-sex relationships.
“The situation in which we live now provides us with challenges which sometimes are difficult for us to understand,” he said. Recalling his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he said: “I remember the case of a very sad little girl who finally confided in her teacher the reason for her state of mind: ‘my mother’s fiancée [girlfriend] doesn’t like me’.” Given such situations, the Pope said, teachers “must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith” to a changing generation.
On 6 January, the director of the Holy See’s press office, Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, issued an explanatory note. “Education and the proclamation of faith”, noted Fr Lombardi, “of course cannot ignore this reality and must be attentive to the welfare of future generations, affectionately accompanying them in their current context.”
However, Fr Lombardi said the topic had been “forced … so as to appear in some cases as a manipulation”. Speaking of an “openness to gay couples” is paradoxical, he said, “because the Pope’s speech is overall general and because even the small concrete example [of the sad little girl] alludes to the suffering of children”. The Pope had “absolutely not expressed” his opinions on a debate on gay unions that was ignited in Italy a month later.
In other details that emerged of the 29 November conversation, Pope Francis told the Religious to “follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way”. “Be witnesses of a different way of doing things, of acting, of living! It is possible to live differently in this world,” Francis said. The 120 superiors raised a series of concerns the Jesuit Pope then discussed with them including formation of members, relations between orders and bishops and inculturation of an order’s charism.
“The ghost to fight against is the image of religious life understood as an escape or hiding place,” Francis said regarding the discernment of candidates. “Formation is a work of art, not a police action. We must form their hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mould the People of God. And this really gives me goose bumps,” he confided. “In the end we must not form administrators, managers, but fathers, brothers, travelling companions,” he added.
Francis announced that he was going to dedicate 2015 as the Year for Religious.