02 October 2015, The Tablet

Synod on the Family: How are participants preparing

Sunday 4th October sees the reconvening of bishops in Rome to consider marriage, divorce and sexuality. Last year’s meeting brought bitter disagreements out into the open and the rows have continued to simmer ever since.

We ask participants what they have been doing to prepare themselves for the Synod on the Family...

Cardinal Angelo ScolaCardinal Angelo Scola says thinking on marriage needs to be reconsidered (PA)


Cardinal Angelo Scola
Archbishop of Milan

The wisdom of the Church has always accompanied the person on his individual journey. There are cases where a situation is open to the sacrament, and others where it is not yet so.

However the recent debates have highlighted what I consider to be an urgent matter that the synod will have to address: the thinking on marriage, settled down the centuries, needs to be reconsidered. It often consists of assumptions that undermine its unity and simplicity . We must deepen the relationship between faith and marriage, the meaning of the sacramental nature of marriage and the reasons why we cannot settle on a sort of “natural contract”.

To do so would be to reduce marriage to a exclusively human construct.


Bishop Rodrigo Aguilar Martínez
Bishop of Tehuacán, Mexico

During much of my activities - in prayer, study, pastoral activities, meetings - I'm focusing on preparation for the Synod. For example during pastoral visits to the parishes I’m close to families; whether I'm looking after individuals or at a Mass with many, I keep in mind that every person is a member of a particular family, which is the key experience and transmission of faith.

I have recently participated in several significant events on the subject of the family - the National Eucharistic Congress in Mexico, held in Monterrey from 11 to 13 September; then the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, from 22 to 27 September.

What I’ve read in recent weeks has focused on family issues, whether in books that I have received or bought, or in my email correspondence. Dangerous polarisations and opposing trends.

For me the important thing is how to be faithful to Jesus Christ and his Gospel, which is the Gospel of marriage, family and life. Fidelity means to remain united to Jesus Christ, but also learning from him how to communicate this Gospel to people today. In this way they can find the answer to their deepest concerns, the truth, goodness, beauty of being a child of God in communion with the Church that Jesus founded in healthy and fruitful ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, President of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

“These are very busy days before I leave, on Friday [2 October], for the Synod of Bishops.

“Letters and longer essays expressing peoples' thoughts and concerns about the Synod continue to arrive here every day. I am trying to read them all.

“I am also making time to read and ponder the address given by Pope Francis at his meeting with families on 22 September, in the Cathedral of Santiago, in Cuba. It is remarkable and well worth our reflection.

“My prayer for this time is the ‘Magnificat’, Mary’s hymn of thanksgiving and praise for all the great things that God has done and will do, again and again!”

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh 
President of the Bishops’ Conference of Ireland

“I found it very helpful to study the responses to the lineamenta questionnaire that were gathered from hundreds of women and men across the Archdiocese of Armagh. 

“Many people have written to me as individuals or as members of groups from right across the spectrum of opinion in relation to the more controversial issues emerging from the Extraordinary Synod. 

“I have read everything I could find and also benefited greatly from talking to married couples, and groups working in the preparation and pastoral support of marriage.

“In August I initiated “Fifty Days of Prayer” for the Synod and I am looking forward to a final intense discussion with my fellow Irish bishops in the coming days.”

Bishop Tarcisius J.M. Ngalalekumtwa of Iringa, President of Tanzania Bishops’ Conference

“In my preparations I am interested in consulting couples of committed faithful.

“I am reading the Instrumentum Laboris as my homework and task. In addition I am reading publications that give orientations to guide the synodal discussions.

“In my prayers I ask the Lord to enlighten the minds of all those in the position of guiding the Church of St. Peter to remain faithful to the Catholic [universal] doctrine regarding the sanctity and faithfulness of the commitment of marriage as a Sacrament.

“And this with the intercession of Our Lady and St. Joseph.”

Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau
President of Bishops’ Conference of Canada

“In preparing for this session of the Synod, I have had discussions with theologians, canon lawyers, bishops and priests. However, my most important consultations have been with lay men and women who are involved in faith education and sacramental preparation, as well as with married couples and individuals whose marriages have broken down. I find they keep me close to reality.

“I have read a number of papers prepared by pastoral workers and members of lay communities. One book that has caught my imagination is by the French philosopher Denis Moreau, entitled «Pour la vie: court traité sur le mariage et les séparations».

“I have tended to avoid books or articles that simply hammer away at what they consider to be 'the opposition' and am more attracted to authors who are trying to bridge the gap, whatever the particular issue may be.

“As for prayers? Three sayings of Jesus keep coming to mind: «What God has joined together, let no man separate» (Mt 19:6). «Go and learn what this means: 'I seek mercy, not sacrifice'» (Mt 9:13).   «Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.» (Mt 13:52)”

Archbishop Richard W. Smith of Edmonton, Canada
President of Catholic Bishops of Alberta 

“Together with a review of the Instrumentum Laboris, I have been preparing for the synod by consulting with judges who specialise in family law; with people who work in centres to protect women and children from domestic violence; and with young adults.

“My primary "consultation" has occurred through visits to our Catholic schools. What I see in many students is a deep anxiety. Teachers and family professionals agree that this angst stems from the lack of a stable home life.  

“My prayer is that the Synod on the Family will so turn hearts and minds to Jesus Christ that they find in him the sure foundation for their life together, and that from his Word and the teaching of his Church families will learn to be authentically family once again.”

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia

“Preparing for this Synod has been hard work, much of it attending to voices from every point of the spectrum. I’ve also been reflecting on the larger context, reading historian John O’Malley on the rise of historical consciousness at Vatican II and the Council as a language-event.

“Then I’ve been studying the Bible, especially the divorce-texts of the Synoptic Gospels.  I’ve also been trying to get my head around the sacramentality of marriage, both theologically and historically; and I’ve even been talking to canonists to try to focus on questions like the Orthodox practice of oikonomia.

“In all this, the key question has been: How can we hold to revealed truth and yet be merciful in new ways to people in tough situations? That can seem impossible at times, but there must be a way forward.”

Maria Harries
Chairwoman of Catholic Social Services, Australia
Independent Auditor

“As I reflect on the joint privilege and responsibilities associated with attending the Synod on the Family in Rome, sitting with me are ideas and messages from many thousands of Australian women and men.

“Strongly present are the diverse viewpoints from colleagues who are living out the ideals of the ‘cosmic Gospel’ by being involved in the pastoral work of our Church. They work with family diversity, complexity, brokenness and despair.

“Their key message is a plea to find a mutuality in the meeting place between the specifics of life in family and pastoral care and the universals of Catholic theology and teaching.

“There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3,1)

Bishop Eugene Hurley
Bishop of Darwin, Australia

“In our diocese we have tried hard to make sure that all voices are heard. As one third of our diocese is Indigenous, we have spent a lot of time consulting about the special needs and gifts of our Indigenous sisters and brothers.

“The cultural aspects of Indigenous families as well as the spiritual elements are so important. We also have a number of families being held in the immigration detention centre here in our diocese. These families have a special place in our hearts and our concerns.

“We have tried to listen carefully to their ‘little’ voices as they cry for help. Our diocese is wonderfully multicultural and we have an exciting richness of family life and this has encouraged us to believe we can offer something very positive.

“I’ve read a wide range of books and articles from very different points of view in an effort to gauge something of the ‘sensus fidelium’.

“However, overall, I think my best preparation for the Synod, has been living with, and among families, over fifty one years as a priest, in some of the most remote parts of our nation. I have shared their lives over those years and they have been my great source of inspiration.

“I’ve prayed that I may do whatever the Holy Spirit wants for the church. Keep us in your prayers as we draw close to this amazing moment in the life of the church. God bless."    

Pia Matthews
Lecturer in bioethics, St Mary’s University, London. Expert adviser

“My task will be to work with the Special Secretary of the Synod in the preparation of synodal documents and to assist the General Relator in the drafting of his reports.

“This involves some background reading relevant to the Instrumentum laboris for the synod. Full preparation asks not only to pray but also for prayers, so that is my request from other people.

“I am re-reading Pope John Paul's encyclical letter, Dives in Misericordia.  
“‘Be with us in the night of our fear and in the day of our overconfidence that we may keep faith with each other as you have kept faith with us in Jesus Christ our Lord.’ (Stephen Oliver)”


Rt Revd Tim Thornton
Bishop of Truro. Fraternal Delegate from the Anglican Communion

“I am preparing for the Synod by reading through the Instrumentum Laboris and other papers I have been given. 

“I am the President of the Association of Interchurch Families and so have been helped by talking with some of the officers from that group. 

“I am excited by the prospect of observing the Synod and am using the prayer at the back of the document  (Prayer to the Holy Family) as well as using the Lord’s Prayer which is the Christian family prayer.

“I am consulting with the Archbishops and other bodies both in this country and across the Communion who are interested in and represent aspects of life relating to the vocation and mission of the Family."

Mgr Mario Grech
Bishop of Gozo, Malta

“After the positive experience of the consultation process that took place in preparation for the Extraordinary Synod of 2014, the Diocese of Gozo embarked on another consultation process.

“Delegates appointed by the bishop organised assemblies in the parishes and took feedback from the faithful and catholic movements regarding the upcoming Synod’s Lineamenta.

“Moreover, the inter-diocesan Theological Commission was asked to discuss the Lineamenta and provide the Maltese bishops with its contributions and reflections. 

“Last 22 June, during the feast of Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu at the National Shrine, bishop Mario Grech urged all the faithful to pray for the Synod and wrote to Pope Francis expressing the faithful’s commitment to accompany him and the synodal fathers in this time of preparation with the prayer of the Rosary. 

“Moreover, in a Pastoral Letter issued by the Bishop in August entitled Balm of Mercy for the Family, he shared his reflections on the various challenges facing the families and the situation of the divorced who are in a second relationship.

“Referring to the teachings of the Church Fathers, he concluded that: “One is hopeful that in the coming Synod, Our Mother the Church, while remaining faithful to the Gospel of the Family, and sustains those families who are “steady” on their feet, seeks to be faithful to the Gospel of God’s Mercy, and as She acted in the remote forgotten past, today succeeds to find the pathways which would enable those who, in spite of the fact that they did not succeed in their first marriage/relationship, and hope in God’s mercy, to savour the delicacies of God love.”   


Bishop Mario Iceta Gavicagogeascoa
Bishop of Bilbao, Spain

“The Synod is an event of singular importance, which manifests itself in the communion of the Church.

“A group of bishops from all parts of the world, we will gather around the Holy Father to pray, reflect and make proposals in a climate of dialogue and peaceful communion.

“It is the Holy Father who has asked for the help of the Synod, proposing the topics and how they should be treated. This synod will discuss the vocation and mission of the Church in the world today. 

“I consulted mainly with other bishops who can give me helpful guidance on the subject, I have also consulted many couples involved in family ministry, as well as people who work in family counseling centers and members of religious congregations working in education, pastoral, family and social issues. I consulted sociologists, economists and political scientists. 

“I reread the recent Magisterium of the Church regarding these issues. Also documents concerning how the preceding synod dealt with the current challenges of the family and the Instrumentum Laboris that we have been provided with for this synod.

“I also read works of theologians concerned with marriage and family issues. I've looked at canon law and the contributions that many people have sent me.

“With all this, in the light of the Holy Spirit and in an atmosphere of prayer and reflection, I've been taking notes to help me make contributions on the theme of the conference.

“I pray repeatedly that the Holy Spirit will enlighten the work that we will soon begin." 


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