THE DIFFICULT AND CHALLENGING SYNOD ON THE FAMILY
By Bishop Arnold Orowae DD
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of PNG & SI
We spent the first week of the Synod (Oct 5-19) in Rome listening to about 260 interventions from cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and lay people concerning marriage and family life. The problems shared ranged from divorce and remarriage, polygamy, cultural marriages, arranged marriages, forced marriages, indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage, the good and richness of marriage, homosexuality, cohabitation. All the representatives were given a chance to talk. And Pope Francis encouraged everybody to really speak frankly. A good number of couples and lay people were also invited and participated in the Synod. They gave moving life testimonies. It was a good listening experience for us the Synod Fathers. Pope Francis took part in all the meetings except on Wednesdays when the general audience with the pilgrims was scheduled in St. Peter’s Square.
For the second week of the Synod we were put into working groups of ten and divided into four language groups: Italian, French, Spanish, and English. We went through all the topics raised during the previous week. There was a good amount of expectations from the Synod partially fuelled by the media. For some the Church was going too ahead, abandoning the traditional path on family teachings; for others it appeared to be resisting necessary changes. The secretariat was asked to remind everybody that our meeting was only the first part of a process to be completed with further discussion in the dioceses and another Synod scheduled for 4-25 October 2015. This will provide the Holy Father and the Church in general with more comprehensive and definite suggestions and guidelines.
The Synod was aware of the fact that marriage and family life are going through many difficulties nowadays and face new challenges. There is a need to stay on course with traditional Catholic doctrine on marriage and the family; at the same time we need to attend with tenderness, love and mercy to people who find themselves in a difficult situation with an irregular union or a broken family.
The reports of the working groups were summarized in the 62 paragraphs of the “Relatio Synodi” (Synod’s Report) and voted one by one by the 183 Synod Fathers in attendance on 18 October (nine were absent). They all received at least two thirds of favourable votes except the three dealing with the pastoral care of remarried divorcees and homosexual persons, which received only an absolute majority and will need further discussion. The “Relatio Synodi” will serve as official working document (Instrument Laboris) for the preparation of the 2015 final Assembly of the Synod on the “Pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization”.
I invite everybody in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands to pray that the Holy Spirit may guide the Church and her leadership to find ways that will ease tensions and clarify issues. We need to understand how we can best serve, preserve and promote marriage and family life in our time.