SASKATOON/KINDERSLEY/HUMBOLDT — Gathering input for the synod on the family in Rome was part of this year’s Congress Day in the Deaneries, held in three locations across the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
As a followup to the extraordinary synod on the family last year, bishops from around the world were asked to reflect on the lineamenta — a summary document about the vocation, mission, and pastoral needs of the family in the church and in the world — and to respond to a series of questions, in order to assist in preparing for the ordinary synod of the bishops that will be held in October 2015.
Feedback gathered by the Diocese of Saskatoon — including submissions through the website and from local leadership, as well as input from the public — has been forwarded to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which will in turn prepare a response to send to the Vatican.
At each of the three diocesan Congress Day locations — in Saskatoon Feb. 28, in Kindersley March 7, and in Humboldt March 14 — Bishop Donald Bolen introduced the discussion with an overview of the synod process.
After showing a Salt + Light Television excerpt about the synod, the bishop noted the many contexts in which families around the world live and struggle — facing a huge range of issues, such as war, persecution, poverty, divorce, secularism, homelessness, displacement, and much more.
Bolen noted Pope Francis’ strong desire that the synod process involve open dialogue and frank discussion, with bishops speaking freely and fully about issues and pastoral concerns. At the same time, there was enormous interest in the synod by the media, which at times sowed confusion about whether the discussions meant the church would be changing doctrine.
“Pope Francis and others have clearly said that the church is not changing its doctrine, but it is looking at changing its pastoral response to those who are in need,” said Bolen, before citing excerpts from Pope Francis’ closing address, which earned a four-minute standing ovation from the bishops of the extraordinary synod.
Bolen noted that in responding to the synod report, the Diocese of Saskatoon is part of the worldwide process of maturing “with true spiritual discernment” proposed ideas and concrete solutions to difficulties and challenges confronted by families: “to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.”
In Kindersley, the discussion about the synod on the family report was led by diocesan Marriage Task Force members Wanda and Lynn Freistadt. In Humboldt and in Saskatoon, Mary and Phil Wrubleski of the Marriage Task Force summarized the report, known as lineamenta, outlining its guidelines and questions.
The document begins by describing the family as “a school of humanity” for a wounded world. “There are signs of trouble, but the great part though, is that the desire to marry is still very strong. People want to become family,” Mary Wrubleski said. “The family is important to the church. The church needs to rediscover the family as an agent to evangelize and to be a witness to the Christian mission.”
Wrubleski identified three parts of the document: listening, which includes a look at the context and the challenges facing the family; looking, which includes looking at Christ, as well as considering the Gospel of the family; and confronting the situation, from pastoral perspectives.
“There is a crisis of faith which points to great difficulties in marriage and family life,” she reported Mary, citing the document. “A couple of the symptoms of these challenges in society are loneliness and powerlessness.”
The negative impact of this crisis in faith is said to be seen in the difficulty of raising children, a hesitancy to welcome new life, considering the aged a burden, living together before or instead of marriage, secularization, children born outside marriage, single parent homes, blended families, absent fathers, violence against women, sexual exploitation of children, crime, and pornography. At the same time, “more people have a desire to take better care of themselves, to know themselves better, to live in harmony with their emotions and feelings, and to seek better relationships,” she related.
In turn, the church needs to offer hope, truth and support in the way of valuing marriage, humanity and the family. “Families and couples need help with their hunger for God and to feel part of the church,” summarized Mary.
Phil Wrubleski continued by noting that the document acknowledges that “in order to deal with these challenges, we need to have our gaze focused on Jesus Christ — to be rooted in Christ.”
“The family is the domestic church, the smallest unit of church. Love needs to be at the centre of the family. The document speaks of marriage as a sacrament of redemption,” he said. “The indissolubility of marriage should be seen not as a yoke but as gift. The goal is forever marriage, sacramental marriage, which, among other things, includes the giving of oneself and having an openness to life.” The church has the responsibility of helping all couples reach that fullness of God’s plan for them, he added.
As a vocation and a journey of faith, Christian marriage must be a place of evangelization for current and future generations, continued Mary. “Faith is not a refuge for the faint-hearted but something which enhances our lives. Marriage, as a vocation to love, means engaging the troubles of the world. The church needs to accompany couples along that journey. The family then is missionary to our neighbours and society.”
There is a need for more formation and training of priests, deacons, catechists and pastoral workers, as well as better preparation for couples who plan to marry, and better support for couples in their first years of marriage.
“Assistance and guidance is needed in caring for separated, divorced or single-parent families. These wonderful persons should be able to count on the church. The document asks for courageous pastoral choices to find solutions and to show love and respect as we attempt to walk in their shoes,” Mary continued. “As for those with homosexual tendencies, the synod fathers suggested there are no grounds for unions, but there needs to be respect and sensitivity. We need to listen and be present to their experience and their pain.”