A family runs in a 100-meter relay race on the main road leading to St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Oct. 20. The Year of Faith event drew several hundred people, including Olympics champs, disabled people and children.
Catholic News Service
Here is an unsigned editorial from the Oct. 17 issue of Catholic New York, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York.
By calling an extraordinary Synod of Bishops to discuss the "pastoral challenges of the family," Pope Francis made it clear that the situation of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics will get a full hearing at the two-week Vatican forum next October.
That's a welcome development, and an indication of the importance the pope places on the role of families in the body of the church and the critical need to address the problems they face.
In particular, the thorny question of Communion for Catholics who remarry without first getting a church annulment is sure to be on the table. The pope himself has hinted several times that he might be open to changes, possibly along the lines of the Orthodox tradition which allows more leeway in remarriage.
In remarks to reporters on the papal plane returning from Rio de Janeiro in July, he said that the next synod would cover that topic as it explores a "somewhat deeper pastoral care of marriage."
Church law governing marriage annulments also "has to be reviewed because ecclesiastical tribunals are not sufficient for this," Pope Francis said.
"It is complex, the problem of the pastoral care of marriage," he said, adding that the church must "find a form of mercy for all."
Indeed, the announcement of the extraordinary synod -- only the third such gathering since Pope Paul VI reinstituted synods in 1965 -- coincided with new guidelines issued by the Archdiocese of Freiburg, Germany, making it easier for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.
Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, commenting on the Freiburg move, rightly observed that such matters were more properly dealt with at a church-wide level and that Pope Francis "is placing the pastoral care of the family at the heart of a synod process that will be larger, involving the reflection of the universal church."
For many divorced and remarried Catholic couples, that reflection cannot come soon enough. Although they've always been welcome at Mass, the fact that they are not eligible to receive Communion leaves a great void. Many families, feeling excluded, have left the church as a result.
We also know, as do the church fathers, that the rate of Catholics getting married in church ceremonies is on the wane and that divorce levels, while down from the recent past, are still disturbingly high.
That's why a synod discussion of marriage is such a positive step. It's a major pastoral outreach to a huge number of Catholic men and women. Something that can, we believe, draw them -- and by extension, their children -- closer to the church.
More than any other sacrament, matrimony involves not just an individual Catholic and not just a husband and wife. It involves a family, and there should be no doubt that families who are seeking God in the church should be welcomed and embraced.