Bishops thanked the thousands of people who responded to the questionnaire on the theme “Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization”. These responses from the dioceses of Ireland are already helping to inform the preparations for next October’s Extraordinary Meeting of the Synod of Bishops. The responses also provide us with a framework for considering important pastoral issues regarding marriage and the family.
Support for marriage and family life is central to what the Church teaches and lives. Marriage is a sacrament, a sign of God’s love, which mirrors the love of Christ for His Church. The gift from God of the family, based on the love of wife and husband and open to life, is a gift that the Church seeks to protect and cherish. As the original cell of society, the family is essential for the formation of members of society. It is a place where generosity, tenderness, forgiveness, stability, care, acceptance, and truth can be best taught and learned. Parents are also “the first and best teachers of their children in faith”. The parish community has an important role in assisting parents in bringing their children to Jesus Christ and leading them in the ways of faith.
The responses to the Synod questionnaire identify the immense challenges faced by families in Ireland, including problems arising from severe financial hardship, unemployment and emigration, domestic violence, neglect and other forms of abuse, infidelity and constant pressures on ‘family time’ together. Some respondents expressed particular concern about the limited amount of State support for marriage and the family. These challenges form the context in which the Church in this country continues to proclaim to the world the ‘Gospel (Good News) of the family’.
We wish to encourage and accompany with love those who are struggling to live family life. Many of those who responded to the questionnaire expressed particular difficulties with the teachings on extra-marital sex and cohabitation by unmarried couples, divorce and remarriage, family planning, assisted human reproduction, homosexuality. The Church’s teaching in these sensitive areas is often not experienced as realistic, compassionate, or life-enhancing. Some see it as disconnected from real-life experience, leaving them feeling guilty and excluded. We recognise our responsibility as bishops to present faithfully the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family in a positive and engaging way, whilst showing compassion and mercy towards those who are finding difficulty in accepting or living it.
Bishops encourage all the faithful to engage in continued dialogue and discussions in these critical areas particularly over the coming two years. This will be facilitated by the Bishops’ Council for Marriage and the Family which will host a special conference on the family and marriage on 14 June next. The Extraordinary Synod in the Vatican in October will be followed by an Ordinary Assembly of the Synod in 2015, also be themed on the ‘Family’. In addition, the World Meeting of Families will take place in Philadelphia in September 2015.
Irish bishops ask people, priests and religious to pray for families and for the success of these gatherings in line with Pope Francis’ recent request in his Letter to Families on 25 February