Speaking at a candlelight prayer vigil in St Peter’s Square on the eve of the opening of the synod of bishops on the family, Pope Francis made clear that he wants ‘the synod fathers’ to listen attentively to God and to the cry of the people, and to keep their sights fixed firmly on Jesus and do “whatever” he tells them.
He described the coming together of the 191 synod fathers with the Bishop of Rome as “an event of grace, in which episcopal collegiality is manifested in a journey of spiritual and pastoral discernment.”
He urged the synod fathers who were present at the vigil and the 80,000 faithful who had gathered in the square to pray with him for the successful outcome of this extraordinary assembly which, many analysts think, could prove to be a watershed in his pontificate and indeed in the life of the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis told the synod fathers that they have come together for two weeks (October 5-19) “to find out what the Lord wants of his Church today”. To discover this, he said, they “must listen to the heartbeat of this time (in history) and sense ‘the smell’ of the people today, so as to be impregnated by their joys and hopes, their sadness and anxieties”. He assured them that if they do this then “we will be able to propose the good news about the family with credibility.”
He asked the Holy Spirit to give them three things. First of all “the gift of listening: to listen to God so as hear with him the cry of the people; and to listen to the people, to the point of inhaling the will to which God is calling us”.
In addition to this, he prayed that the synod fathers “be willing to have a sincere, open and fraternal confrontation that will lead us to take pastoral responsibility for the questions that this change of epoch brings with it.”
His third request is that the synod fathers “fix their gaze on Jesus Christ”, because if they assume his way of thinking, living and relating then they will not have to struggle to translate the synod’s work into pastoral directions and guidelines, but will “do whatever he tells them”.
With those three attitudes, he said, their discussion on the family at the synod will become “a providential occasion” for “the renewal of the Church and society”.
Pope Francis concluded by praying that “the wind of Pentecost” may blow on the work of the synod, on the Church and on humanity and “undo the knots that prevent people from encountering each other, heal the wounds that are bleeding, rekindle hope, because so many are without hope” and “grant us creative charity so that we may love as Jesus loves”.
With his homily this evening at the prayer vigil, and his homilies at morning mass in recent weeks, Pope Francis has been sending signals to the synod fathers about the open and merciful attitude they should adopt in facing the big questions of the day.
Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the synod, speaking to the press on October 3 recalled that Pope Francis has convened this synod “because the family today is different to what it was 33 years ago when John Paul II published his apostolic exhortation ‘On the role of the Christian family in the modern world’ (‘Familiaris Consortio’).”
Furthermore, he said, “the Christian religion is a history, not an ideology. We can speak about the family from the doctrinal point of view or from the pastoral perspective. And there is theological development, all theologians say this. All is not static, we walk in history. There is a door that has been closed up to now, but Pope Francis wants to open it.”