SYNOD OF BISHOPS
III EXTRAORDINARY GENERAL ASSEMBLY
PASTORAL CHALLENGES TO THE FAMILY
IN THE CONTEXT OF EVANGELIZATION
I. Synod: Family and Evangelization
The mission of preaching the Gospel to all creation, entrusted
directly by the Lord to his disciples, has continued in the Church throughout
history. The social and spiritual crisis, so evident in today’s world, is
becoming a pastoral challenge in the Church’s evangelizing mission concerning
the family, the vital building-block of society and the ecclesial community.
Never before has proclaiming the Gospel on the Family in this context been more
urgent and necessary. The importance of the subject is reflected in the fact
that the Holy Father has decided to call for a Synod of Bishops, which is to
have a two-staged itinerary: firstly, an Extraordinary General Assembly in 2014,
intended to define the “status quaestionis” and to collect the bishops’
experiences and proposals in proclaiming and living the Gospel of the Family in
a credible manner; and secondly, an Ordinary General Assembly in 2015 to seek
working guidelines in the pastoral care of the person and the family.
Concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago have arisen today
as a result of different situations, from the widespread practice of
cohabitation, which does not lead to marriage, and sometimes even excludes the
idea of it, to same-sex unions between persons, who are, not infrequently,
permitted to adopt children. The many new situations requiring the Church’s
attention and pastoral care include: mixed or inter-religious marriages; the
single-parent family; polygamy; marriages with the consequent problem of a
dowry, sometimes understood as the purchase price of the woman; the caste
system; a culture of non-commitment and a presumption that the marriage bond can
be temporary; forms of feminism hostile to the Church; migration and the
reformulation of the very concept of the family; relativist pluralism in the
conception of marriage; the influence of the media on popular culture in its
understanding of marriage and family life; underlying trends of thought in
legislative proposals which devalue the idea of permanence and faithfulness in
the marriage covenant; an increase in the practice of surrogate motherhood (wombs
for hire); and new interpretations of what is considered a human right.
Within the Church, faith in the sacramentality of marriage and the healing power
of the Sacrament of Penance show signs of weakness or total abandonment.
Consequently, we can well understand the urgency with which the
worldwide episcopate is called upon to gather cum et sub Petro to address
these challenges. For example, by simply calling to mind the fact that, as a
result of the current situation, many children and young people will never see
their parents receive the sacraments, then we understand just how urgent are the
challenges to evangelization arising from the current situation, which can be
seen in almost every part of the “global village”. Corresponding in a particular
manner to this reality today is the wide acceptance of the teaching on divine
mercy and concern towards people who suffer on the periphery of societies,
globally and in existential situations. Consequently, vast expectations exist
concerning the decisions which are to be made pastorally regarding the family. A
reflection on these issues by the Synod of Bishops, in addition to it being much
needed and urgent, is a dutiful expression of charity towards those entrusted to
the Bishops’ care and the entire human family.
II. The Church and the Gospel on the Family
The good news of divine love is to be proclaimed to all those
personally living this basic human experience of couples and of a communion open
to the gift of children, which is the family community. The teachings of the
faith on marriage is to be presented in an articulate and efficacious manner, so
that it might reach hearts and transform them in accordance with God’s will,
made manifest in Jesus Christ.
The citation of biblical sources on marriage and family in this
document are essential references only. The same is true for documentation from
the Magisterium which is limited to that of a universal character, including
some texts from the Pontifical Council for the Family. It will be left to the
bishop-participants at the synod to cite documents from their own episcopal
In every age, and in the many different cultures, the teaching of the
Pastors has been clear nor has there been lacking the concrete testimony of
believers — men and women — in very diverse circumstances who have lived the
Gospel of the family as an inestimable gift for their life and their children.
The commitment for the next Extraordinary Synod is inspired and sustained by the
desire to communicate this message with greater incisiveness, in the hope that
“the treasure of revelation, entrusted to the Church, more and more fill the
hearts of each person” (DV, 26).
The Plan of God, Creator and Redeemer
The beauty of the biblical message on the family has its roots in the creation
of man and woman, both made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen
1:24-31; 2:4-25). Bound together by an indissoluble sacramental bond, those who
are married experience the beauty of love, fatherhood, motherhood, and the
supreme dignity of participating in this way in the creative work of God.
In the gift of the fruit of their union, they assume the
responsibility of raising and educating other persons for the future of
humankind. Through procreation, man and woman fulfill in faith the vocation of
being God’s collaborators in the protection of creation and the growth of the
Pope John Paul II commented on this aspect in
consortio: “God created man in his own image and likeness (cf. Gen
1:26, 27): calling him to existence through love, he called him at the same time
for love. God is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8) and in himself he lives a mystery of
personal loving communion. Creating the human race in his own image and
continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman
the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion (Gaudium
et spes, 12). Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every
human being” (FC, 11).
The plan of God the creator, which was disrupted by original sin (cf.
Gen 3:1-24), has revealed itself throughout history in the events of the
chosen people up to the fullness of time, when, with the incarnation of the Son
of God, not only was the divine will for salvation confirmed, but also the
redemption offering the grace to follow this same will.
The Son of God, the Word made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14) in the womb
of the Virgin Mother, lived and grew up in the family of Nazareth and
participated at the wedding at Cana, where he added importance to the
festivities with the first of his “signs” (cf. Jn 2:1-11). In joy, he
welcomed his reception in the families of his disciples (cf. Mk 1:29-31;
2:13-17) and consoled the bereaved family of his friends in Bethany (cf. Lk
10:38- 42; Jn 11:1-44 ).
Jesus Christ restored the beauty of matrimony, proposing once again
the one plan of God which was abandoned because of the hardness of the human
heart, even within the tradition of the people of Israel (cf. Mt 5:31-32;
19:3-12; Mk 10:1-12; Lk 16:18). Returning to the beginning, Jesus
taught the unity and faithfulness of the husband and wife, refuting the practice
of repudiation and adultery.
Precisely through the extraordinary beauty of human love — already
celebrated in a heightened manner inspired by the Song of Songs, and the
bond of marriage called for and defended by the prophets like Hosea (cf.
Hosea 1:2, 3.3) and Malachi (cf. Mal 2:13-16) — , Jesus affirmed the
original dignity of the married love of man and woman.
The Church's Teaching on the Family
Even in the early Christian community the family appeared as the
“domestic church” (cf. CCC, 1655): In the so-called “family canons” of
the Apostolic letters of the New Testament, the great family of the ancient
world is identified as the place of a profound solidarity between husbands and
wives, between parents and children, and between the wealthy and the poor (cf.
Eph 5:21-6:9; Col 3:18-4:1; 1 Tim 2:8-15; Titus
2:1-10; 1 Pt 2:13-3:7; cf. also the Letter to Philemon). In
particular, the Letter to the Ephesians recognized the nuptial love between man
and woman as “the great mystery”, making present in the world the love of Christ
and the Church (cf. Eph 5:31-32 ).
Over the centuries, especially in modern times to the present, the
Church has not failed to continually teach and develop her doctrine on the
family and marriage which founded her. One of its highest expressions has been
proposed by the
Second Vatican Council in the Pastoral Constitution
et spes, which, in treating certain pressing problems, dedicated an entire
chapter to the promotion of the dignity of marriage and the family, as seen in
the description of their value for the constitution of society: “the family, in
which the various generations come together and help one another grow wiser and
harmonize personal rights with the other requirements of social life, is the
very foundation of society” (GS, 52). Particularly striking is its appeal
for a Christ-centered spirituality in the spouses’ life of faith: "Let the
spouses themselves, made to the image of the living God and enjoying the
authentic dignity of persons, be joined to one another in equal affection,
harmony of mind and the work of mutual sanctification. Thus, following Christ
who is the principle of life, by the sacrifices and joys of their vocation and
through their faithful love, married people can become witnesses of the mystery
of love which the Lord revealed to the world by his dying and his rising up to
life again”(GS, 52 ).
Second Vatican Council, the successors of St. Peter enriched
this teaching on marriage and the family, especially
Pope Paul VI with the Enyclical
Humanae vitae, which offers specific principles and guidelines.
Subsequently, in his Apostolic Exhortation
Pope John Paul II insisted on proposing the divine plan in the basic truths of
married love and the family: “The only ‘place’ in which this self-giving in its
whole truth is made possible is marriage, the covenant of conjugal love freely
and consciously chosen, whereby man and woman accept the intimate community of
life and love willed by God himself (cf. Gaudium
et spes, 48) which only
in this light manifests its true meaning. The institution of marriage is not an
undue interference by society or authority, nor the extrinsic imposition of a
form. Rather it is an interior requirement of the covenant of conjugal love
which is publicly affirmed as unique and exclusive, in order to live in complete
fidelity to the plan of God, the Creator. A person's freedom, far from being
restricted by this fidelity, is secured against every form of subjectivism or
relativism and is made a sharer in creative Wisdom” (FC,
The Catechism of the Catholic Church gathers together the fundamental aspects of this teaching: “The marriage
covenant, by which a man and a woman form with each other an intimate communion
of life and love, has been founded and endowed with its own special laws by the
Creator. By its very nature it is ordered to the good of the couple, as well as
to the generation and education of children. Christ the Lord raised marriage
between the baptized to the dignity of a sacrament [cf. Second Vatican
Ecumenical Council, Gaudium
et spes, 48; Code of Canon Law, 1055,
The doctrine presented in the Catechism touches on both
theological principles and moral behaviours, developed under two separate
headings: The Sacrament of Matrimony (nos. 1601-1658) and The Sixth
Commandment (nos. 2331-2391). An attentive reading of these sections of the
Catechism provides an updated understanding of the doctrine of faith, which
supports the Church’s work in the face of modern-day challenges. The Church’s
pastoral ministry finds inspiration in the truth of marriage viewed as part of
the plan of God, who created man and woman and, in the fullness of time,
revealed in Jesus the completeness of spousal love elevated to the level of
sacrament. Christian marriage founded on consensus is also endowed with its own
effects such as the goods and duties of the spouses. At the same time, marriage
is not immune from the effects of sin (cf. Gen 3:1-24), which can cause deep
wounds and even abuses to the dignity of the sacrament.
The recent encyclical of Pope Francis,
Lumen fidei, speaks of
the family in the context of a reflection on how faith reveals “just how firm
the bonds between people can be when God is present in their midst” (LF,
50). “The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family.
I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage.
This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and
of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation,
whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to
give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and
loving plan. Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other
mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors many
features of faith. Promising love for ever is possible when we perceive a plan
bigger than our own ideas and undertakings, a plan which sustains us and enables
us to surrender our future entirely to the one we love” (LF, 52). “Faith
is no refuge for the fainthearted, but something which enhances our lives. It
makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation of love. It assures us
that this love is trustworthy and worth embracing, for it is based on God’s
faithfulness which is stronger than our every weakness” (
The following series of questions allows the particular Churches to
participate actively in the preparation of the Extraordinary Synod, whose
purpose is to proclaim the Gospel in the context of the pastoral challenges
facing the family today.
1. The Diffusion of the Teachings on the Family in Sacred Scripture and the
a) Describe how the Catholic Church’s teachings on the value of the family
contained in the Bible, Gaudium
other documents of the post-conciliar Magisterium is understood by people today?
What formation is given to our people on the Church’s teaching on family life?
b) In those cases where the Church's teaching is known, is it accepted fully or
are there difficulties in putting it into practice? If so, what are they?
c) How widespread is the Church's teaching in pastoral programmes at the
national, diocesan and parish levels? What catechesis is done on the family?
d ) To what extent — and what aspects in particular — is this teaching actually
known, accepted, rejected and/or criticized in areas outside the Church? What
are the cultural factors which hinder the full reception of the Church’s
teaching on the family?
2. Marriage according to the Natural Law
a) What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of
society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at
large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis
of the family?
b) Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman
commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?
c) How is the theory and practice of natural law in the union between man and
woman challenged in light of the formation of a family? How is it proposed and
developed in civil and Church institutions?
d) In cases where non-practicing Catholics or declared non-believers request the
celebration of marriage, describe how this pastoral challenge is dealt with?
3. The Pastoral Care of the Family in Evangelization
a) What experiences have emerged in recent decades regarding marriage
preparation? What efforts are there to stimulate the task of evangelization of
the couple and of the family? How can an awareness of the family as the
"domestic Church" be promoted?
b) How successful have you been in proposing a manner of praying within the
family which can withstand life’s complexities and today’s culture?
c) In the current generational crisis, how have Christian families been able to
fulfill their vocation of transmitting the faith?
d) In what way have the local Churches and movements on family spirituality been
able to create ways of acting which are exemplary?
e) What specific contribution can couples and families make to spreading a
credible and holistic idea of the couple and the Christian family today?
f) What pastoral care has the Church provided in supporting couples in formation
and couples in crisis situations?
4. Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations
a) Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular
Church? Can you approximate a percentage?
b) Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are
reliable statistics available?
c) Are separated couples and those divorced and remarried a pastoral reality in
your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage? How do you deal with
this situation in appropriate pastoral programmes?
d) In all the above cases, how do the baptized live in this irregular situation?
Are they aware of it? Are they simply indifferent? Do they feel marginalized or
suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments?
e) What questions do divorced and remarried people pose to the Church concerning
the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation? Among those persons who
find themselves in these situations, how many ask for these sacraments?
f ) Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of
nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the
problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?
g) Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases? Describe this pastoral
ministry? Do such programmes exist on the national and diocesan levels? How is
God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried and
how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of
5. On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex
a) Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the
same-sex and equating it in some way to marriage?
b) What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the
State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the
people involved in this type of union?
c) What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in
these types of union?
d) In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children,
what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?
6. The Education of Children in Irregular Marriages
a) What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases,
as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?
b) How do parents in these situations approach the Church? What do they ask? Do
they request the sacraments only or do they also want catechesis and the general
teaching of religion?
c) How do the particular Churches attempt to meet the needs of the parents of
these children to provide them with a Christian education?
d) What is the sacramental practice in these cases: preparation, administration
of the sacrament and the accompaniment?
7. The Openness of the Married Couple to Life
a) What knowledge do Christians have today of the teachings of
on responsible parenthood? Are they aware of how morally to evaluate the
different methods of family planning? Could any insights be suggested in this
b) Is this moral teaching accepted? What aspects pose the most difficulties in a
large majority of couple’s accepting this teaching?
c) What natural methods are promoted by the particular Churches to help spouses
put into practice the teachings of
d) What is your experience on this subject in the practice of the Sacrament of
Penance and participation at the Eucharist?
e) What differences are seen in this regard between the Church’s teaching and
f) How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an
increase in births be promoted?
8. The Relationship Between the Family and the Person
a) Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the human person. How can
the family be a privileged place for this to happen?
b) What critical situations in the family today can obstruct a person’s
encounter with Christ?
c) To what extent do the many crises of faith which people can experience affect
9. Other Challenges and Proposals
What other challenges or proposals related to the topics in the above questions
do you consider urgent and useful to treat?