A Universal Synod on the Family Begins October 5, 2014

If there’s one thing we can be sure of regarding the upcoming extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, it’s that the eyes of the entire world will be upon it. Already the gathering has garnered attention from the likes of Time magazine, The New York Times and others, signaling expectations that this meeting, with Pope Francis at the helm, could very well be different from others in the past.

As to the outcome, only time will tell. Pope Francis has been clear that Church doctrine is not up for debate, nor should it be. But the pope also has long hinted at the importance of finding more merciful avenues of approaching that doctrine — an attitude essential for our divided Church and wholly embraced by Our Sunday Visitor. For Americans, these hot button issues include how the Church should respond to divorced and remarried Catholics and contraception, and how it should address the ever-growing challenges of cohabitation and same-sex marriage. Engaged U.S. Catholics and media will doubtless be watching the synod carefully for clues as to how those tensions within the Church and many of its members might be resolved.

What’s often overlooked is that the bishops at the synod will be addressing family challenges through a worldwide lens. But there’s more to the story. What is often lost in the endless cacophony and debate over “bedroom issues” — so much the focus of Americans — is that the bishops at the synod will be addressing family challenges through a worldwide lens. As outlined in this week’s In Focus overview of the gathering (Pages 9-12), these issues include poverty, human and sex trafficking, terrorism, polygamy, disease and the availability of decent work. If the family is to flourish, it must have access to basic needs like food and clean drinking water. If the family is to flourish, it cannot be trapped in regions facing war, political instability or religious persecution. If the family is to flourish, it must not live in the fear of having its mothers, daughters and sisters abducted and forced into marriage or sex slavery with the highest bidder.

These are basic needs that must be addressed should families around the world be fortified and expected to thrive. Conversely, it’s strong families that can help defend against many of these challenges — particularly those incurred through the economic instability prevalent worldwide since 2008.

“With so many challenges, our blood families, our global human family and our spiritual family have become more important than ever in ensuring we don’t fall into loneliness and desperation,” said Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, president of Caritas Intemationalis, the charitable arm of the Church, on Sept. 15. “Where economic and social systems fail, the solidarity and protection of families are the best defense against poverty.” Caritas and the Pontifical Council for the Family are discussing ways that the family can be used as a resource to help overcome these economic challenges and will propose their conclusions to the synod.

As the synod convenes Oct. 5, perhaps it would be helpful to keep in mind not only the viewpoints of both the developed and underdeveloped worlds, but that of the one who convened the event in the first place: Pope Francis.

“I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle,” the pontiff said in his now-famous interview to Jesuit journals last year. “It’s pointless to ask a seriously injured patient whether his cholesterol or blood sugar levels are high! It’s his wounds that need to be healed.”

Please join us in praying for a fruitful meeting — one that thoughtfully addresses and finds a healing balm for the many varied wounds of the Church.

OSV Newsweekly Editorial Board, September 28, 2014