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And then the work began

The Pope’s solicitation to “speak clearly” and “to listen with humility” in order to truly implement the “dynamic of synodality” was immediately welcomed in five open interventions which concluded the first General Congregations on Monday morning, 6 October.

Thus when Cardinal Vingt-Trois, President Delegate, gave the green light for discussion after the Relatio ante disceptationem, Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga took the floor first, responding to the invitation of the Cardinal-Secretary General Baldisseri and providing general “feedback”. He highlighted a contradiction: all aspects of life are prepared for attentively except marriage, which at times, he said, we approach hastily and even irresponsibly. There are couples who decide to get married only a short time after they meet, without any formation. According to the Cardinal from Honduras, what is lacking is a catechumenate, not as a pre-Cana course but rather as a thorough catechetical formation process. This could begin from the time of Confirmation preparation and lead the young person to the option of either marriage or consecration to God in religious life. Thus, it also would mean considering a new youth ministry.

For his part, Cardinal Martínez Sistach expressed satisfaction for the fact that the Relatio takes into account the recommendations suggested by the Bishops’ Conferences and the individual dioceses. In this way, the Archbishop of Barcelona indicated that it also takes account of what the People of God are saying, and this direct connection will also help the Synod Fathers to create a more realistic outline of the discussion.

Archbishop Okada from Japan wanted instead to recall the heroic witness of the lay people in his country who learned to preserve the faith in persecution and pass it on from family to family. It is a witness, he said, which Japanese Bishops reintroduced in 1993 in order that it not be lost today. Indeed, he explained, it is important to reinforce the faith inside the home and to create a community of families which could communicate the Gospel.

A “positive reaction” to the guidelines dictated by the Relatio then came from Cardinal Napier, who primarily emphasized the image of the Good Samaritan next to the people wounded by life. The South African Cardinal stated that for this reason it is important to return to the basics, to the fundamentals, to the authentic family life made of knowing each other and mutual commitment to one another, thereby reflecting the Trinity.

In the fifth and last open intervention, Cardinal Marx affirmed that the Church also needs a public debate on the the themes of the Synod. He asked that the family situation be looked at as it is today, taking into account the myriad changes, for better and for worse, of recent years. It is important to bear them in mind, he recommended, responding with the Gospel to today’s new situation.

The first congregation began at 9:00 with the singing of the Veni Creator Spiritus and the Terce prayer in the presence of the Pope and 181 Synod Fathers. In his homily, Cardinal Martínez Sistach recalled that the Synod is an “ecclesial and evangelizing service”, underscoring above all the manner of fraternity and of joy. But “we will bear in mind”, the Cardinal stated, “the families who have not managed to experience the beauty of the intimate community of life and of love in their marriage”. Then, with the address of Cardinal President André Vingt-Trois, the real work began.

The morning’s central moments were Pope Francis’ address and the reports of Cardinal Baldisseri and Cardinal Erdő, followed by the first series of open interventions. Of significance, on the president’s table there was an image of the Holy Family, a gift of the Bishops’ Conference of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Archbishop Forte, Special Secretary, and Archbishop Aguilar Retes, President of the celam conference, participated together with Cardinals Erdő and Vingt-Trois in the first press conference at the Holy See Press Office after the morning meeting.

Archbishop Forte highlighted that the high number of answers to the questionnaire showed how, within the Church, there is a desire to participate. Archbishop Aguilar Retes presented the issues of Latin American families and, in particular, the fractures caused by migration. He further underlined the growing number of families of single mothers with children, and he reintroduced the collegial manner of the 2007 Aparecida Conference as the work method.

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Dec. 9, 2018

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