With immense joy, we concluded the Synod on the Family on a sunny October day in 2015. There had been intense debates and some controversy between those present in the Hall, commencing with the magnificent working document. Therein, was evidence the Church had understood that the family had changed; that the answers we used to give were no longer needed; because the changes experienced by families in recent decades were so profound that they had even transformed the questions.
We wondered what the Pope would do with all those questions and debates that was shaped into the relatio finalis, and published online by Francis himself immediately after the Assembly was over. We returned to our countries with many ideas, pastoral initiatives and questions, and with the certainty that something important had, and would happened.
On 19 March 2016, Francis offered Amoris laetitia to us. He had not been trapped by the questions raised in the synod, nor by those which could not be addressed. The Pope spoke to us of the joy of love that is experienced in families, like a rejoicing of the Church (cf. Amoris laetitia, n. 1). He showed us the centrality of the bonds between the married couple, parents and children, small and large families, young people and grandparents, and he invited us to experience a new pedagogy of love. To create it, to form it.
As soon as the document came out, a theologian friend of mine told me: “This text is an airplane!”, to express the strength and the possibilities that could be glimpsed within.
When it arrived at these latitudes, many people connected to family ministry did not realize that the central chapters were four and five (on Christian love) and instead focused on the famous chapter 8, which was not even called by its real name (Accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness) but defined “the chapter of divorced people living a new union”. In this sense, the reception was difficult, rather ecclesiastical and sometimes reductionist, and focused on the question: who can take communion, and when?
In Amoris laetitia it is said: “Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs” (n. 3). The bishops of the Buenos Aires region had drawn up a document with basic criteria for the application of Chapter 8. This document was ratified by Pope Francis as a valid implementation of the exhortation
The theoretical debates on Chapter 8 have continued in pastoral and theological circles, but in practice the pastoral activities of communities has not changed much. This is because the statements contained in Amoris laetitia on the reception of the sacraments were something that, in fact, was already being experienced in many Catholic communities in Argentina, especially in working-class neighborhoods. Most of the “holy faithful people of God”, as Bergoglio likes to say, found in Amoris laetitia what they already perceived and experienced, but hearing it from the Pope was very encouraging.
It must be said - for the sake of justice - that many couples have begun a journey of discernment in their sacramental situation which has led them, each in their own way, to greater closeness to the ecclesial community. There have also been attempts to renew family pastoral ministry in general and premarital ministry in particular, albeit with little impact on the communities. It is regrettable that there has been too much focus on the debate of sacramental reception, without understanding the essence of the exhortation and the whole of Francis’ pontificate, which is summarized in the following paragraph: “We are called to show mercy because mercy was first shown to us”, since “mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness which she shows to believers; nothing in her preaching and her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy” (n. 310).
Francis’ reform, which has mercy in its heart, has so far not been fully incorporated into this document on the family, which contains a great wealth that has not yet been sufficiently discovered or developed. For the moment, taking up the expression coined by my friend, it is a plane still taking off.
In concrete terms, in this area we can list some themes that have not been developed: the place of women in society, in the family, the question of gender, the violence of which they are victims, masculinism (cf. no. 49, 54-55, 154-156, 197) and others. These themes have had little pastoral, theological and social reverberations.
However, the beauty of the texts is that they are always there, waiting for an opportunity to be discovered. We hope that this “plane” will conclude its take-off, for the happiness of so many people and so many families.
by Marcela Mazzini
Theologian, Professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina - Faculty of Theology and Director of the Diploma in Educational Skills for Interior Life University of San Isidro Dr. Plácido Marín of Buenos Aires. She participated as an auditor at the Synod on the Family of 2015.