Synod of Bishops: "Vocation and Mission of the family"

On Sunday 04 October 2015 Pope Francis will open the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

The Synod is an assembly of bishops from around the world who assist the Holy Father by providing counsel on important questions facing the Church in a manner that preserves the Church's teaching and strengthens her internal discipline.

The Synod of Bishops meets at the request of the Holy Father, when he considers it necessary or opportune to consult with the world's bishops.

This is one is an Ordinary General Assembly but last year, you might remember, there was an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (October 5-19, 2014). That Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops was the third ever held; previous Extraordinary General Assemblies were held in 1969 and 1985.

In practical terms only the President of the Bishops' Conference (in our case, Stephen Brislin, the Archbishop of Cape Town) attended the Extraordinary General Assembly. This year, instead, we voted for the two bishops that will be representing us which are: the archbishop of Cape Town (Stephen Brislin) and the bishop of Kokstad (Zolile Mpambani).

It is important to note that, in this case, both General Assemblies are linked by the theme:
  • "The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization" (2014)
  • "Vocation and Mission of the family in the Church and the Contemporary World" (2015)

In fact, the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will continue the work of the III Extraordinary General Assembly by "reflect[ing] further on the points discussed so as to formulate appropriate pastoral guidelines" for the pastoral care of the person and the family (Instrumentum Laboris, III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops).

I think it is worth taking note on the theme: "Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World". I realised that sometimes we do not get the whole picture and we think that it is a Synod on "marriage, divorce and annulments" or like I was asked last year, if the Extraordinary Synod was about "gays and lesbians" or same-sex couples. 

The instrument laboris, in preparation for the Synod, deals with: the challenges of the family, the discernment of the family vocation and the mission of the family today.

I came across an article on the Catholic Herald in UK where Cardinal Wilfrid Napier OFM (Archbishop of Durban) who will be attending the Synod says:

"Specifically, I am going to identify five key areas where the family is challenged to respond to the problems which are besetting marriage in particular today.

The first area is marriage preparation. The second is the need to accompany newlyweds for between five and seven years into their marriage. The third is ministering to marriages that are in trouble. The fourth is applying the annulment process to marriages that have broken down irretrievably. The fifth and final area is caring for families living in particularly difficult circumstances. These include single-parent families, families in which a child is the head of the household, families led by divorced and civilly married people, families with children who are cohabiting and families with homosexual members.

It seems clear to me that if the breakdown of marriage is the issue, then logic demands that, while we minister to affected couples, we need at the same time to examine the millions of good and healthy marriages. We must do this in order to identify the qualities that give these marriages their goodness and solidity, and so enable them to endure, if not prosper. Guidance on how to develop these qualities must then be introduced into our marriage preparation processes, programmes and courses."

This is just about marriage and we are aware that when talking about families in our context there is still much more: we think of polygamy, cohabitation, the struggles of our widows, poverty, child-headed families, migrant labour, unemployment, drugs and alcohol abuse, migration from Rural to Urban areas or to other countries, the role and influence of the Extended Family... It would be a pity if our attention would just concentrate on one of two issues and ignore the rest.

So... try to get as much information as possible and pray with the whole Church during the celebration of the Synod that we may all be led by the Spirit of the Lord.

(Click HERE for the text of the prayer)

Thanks to:

Click HERE for the Instrumentum laboris


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Bishop of the Diocese of Manzini (Swaziland)

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