(Vatican Radio) Bishops and lay experts attending the Synod on the Family are coming to the end of their first week’s work and moving into their different language discussion groups for the second phase of their meeting. With Pope Francis present at almost every session, a vast variety of family issues have been under the spotlight over the past five days.
At the briefing for journalists in the Vatican press office on Friday, Father Lombardi and his assistants were joined for the first time by three lay experts, Jocelyne Khoueiry, from the Lebanese bishops’ commission for family and life, and Alice and Jeffrey Heinzen, advisors on natural family planning to the U.S. bishops’ conference.
Supporting children of separated families, reaching out to the widowed and lonely, and accompanying couples searching for reconciliation and healing in their lives. Those are some of the practical questions being discussed in the Synod Hall by participants who’ve come from all corners of the globe to share their perspectives on the problems facing family life today. Central to these debates are the very real experiences of men and women serving as experts and auditors. People like Jocelyne Khoueiry, a former leader of a female Christian militia group during Lebanon’s civil war and founder of an organisation for lay women in her country.
“We fought in the past,” she said, “to protect our sovereignty and our country but now we’re fighting to rebuild our culture and our identity, based on the values and principles that we have always dreamed of.”
Those values include the central role of the family as the foundation of society. But how can the Church also reach out to men and women whose marriages have broken down? How can it help children of separated families, learning to deal with new parental figures in their lives? We heard how the Church needs to be more attentive to those who are widowed, a condition that will effect one member of every couple at some point in their lives.
Another hot button issue that emerged from the questionnaires ahead of this Synod was family planning and the very high numbers of Catholics who ignore the Church’s ban on artificial methods of contraception. Alice and Jeffrey Heinzen urged couples to look again at the advantages of natural methods of fertility regulation, which they say can now prove up to 99% effective, if they are properly understood and practiced.
“You know there has been so much new research since 1968 when Humanae Vitae was first introduced…it’s time for couples to take a second look…when we step aside from the faith part, the practical side of a husband and wife understanding more about their fertility… when I’ve talked to men over the years…the level of trust raises to a different level.why would you not want to have some information that can keep your wife happy all the time?"
After a summing up session on Monday morning, participants now move into 10 smaller groups where they must try and reach some agreement to be presented at the end of this two-week meeting. But as Canadian Father Tom Rosica underlined, this meeting may be less about results and more about the radical new listening method that Pope Francis has introduced.
"The opennes, the dialogue, the discussions….and also the listening style of Pope Francis have caused something new to come about."