(Vatican Radio) Bishops attending the Synod on the Family on Saturday voted overwhelmingly in favour of a concluding message that was drawn up to reflect the substance of their two weeks of discussions here in the Vatican.
The three page message of support for Christian families was read out at the penultimate session of the Synod and was presented to journalists at the Vatican press office by Cardinals Gianfranco Ravasi from the Pontifical Council for Culture, Raymundo Damasceno Assis from Aparecida in Brazil and Oswald Gracias from Mumbai in India.
The miracle of married life and the complexity of relationships where the Christian choice is not always an obvious one. The concluding message from Church leaders around the world speaks of the lights and shadows to be found in every heart and in every home where families struggle to live out their Christian vocation. While not touching on all the many, difficult questions that Synod participants have been wrestling with, the bishops aim to offer both consolation and encouragement, as the main author of the message, Cardinal Ravasi explained.
"It’s a text," he said, "which must give hope to those families in difficult situations, while at the same time promoting the riches and beauty that family life embodies." Amongst the challenges listed in the message are those of marital breakdown, of sickness or bereavement, of poverty and unemployment, conflict, persecution and exploitation of women and children. The bishops call on governments and international organisations to promote the rights of the family, but they also insist that the credibility of the Church lies in its ability to be a house with open doors to welcome all people in every situation.
Cardinal Gracias, who heads the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, said in his region where Christians are a tiny minority, traditionally strong family values are also under threat. "This message," he said, "admits the Church does not have answers to all the questions people are posing today. But the bishops do firmly reiterate a commitment to finding pastoral approaches for all people in their care, based on the teachings of Scripture and tradition."
“There are the Catholic principles, Scripture, Magisterium, but also an openness, a pastoral approach for everyone. … you ask if gays are welcome? The answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes’.”
Despite the heated debate that has characterised the past two weeks’ work, most bishops are encouraged by the atmosphere of honesty that Pope Francis called for at the start of the Synod. But what about the handful who didn’t approve the prayerful message, one journalist asked? "Well don’t forget the first disciples disagreed vehemently at one of the earliest Councils in Jerusalem," Cardinal Ravasi replied. "And even the two versions of the Lord’s Prayer we find in the Gospels show that perhaps St. Luke didn’t agree every word written down by St .Matthew!"