Familiaris consortio (n. 84), offering as an example the difference between someone who has suffered the separation and someone who has caused it. This discernment must be made.
If then we also look at these new bonds through the eyes of little children, — and little children do look — through the eyes of children, we see even more the urgency of developing in our communities a real welcome toward persons who live in these situations. It is therefore important that the community’s ways, its language and its attitudes are always attentive to persons, starting with little children.
They are the ones who suffer most in these situations. How can we recommend to these parents to do their utmost to bring up their children in the Christian life, giving them the example of a convinced and practiced faith, if we keep them at arm’s length from the life of the community, as if they were excommunicated? This must be done in a way that does not add additional burdens beyond those that the children already have to carry in these situations.
Unfortunately, the number of these children and youngsters is truly great. It is important that experience the Church as a mother attentive to everyone, always read to listen and come together.
The truth is that in recent decades, the Church has been neither insensitive nor slow to act. Thanks to the deepened understanding of pastors, guided and confirmed by my Predecessors, the awareness has greatly increased that a fraternal and attentive welcome is needed, in love and in truth, toward the baptized who have entered into a new partnership after the failure of a sacramental marriage. In fact, these people are not at all excommunicated, they are not excommunicated. And they should absolutely not be treated as such: they are always part of the Church.
Pope Benedict XVI spoke about this issue, calling for a careful discernment and wise pastoral accompaniment, knowing that there are no “simple solutions.” (Address to the VII World Meeting of Families, Milan, June 2, 2012, n. 5).
Hence the repeated invitation of pastors to manifest openly and consistently the community’s readiness to welcome and encourage them, in order that they might increasingly live and develop their belonging to Christ and the Church through prayer, listening to the Word of God, attendance at liturgy, the Christian education of their children, charity and service to the poor, and a commitment to justice and peace.
The biblical image of the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11-18) sums up the mission that Jesus received from the Father: that of giving his life for the sheep. This attitude is also a model for the Church, who welcomes her children like a mother who gives her life for them. “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open.” No closed doors! No closed doors! “Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community … The Church … is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, n. 47).
At the same time, all Christians are called to imitate the Good Shepherd. Christian families above all can collaborate with Him in taking care of wounded families, by accompanying them in the faith life of the community. May everyone do his part in taking on the attitude of the Good Shepherd, who knows each one of his sheep and excludes no one from his infinite love.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.