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The Power of Grace: On the indissolubility of marriage and sacraments for the civilly remarried

On the indissolubility of marriage and the debate concerning the civilly remarried and the sacraments

After the announcement of the extraordinary synod that will take place in October of 2014 on the pastoral care of families, some questions have been raised regarding the question of divorced and remarried members of the faithful and their relationship to the sacraments. In order to deepen understanding on this pressing subject so that clergy may accompany their flock more perfectly and instruct them in a manner consistent with the truth of Catholic Doctrine, we are publishing an extensive contribution from the Archbishop Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The problem concerning members of the faithful who have entered into a new civil union after a divorce is not new.  The Church has always taken this question very seriously and with a view to helping the people who find themselves in this situation.  Marriage is a sacrament that affects people particularly deeply in their personal, social and historical circumstances.  Given the increasing number of persons affected in countries of ancient Christian tradition, this pastoral problem has taken on significant dimensions.  Today even firm believers are seriously wondering: can the Church not admit the divorced and remarried to the sacraments under certain conditions?  Are her hands permanently tied on this matter?  Have theologians really explored all the implications and consequences?

These questions must be explored in a manner that is consistent with Catholic doctrine on marriage.  A responsible pastoral approach presupposes a theology that offers “the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals, freely assenting to the truth revealed by him” (Dei Verbum 5).  In order to make the Church’s authentic doctrine intelligible, we must begin with the word of God that is found in sacred Scripture, expounded in the Church’s Tradition and interpreted by the Magisterium in a binding way.

The Testimony of Sacred Scripture 

Looking directly to the Old Testament for answers to our question is not without its difficulties, because at that time marriage was not yet regarded as a sacrament.  Yet the word of God in the Old Covenant is significant for us to the extent that Jesus belongs within this tradition and argues on the basis of it.  In the Decalogue, we find the commandment “thou shalt not commit adultery” (Ex 20:14),  but elsewhere divorce is presented as a possibility.  According to Dt 24:1-4, Moses lays down that a man may present his wife with a certificate of dismissal and send her away from his house, if she no longer finds favour with him.  Thereafter, both husband and wife may embark upon a new marriage.  In addition to this acceptance of divorce, the Old Testament also expresses certain reservations in its regard.  The comparison drawn by the prophets between God’s covenant with Israel and the marriage bond includes not only the ideal of monogamy, but also that of indissolubility.  The prophet Malachi expresses this clearly:  “Do not be faithless to the wife of your youth … with whom you have made a covenant” (Mal 2:14-15).

Above all, it was his controversies with the Pharisees that gave Jesus occasion to address this theme.  He distanced himself explicitly from the Old Testament practice of divorce, which Moses had permitted because men were “so hard of heart”, and he pointed to God’s original will: “from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.  For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and … the two shall become one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together let not man put asunder” (Mk 10:5-9; cf. Mt 19:4-9; Lk 16:18).  The Catholic Church has always based its doctrine and practice upon these sayings of Jesus concerning the indissolubility of marriage.  The inner bond that joins the spouses to one another was forged by God himself.  It designates a reality that comes from God and is therefore no longer at man’s disposal.

Today some exegetes take the view that even in the Apostolic era these dominical sayings were applied with a degree of flexibility: notably in the case of porneia/unchastity (cf. Mt 5:32; 19:9) and in the case of a separation between a Christian and a non-Christian partner (cf. 1 Cor 7:12-15).  The unchastity clauses have been the object of fierce debate among exegetes from the beginning.  Many take the view that they refer not to exceptions to the indissolubility of marriage, but to invalid marital unions.  Clearly, however, the Church cannot build its doctrine and practice on controversial exegetical hypotheses.  She must adhere to the clear teaching of Christ.

Saint Paul presents the prohibition on divorce as the express will of Christ:  “To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) and that the husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Cor 7:10-11).  At the same time he permits, on his own authority, that a non-Christian may separate from a partner who has become Christian.  In this case, the Christian is “not bound” to remain unmarried (1 Cor 7:12-16).  On the basis of this passage, the Church has come to recognize that only a marriage between a baptized man and a baptized woman is a sacrament in the true sense, and only in this instance does unconditional indissolubility apply.  The marriage of the unbaptized is indeed ordered to indissolubility, but can under certain circumstances – for the sake of a higher good – be dissolved (privilegium Paulinum).  Here, then, we are not dealing with an exception to our Lord’s teaching.  The indissolubility of sacramental marriage, that is to say, marriage that takes place within the mystery of Christ, remains assured.

Of greater significance for the biblical basis of the sacramental view of marriage is the Letter to the Ephesians, where we read: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25).  And shortly afterwards, the Apostle adds: “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.  This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:31-32).  Christian marriage is an effective sign of the covenant between Christ and the Church.  Because it designates and communicates the grace of this covenant, marriage between the baptized is a sacrament.

The Testimony of the Church’s Tradition 

The Church Fathers and Councils provide important testimony regarding the way the Church’s position evolved.  For the Fathers, the biblical precepts on the subject are binding.  They reject the State’s divorce laws as incompatible with the teaching of Jesus.  The Church of the Fathers rejected divorce and remarriage, and did so out of obedience to the Gospel.  On this question, the Fathers’ testimony is unanimous.

In patristic times, divorced members of the faithful who had civilly remarried could not even be readmitted to the sacraments after a period of penance.  Some patristic texts, however, seem to imply that abuses were not always rigorously corrected and that from time to time pastoral solutions were sought for very rare borderline cases.

In many regions, greater compromises emerged later, particularly as a result of the increasing interdependence of Church and State.  In the East this development continued to evolve, and especially after the separation from the See of Peter, it moved towards an increasingly liberal praxis.  In the Orthodox Churches today, there are a great many grounds for divorce, which are mostly justified in terms of oikonomia, or pastoral leniency in difficult individual cases, and they open the path to a second or third marriage marked by a penitential character.  This practice cannot be reconciled with God’s will, as expressed unambiguously in Jesus’ sayings about the indissolubility of marriage.  But it represents an ecumenical problem that is not to be underestimated.

In the West, the Gregorian reform countered these liberalizing tendencies and gave fresh impetus to the original understanding of Scripture and the Fathers.  The Catholic Church defended the absolute indissolubility of marriage even at the cost of great sacrifice and suffering.  The schism of a “Church of England” detached from the Successor of Peter came about not because of doctrinal differences, but because the Pope, out of obedience to the sayings of Jesus, could not accommodate the demands of King Henry VIII for the dissolution of his marriage.

The Council of Trent confirmed the doctrine of the indissolubility of sacramental marriage and explained that this corresponded to the teaching of the Gospel (cf. DH 1807).  Sometimes it is maintained that the Church de facto tolerated the Eastern practice.  But this is not correct.  The canonists constantly referred to it as an abuse.  And there is evidence that groups of Orthodox Christians on becoming Catholic had to subscribe to an express acknowledgment of the impossibility of second or third marriages.

The Second Vatican Council, in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes on “The Church in the Modern World”, presents a theologically and spiritually profound doctrine of marriage.  It upholds the indissolubility of marriage clearly and distinctly.  Marriage is understood as an all-embracing communion of life and love, body and spirit, between a man and a woman who mutually give themselves and receive one another as persons.  Through the personally free act of their reciprocal consent, an enduring, divinely ordered institution is brought into being, which is directed to the good of the spouses and of their offspring and is no longer dependent on human caprice:  “As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them” (no. 48).  Through the sacrament God bestows a special grace upon the spouses:  “For as God of old made himself present to his people through a covenant of love and fidelity, so now the Saviour of men and the Spouse of the Church comes into the lives of married Christians through the sacrament of matrimony.  He abides with them thereafter so that just as he loved the Church and handed himself over on her behalf, the spouses may love each other with perpetual fidelity through mutual self-bestowal.”  Through the sacrament the indissolubility of marriage acquires a new and deeper sense:  it becomes the image of God’s enduring love for his people and of Christ’s irrevocable fidelity to his Church.

Marriage can be understood and lived as a sacrament only in the context of the mystery of Christ.  If marriage is secularized or regarded as a purely natural reality, its sacramental character is obscured.  Sacramental marriage belongs to the order of grace, it is taken up into the definitive communion of love between Christ and his Church.  Christians are called to live their marriage within the eschatological horizon of the coming of God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God.

The Testimony of the Magisterium in the Present Day 

The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio – issued by John Paul II on 22 November 1981 in the wake of the Synod of Bishops on the Christian family in the modern world, and of fundamental importance ever since – emphatically confirms the Church’s dogmatic teaching on marriage.  But it shows pastoral concern for the civilly remarried faithful who are still bound by an ecclesially valid marriage.  The Pope shows a high degree of concern and understanding.  Paragraph 84 on “divorced persons who have remarried” contains the following key statements:  1.  Pastors are obliged, by love for the truth, “to exercise careful discernment of situations”.  Not everything and everyone are to be assessed in an identical way.  2.  Pastors and parish communities are bound to stand by the faithful who find themselves in this situation, with “attentive love”.  They too belong to the Church, they are entitled to pastoral care and they should take part in the Church’s life.  3. And yet they cannot be admitted to the Eucharist.  Two reasons are given for this:  a) “their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist” b) “if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage”.  Reconciliation through sacramental confession, which opens the way to reception of the Eucharist, can only be granted in the case of repentance over what has happened and a “readiness to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage.”  Concretely this means that if for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, the new union cannot be dissolved, then the two partners must “bind themselves to live in complete continence”.  4.  Clergy are expressly forbidden, for intrinsically sacramental and theological reasons and not through legalistic pressures, to “perform ceremonies of any kind” for divorced people who remarry civilly, as long as the first sacramentally valid marriage still exists.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s statement of 14 September 1994 on reception of holy communion by divorced and remarried members of the faithful emphasizes that the Church’s practice in this question “cannot be modified because of different situations” (no. 5).  It also makes clear that the faithful concerned may not present themselves for holy communion on the basis of their own conscience:  “Should they judge it possible to do so, pastors and confessors … have the serious duty to admonish them that such a judgment of conscience openly contradicts the Church’s teaching” (no. 6).  If doubts remain over the validity of a failed marriage, these must be examined by the competent marriage tribunals (cf. no. 9).  It remains of the utmost importance, “with solicitous charity to do everything that can be done to strengthen in the love of Christ and the Church those faithful in irregular marriage situations. Only thus will it be possible for them fully to receive the message of Christian marriage and endure in faith the distress of their situation. In pastoral action one must do everything possible to ensure that this is understood not to be a matter of discrimination but only of absolute fidelity to the will of Christ who has restored and entrusted to us anew the indissolubility of marriage as a gift of the Creator” (no. 10).

In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis of 22 February 2007, Benedict XVI summarizes the work of the Synod of Bishops on the theme of the Eucharist and he develops it further.  In No. 29 he addresses the situation of divorced and remarried faithful.  For Benedict XVI too, this is a “complex and troubling pastoral problem”.  He confirms “the Church’s practice, based on Sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2- 12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments”, but he urges pastors at the same time, to devote “special concern” to those affected: in the wish that they “live as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass, albeit without receiving communion, listening to the word of God, eucharistic adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the community, honest dialogue with a priest or spiritual director, dedication to the life of charity, works of penance, and commitment to the education of their children”.  If there are doubts concerning the validity of the failed marriage, these are to be carefully examined by the competent marriage tribunals.  Today’s mentality is largely opposed to the Christian understanding of marriage, with regard to its indissolubility and its openness to children.  Because many Christians are influenced by this, marriages nowadays are probably invalid more often than they were previously, because there is a lack of desire for marriage in accordance with Catholic teaching, and there is too little socialization within an environment of faith.  Therefore assessment of the validity of marriage is important and can help to solve problems.  Where nullity of marriage cannot be demonstrated, the requirement for absolution and reception of communion, according to the Church’s established and approved practice, is that the couple live “as friends, as brother and sister”.  Blessings of irregular unions are to be avoided, “lest confusion arise among the faithful concerning the value of marriage”.  A blessing (bene-dictio: divine sanctioning) of a relationship that contradicts the will of God is a contradiction in terms.

During his homily at the Seventh World Meeting of Families in Milan on 3 June 2012, Benedict XVI once again had occasion to speak of this painful problem: “I should also like to address a word to the faithful who, even though they agree with the Church’s teachings on the family, have had painful experiences of breakdown and separation. I want you to know that the Pope and the Church support you in your struggle. I encourage you to remain united to your communities, and I earnestly hope that your dioceses are developing suitable initiatives to welcome and accompany you.”

The most recent Synod of Bishops on the theme “New evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith” (7-28 October 2012) addressed once again the situation of the faithful who after the failure of a marital relationship (not the failure of a marriage, which being a sacrament still remains) have entered a new union and live together without a sacramental marriage bond.  In the concluding Message, the Synod Fathers addressed those concerned as follows: “To all of them we want to say that God’s love does not abandon anyone, that the Church loves them, too, that the Church is a house that welcomes all, that they remain members of the Church even if they cannot receive sacramental absolution and the Eucharist. May our Catholic communities welcome all who live in such situations and support those who are in the path of conversion and reconciliation.”

Observations based on Anthropology and Sacramental Theology 

The doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage is often met with incomprehension in a secularized environment.  Where the fundamental insights of Christian faith have been lost, church affiliation of a purely conventional kind can no longer sustain major life decisions or provide a firm foothold in the midst of marital crises – as well as crises in priestly and religious life.  Many people ask:  how can I bind myself to one woman or one man for an entire lifetime?  Who can tell me what my marriage will be like in ten, twenty, thirty, forty years?  Is a definitive bond to one person possible at all?  The many marital relationships that founder today reinforce the scepticism of young people regarding definitive life choices.

On the other hand, the ideal – built into the order of creation – of faithfulness between one man and one woman has lost none of its fascination, as is apparent from recent opinion surveys among young people.  Most of them long for a stable, lasting relationship, in keeping with the spiritual and moral nature of the human person.  Moreover, one must not forget the anthropological value of indissoluble marriage:  it withdraws the partners from caprice and from the tyranny of feelings and moods.  It helps them to survive personal difficulties and to overcome painful experiences.  Above all it protects the children, who have most to suffer from marital breakdown.

Love is more than a feeling or an instinct.  Of its nature it is self-giving.  In marital love, two people say consciously and intentionally to one another:  only you – and you for ever.  The word of the Lord: “What God has joined together” corresponds to the promise of the spouses:  “I take you as my husband … I take you as my wife … I will love, esteem and honour you, as long as I live, till death us do part.”  The priest blesses the covenant that the spouses have sealed with one another before God.  If anyone should doubt whether the marriage bond is ontological, let him learn from the word of God:  “He who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said: for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mt 19:4-6).

For Christians, the marriage of baptized persons incorporated into the Body of Christ has sacramental character and therefore represents a supernatural reality.  A serious pastoral problem arises from the fact that many people today judge Christian marriage exclusively by worldly and pragmatic criteria.  Those who think according to the “spirit of the world” (1 Cor 2:12) cannot understand the sacramentality of marriage.  The Church cannot respond to the growing incomprehension of the sanctity of marriage by pragmatically accommodating the supposedly inevitable, but only by trusting in “the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God” (1 Cor 2:12).  Sacramental marriage is a testimony to the power of grace, which changes man and prepares the whole Church for the holy city, the new Jerusalem, the Church, which is prepared “as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:2).  The Gospel of the sanctity of marriage is to be proclaimed with prophetic candour.  By adapting to the spirit of the age, a weary prophet seeks his own salvation but not the salvation of the world in Jesus Christ.  Faithfulness to marital consent is a prophetic sign of the salvation that God bestows upon the world.  “He who is able to receive this, let him receive it” (Mt 19:12).  Through sacramental grace, married love is purified, strengthened and ennobled.  “Sealed by mutual faithfulness and hallowed above all by Christ’s sacrament, this love remains steadfastly true in body and in mind, in bright days or dark.  It will never be profaned by adultery or divorce” (Gaudium et Spes, 49). In the strength of the sacrament of marriage, the spouses participate in God’s definitive, irrevocable love.  They can therefore be witnesses of God’s faithful love, but they must nourish their love constantly through living by faith and love.

Admittedly there are situations – as every pastor knows – in which marital cohabitation becomes for all intents and purposes impossible for compelling reasons, such as physical or psychological violence.  In such hard cases, the Church has always permitted the spouses to separate and no longer live together.  It must be remembered, though, that the marriage bond of a valid union remains intact in the sight of God, and the individual parties are not free to contract a new marriage, as long as the spouse is alive.  Pastors and Christian communities must therefore take pains to promote paths of reconciliation in these cases too, or, should that not be possible, to help the people concerned to confront their difficult situation in faith.

Observations based on Moral Theology 

It is frequently suggested that remarried divorcees should be allowed to decide for themselves, according to their conscience, whether or not to present themselves for holy communion.  This argument, based on a problematical concept of “conscience”, was rejected by a document of the CDF in 1994.  Naturally, the faithful must consider every time they attend Mass whether it is possible to receive communion, and a grave unconfessed sin would always be an impediment.  At the same time they have the duty to form their conscience and to align it with the truth.  In so doing they listen also to the Church’s Magisterium, which helps them “not to swerve from the truth about the good of man, but rather, especially in more difficult questions, to attain the truth with certainty and to abide in it” (Veritatis Splendor, 64).  If remarried divorcees are subjectively convinced in their conscience that a previous marriage was invalid, this must be proven objectively by the competent marriage tribunals.  Marriage is not simply about the relationship of two people to God, it is also a reality of the Church, a sacrament, and it is not for the individuals concerned to decide on its validity, but rather for the Church, into which the individuals are incorporated by faith and baptism.  “If the prior marriage of two divorced and remarried members of the faithful was valid, under no circumstances can their new union be considered lawful, and therefore reception of the sacraments is intrinsically impossible.  The conscience of the individual is bound to this norm without exception” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “The Pastoral approach to marriage must be founded on truth”L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, 7 December 2011, p. 4)

The teaching on epikeia, too – according to which a law may be generally valid, but does not always apply to concrete human situations – may not be invoked here, because in the case of the indissolubility of sacramental marriage we are dealing with a divine norm that is not at the disposal of the Church.  Nevertheless – as we see from the privilegium Paulinum – the Church does have the authority to clarify the conditions that must be fulfilled for an indissoluble marriage, as taught by Jesus, to come about.  On this basis, the Church has established impediments to marriage, she has recognized grounds for annulment, and she has developed a detailed process for examining these.

A further case for the admission of remarried divorcees to the sacraments is argued in terms of mercy.  Given that Jesus himself showed solidarity with the suffering and poured out his merciful love upon them, mercy is said to be a distinctive quality of true discipleship.  This is correct, but it misses the mark when adopted as an argument in the field of sacramental theology.  The entire sacramental economy is a work of divine mercy and it cannot simply be swept aside by an appeal to the same.  An objectively false appeal to mercy also runs the risk of trivializing the image of God, by implying that God cannot do other than forgive.  The mystery of God includes not only his mercy but also his holiness and his justice.  If one were to suppress these characteristics of God and refuse to take sin seriously, ultimately it would not even be possible to bring God’s mercy to man.  Jesus encountered the adulteress with great compassion, but he said to her “Go and do not sin again” (Jn 8:11).  God’s mercy does not dispense us from following his commandments or the rules of the Church.  Rather it supplies us with the grace and strength needed to fulfil them, to pick ourselves up after a fall, and to live life in its fullness according to the image of our heavenly Father.

Pastoral care 

Even if there is no possibility of admitting remarried divorcees to the sacraments, in view of their intrinsic nature, it is all the more imperative to show pastoral concern for these members of the faithful, so as to point them clearly towards what the theology of revelation and the Magisterium have to say.  The path indicated by the Church is not easy for those concerned.  Yet they should know and sense that the Church as a community of salvation accompanies them on their journey.  Insofar as the parties make an effort to understand the Church’s practice and to abstain from communion, they provide their own testimony to the indissolubility of marriage.

Clearly, the care of remarried divorcees must not be reduced to the question of receiving the Eucharist.  It involves a much more wide-ranging pastoral approach, which seeks to do justice to to the different situations.  It is important to realize that there are other ways, apart from sacramental communion, of being in fellowship with God.  One can draw close to God by turning to him in faith, hope and charity, in repentance and prayer.  God can grant his closeness and his salvation to people on different paths, even if they find themselves in a contradictory life situation.  As recent documents of the Magisterium have emphasized, pastors and Christian communities are called to welcome people in irregular situations openly and sincerely, to stand by them sympathetically and helpfully, and to make them aware of the love of the Good Shepherd.  If pastoral care is rooted in truth and love, it will discover the right paths and approaches in constantly new ways.

Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
October 23, 2013
L’Osservatore Romano

Also, you may want to read these articles:

Giacomo Galeazzi, “The Church should grant communion to divorced and remarried persons

Sandro Magister, “No Communion for Outlaws. But the Pope is Studying Two Exceptions.”

Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue in Agreement on the nature of Marriage: between a man and a woman

This morning I saw this headline and eye-catching paragraph on the Pro Ecclesia site:

The International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue Just Came to an Important Agreement on the nature of Marriage:

Continuing its focus on Christian anthropology, specifically what it means to be a human person created in the image and likeness of God, the Commission devoted significant efforts to the review of the draft of its joint theological work on the subject. Reflection on the theology of the glory of creation and the uniqueness of humanity in the created order drew the Commission into deep discussion. Further, the Commission worked at length on the specific expression of image and likeness, considering the thematic components of the subject, with particular attention to its scriptural basis. As part of the discussion of human relationships, the Commission observed that it is the teaching of all the Orthodox and Anglican churches that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The first part doesn’t surprise me as much as the last sentence: that the Anglican churches understand marriage to be between a man and woman. The Anglican communion is not known for its consistent and coherent formulation of a Christian doctrine these days. That is, they tend to be at odds with mainstream Christianity (not only Catholics, but some Lutheran, Evangelical and Baptist communities). Certainly the Anglican openness to allow for contraception and in many places gay marriage and women’s ordination raises the question of what is happening herein.

Read the entire press release here.

The desire of the joint commission which met 4-11 September 2013 at the invitation of Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej was to study the nature of man and woman being made in God’s image and likeness from a perspective of theological anthropology. This is a weighty and yet necessary conversation that needs to be investigated with a telos in mind, God’s telos, that is. Knowing particulars of what it means to a human person can’t be overlooked, dismissed or rearranged because of ideology.

Pope Francis’ interview with journalists, Part II

Here is part II of the papal interview between Francis and the journalists on in-flight back to Rome from Rio, Sunday, 28 July 2013.

Part I can be read here.

Father Lombardi:

Now Dario Menor of La Razon of Spain:

Dario Menor Torres:

A question about your feelings. You commented a week ago on the child who asked you how you felt, if someone could imagine how he could be Pope and if he could wish for it. You said one had to be mad to do it. After your first multitudinous experience, such as these days in Rio have been, can you tell us how you feel about being Pope, if it’s very hard, if you’re happy being so and, in addition, if in some way it has enhanced your faith or on the contrary, if you have had doubts. Thank you.

[Repeated in Italian]

Pope Francis:

To do the work of a bishop is a good thing, it’s good. The problem is when one seeks that work: this isn’t so good, this isn’t from the Lord. But when the Lord calls a priest to become bishop, this is good. There’s always the danger of thinking oneself superior to others, not as others, somewhat as a princeThese are dangers and sins. But the work of a bishop is good: it’s to help brothers to go forward. The bishop in front of the faithful, to show the way; the bishop in the midst of the faithful, to aid communion; the bishop behind the faithful, because the faithful so many times have the scent of the way. The bishop must be like this. The question was if I like it? I like being bishop, I like it. I was so happy at Buenos Aires, so happy! I have been happy, it’s true. The Lord has helped me in that. But I was happy as a priest, and I’ve been happy as a bishop. In this regard I say: I like it!

Question off-screen:

And being Pope?

Pope Francis:

Also! Also! When the Lord puts you there, if you do what the Lord wants, you are happy. This is my sentiment, what I feel.

Father Lombardi:

Now another of the Italian group: Salvatore Mazza of “Avvenire”

Salvatore Mazza:

I can’t even get up. I’m sorry, I can’t even stand up because of the many children I have at my feet. We saw in these days, we saw you full of energy even late in the evening. We are seeing it now with the plane that shakes, that you are standing calmly, without an ounce of hesitation. We wish to ask you: there is much talk of forthcoming trips. There’s talk of Asia, Jerusalem, Argentina. Do you already have a more or less definite calendar for the coming year, or is it all yet to be seen?

Pope Francis:

Nothing is defined, defined. But I can say something to which thought is being given. It’s defined – sorry – September 22 to Cagliari. Then, on October 4 to Assisi. In mind, within Italy, I would like to meet my own one day: go by plane in the morning and return with the others because they, poor things, call me and we have a good relationship. But only one day. Outside of Italy: Patriarch Bartholomew wants to have a meeting to commemorate the 50 years of Athenagoras and Paul VI at Jerusalem. The Israeli government has also extended a special invitation to go to Jerusalem. I believe the government of the Palestinian Authority has done the same. Thought is being given to this: it’s not certain whether one will or will not go … Then,  in Latin America, I don’t think there is the possibility to return because the Pope is Latin American, the first trip was in Latin America … goodbye! We must wait a bit! I think we can go to Asia, but this is all in the air. I received an invitation to go to Sri Lanka and also to the Philippines. But we must go to Asia. Because Pope Benedict did not have the time to go to Asia, and it’s important. He went to Australia and then to Europe, America, but Asia … To go to Argentina: at present I think we can wait a bit, because all these trips have a certain priority. I would like to go to Constantinople, on September 30, to visit Bartholomew I, but it’s not possible, it’s not possible because of my agenda. If we meet, we’ll do so at Jerusalem.

Questions off-screen:


Pope Francis:

Fatima, there is also an invitation to Fatima, it’s true, it’s true. There’s an invitation to go to Fatima.

Questions off-screen:

September 30 or November 30?

Pope Francis:

November, November: Saint Andrew.

Father Lombardi:

Well then, now we go back to the United States and we call on Hada Messia of CNN to ask you a question:

Hada Messia:

Hello … you are holding up better than me … No, no, no: ok, ok. My question is: when you met with Argentine young people, somewhat jokingly, perhaps somewhat seriously you said to them that you, also, sometimes feel caged: we would like to know what you were referring to, exactly.

Pope Francis:

You know how many times I wish to go on the streets of Rome, because at Buenos Aires I used to go on the street, I liked it so much! In this connection, I feel a bit caged. But I mustn’t say this because those of the Vatican Gendarmerie are so good; they are good, good, good and I’m grateful to them. Now they let me do a few more things. I believe … their duty is to guard the security. Caged, in that sense. I would like to go on the street, but I understasnd it’s not posible: I understand it. I said it in that sense. Because my habit was – as we say in Buenos Aires – I was a street priest

Father Lombardi:

Now we call on a Brazilian again: it’s Marcio Campos, and I also ask Guenois to come close for the next turn, for the French.

Pope Francis:

I was asking the time, because they must serve supper, but are you hungry?


No, no …

Marcio Campos:

Your blessing, Holy Father. I want to say to you when you feel longing for Brazil, for the joyful Brazilian people, embrace the flag that they gave you. I want to say also that I want to thank my colleagues of the newspapers Folha de Sao Paulo, Estado, Globo and Veja for representing them with a question. Holy Father, it’s very difficult to accompany a Pope. We are all tired. You are fine and we are tired. In Brazil, the Catholic Church has lost faithful over the years. Is the Charismatic Renewal Movement a possibility to avoid the faithful joining the Pentecostal churches? Thank you very much for your presence, and thank you very much for our being on your flight.

[Repeated in Italian]

Pope Francis:

What you say is very true about the loss of faithful: it’s true, it’s true. There are statistics. We spoke with the Brazilian bishops about the problem, in a meeting we had yesterday. You asked about the Charismatic Renewal Movement. I’ll tell you something. In the years, at the end of the 70s, beginning of the 80s, I couldn’t stand them. Once, speaking of them, I said this phrase: “They confuse a liturgical celebration with a samba school!” I said this. But I repented. Then, I got to know them better. It’s also true that the Movement, with good advisers, has gone on a good path. And now I think this Movement has done so much good to the Church in general. At Buenos Aires, I met with them often and once a year had a Mass with all of them in the Cathedral. I’ve always favored them, after I was converted, when I saw the good they do. Because at this moment of the Church – and here I lengthen the answer a bit – I think the Movements are necessary. The Movements are a grace of the Holy Spirit. “But how can one stop a Movement that is so free?” The Church is also free! The Holy Spirit does what He wishes. Then He does the work of harmonizing, but I think the Movements are a grace, those Movements that have the spirit of the Church. Because of this, I think that the Charismatic Renewal Movement not only serves to avoid some going to join Pentecostal confessions. But no! It serves the Church! It renews us. And each one seeks his Movement according to his charism, where the Spirit takes him.

Question Off-screen

Pope Francis:

I’m tired. I’m tired.

Father Lombardi:

Well then, Guenois of Le Figaro for the French group.

Jean-Marie Guenois:

Holy Father, a question with my colleague of La Croix, also: You said that the Church without women loses fecundity. What concrete measures will you take? For instance, a feminine diaconate  or a woman head of a dicastery? It’s a very small technical question: You said you were tired. Do you have a special preparation for the return? Thank you, Holiness.

Pope Francis:

We begin with the last. This plane doesn’t have special preparations. I’m in front, in a good armchair, common, but ordinary, such as everyone has. I had a letter written and a telephone call made to say that I didn’t want special preparations on the plane: is it clear? Second, women. A Church without women is like the Apostolic College without Mary. The role of women in the Church is not only maternity, the mother of the family, but it’s stronger: it is, in fact, the icon of the Virgin, of Our Lady, the one who helps the Church grow! But think that Our Lady is more important than the Apostles! She is more important! The Church is feminine: she is Church, she is spouse, she is Mother. But women in the Church, not only must … I don’t know how it’s said in Italian … a woman’s role in the Church must not end only as mother, as worker, limited. No! It’s something else! But the Popes … Paul VI wrote a very beautiful thing on women, but I think we must go further in making the role and charism of women more explicit. A Church without women can’t be understood, but active women in the Church, with their profile, which they carry forward. I’m thinking of an example that has nothing to do with the Church, but it’s an historical example: in Latin America, in Paraguay. For me, the Paraguayan woman is the most glorious of Latin America. Are you Paraguayan? After the war, there were eight women for every man and these women made a rather difficult choice: the choice of having children to save the homeland, the culture, the faith and the language. In the Church, it must be made more explicit. I think we have not yet made a profound theology of woman in the Church. She can only do this or that, now she is an altar server, then she does the Reading, she is president of Caritas. But there is more! A profound theology must be made of woman. This is what I think.

Father Lombardi:

Now for the Spanish group, we have Pablo Ordaz of El Pais.

Pablo Ordaz:

We wanted to know your relation of work, not so much as friend, of collaboration with Benedict XVI. There’s never been a circumstance like this before, and if you have frequent contacts, and if he is helping you with this burden. Thank you very much.

[Repeated in Italian]

Pope Francis:

I believe the last time there were two Popes, or three Popes, they didn’t speak to one another; they were fighting to see who was the true one. There were three in the Western Schism. There is something that …

[Repeated in Italian]

There is something that qualifies my relation with Benedict: I love him so much. I’ve always loved him. For me he is a man of God, a humble man, a man who prays. I was so happy when he was elected Pope. Also when he gave his resignation, it was for me an example of greatness! A great man. Only a great man does this! A man of God is a man of prayer. He now lives in the Vatican, and some say to me: but how can this be? Two Popes in the Vatican! But, doesn’t he encumber you? Doesn’t he make a revolution against you? All these things that are said, no? I’ve found a phrase to say this: “It’s like having a grandfather at home,” but a wise grandfather. When a grandfather is at home with a family, he is venerated, loved, listened to. He is a man of prudence! He doesn’t meddle. I’ve said to him so many times: “Holiness, you receive, make your life, come with us.” He came for the inauguration and blessing of the statue of Saint Michael. There, that phrase says everything. For me he is like having a grandfather at home: my father. If I had a difficulty or something I didn’t understand, I would telephone him: “But, tell me, can I do that?” And when I went to talk about that big problem of Vatileaks, he told me everything with a simplicity … at the service. It’s something I don’t know if you know, I think so, but I’m not sure: when he spoke to us, in his farewell address on February 28, he said to us: “The next Pope is among you: I promise obedience to him.” But he’s a great man, he is a great!

Father Lombardi:

Well now we give the floor again to a Brazilian, Anna Ferreira; and now Gian Guido Vecchi is also coming for Italian.

Anna Ferreira:

Holy Father, good evening. Thank you. I would like to say “thank you” so many times: thank you for having brought so much joy to Brazil, and thank you also for answering our questions. We, journalists, are so fond of asking questions. I would like to know, why, yesterday, you spoke to the Brazilian Bishops about women’s participation in our Church. I’d like to understand better: how should this participation be for us, women in the Church? If you … what do you think of the ordination of women? What should our position in the Church be?

Pope Francis:

I would like to explain a bit what I said on the participation of women in the Church: it can’t be limited to being altar servers or presidents of Caritas, catechists … No! It must be more, but profoundly more! Even mystically more, with what I’ve said of the theology of woman. And, with reference to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and she said : “No.” John Paul II said it, but with a definitive formulation. That is closed, that door is closed, but I’d like to say something about this. I’ve said it, but I repeat it. Our Lady, Mary, was more important than the Apostles, than bishops, deacons and priests. In the Church, woman is more important than bishops and priests; how, it’s what we must seek to make more explicit, because theological explicitness about this is lacking. Thank you.

Father Lombardi:

Gian Guido Vecchi, of Corriere della Sera: I ask Mrs. Pigozzi and Nicole then, to come after.

Gian Guido Vecchi:

Holy Father, during this trip you have spoken many times about mercy. In regard to access to the sacraments of divorced persons who have remarried, is there a possibility that something will change in the discipline of the Church? That these sacraments be an occasion to bring these people closer, rather than a barrier that separates them from the other faithful?

Pope Francis:

This is a subject that is always asked about. Mercy is greater than the case you pose. I believe this is the time of mercy. This change of era, also so many problems of the Church – such as the witness that’s not good of some priests, also problems of corruption in the Church, also the problem of clericalism, to give an example —  have left so many wounds, so many wounds. And the Church is Mother: she must go to heal the wounds with mercy. But if the Lord does not tire of forgiving, we have no other choice than this: first of all, to cure the wounds. The Church is Mother and must go on this path of mercy. And find mercy for all. But I think, when the Prodigal Son returned home, his father didn’t say: “But you, listen sit down: what did you do with the money?” No! He had a feast! Then, perhaps, when the son wished to speak, he spoke. The Church must do likewise. When there is someone … not just wait for them: go to find them! This is mercy. And I believe that this is a kairos: this time is a kairos of mercy. But John Paul II had this first intuition, when he began with Faustina Kowalska, the Divine Mercy … he had something, he had intuited that it was a necessity of this time. With reference to the problem of Communion, it’s not a problem, but when they are in a second union, they can’t. I think that it’s necessary to look at this in the totality of matrimonial ministry. And because of this it’s a problem. But also –a parenthesis – the Orthodox have a different practice. They follow the theology of the economyas we call it, and give a second possibility, they allow it. But I think this problem – I close the parenthesis – must be studied in the framework of matrimonial ministry. And because of this, two things: first, one of the subjects to be consulted with these eight of the Council of Cardinals, with whom we will meet, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of October, is how to go forward in matrimonial ministry, and this problem will arise there. And, a second thing: Fifteen days ago, the secretary of the Synod of Bishops was with me, for the topic of the next Synod. It was an anthropological topic, but speaking and speaking again, going and returning, we saw this anthropological topic: how faith helps the planning of the person, but in the family, and to go, therefore, to matrimonial ministry. We are on the way for a somewhat profound matrimonial ministry. And this is everyone’s problem, because there are so many, no? For instance, I’ll mention only one: Cardinal Quarracino, my predecessor, said that for him half of all marriages are null. Why did he say this? Because they get married without maturity, they marry without remembering that it’s for the whole of life, or they marry because socially they must marry. And the matrimonial ministry also comes into this. And also the judicial problem of the nullity of marriages, this must be reviewed, because the Ecclesiastical Tribunals are not enough for this. The problem of the matrimonial ministry is complex. Thank you.

Father Lombardi:

Thank you. Now, then, we have Mrs. Pigozzi who is of Paris Match, and again of the French group.

Caroline Pigozzi:

Good evening, Holy Father. I would like to know if you, since you’ve been Pope, still feel yourself a Jesuit.

Pope Francis:

It’s a theological question, because Jesuits take the vow of obedience to the Pope. But if the Pope is a Jesuit, perhaps he should take a vow of obedience to the General of the Jesuits … I don’t know how this is resolved … I feel myself a Jesuit in my spirituality, in the spirituality of the Exercises, spirituality, the one I have in my heart. But I feel so much like this that in three days I’ll go to celebrate with Jesuits the feast of Saint Ignatius: I will say the morning Mass. I haven’t changed my spirituality, no. Francis, Franciscan: no. I feel myself a Jesuit and I think like a Jesuit. Not hypocritically, but I think as a Jesuit. Thank you.

Father Lombardi:

If you can still bear it, there are still some questions. Now, Nicole Winfield, who is from Associated Press, and there are … but he wasn’t … but, I had a list and I really believed that you were organized … So, ok, Elisabetta, join the list also, sorry.

Nicole Winfield:

Holiness, thank you again for having come “among the lions.” Holiness, at the fourth month of your pontificate, I would like to ask you to make a small evaluation. Can you tell us what was the best thing of being Pope, an anecdote, and what was the worst thing, and what was the thing that surprised you most in this period?

Pope Francis:

But I don’t know how to answer this, really. Big thing, big things didn’t happen. Beautiful things, yes, for instance, the meeting with Italian Bishops was so good, so good. As Bishop of the capital of Italy, I felt I was at home with them. And that was lovely, but I don’t know if it was the best. Also a painful thing,  which affected my heart a lot, the visit to Lampedusa. But that’s something to weep about, that did me good. But when these boats arrive they leave some thousands there before the coast and they must arrive alone with the boat. And this makes me grieve because I think that these persons are victims of a global socio-economic system. But the worst thing – I’m sorry – that happened to me was sciatic –truly! –  I had that the first month because to do the interviews I sat in an armchair, and this gave me some grief. It’s a very painful sciatic, very painful! I don’t wish it on anyone! But these things: to talk with people; the meeting with seminarians and women religious was very lovely, was very lovely. Also the meeting with the students of the Jesuit colleges was very lovely, good things.


What is the thing that surprised you most?

Pope Francis:

The people, the people, the good people I’ve met. I’ve met so many good people in the Vatican. I thought what I should say, but that is true. I do justice, saying this: so many good people. So many good people, so many good people, but good, good, good!

Father Lombardi:

Elisabetta, but you know her and also Sergio Rubini, perhaps is coming close, so we have the Argentines.

Elisabetta Pique:

Pope Francis, first of all on behalf of the 50,000 Argentines that I met there and who said to me: you are going to travel with the Pope? Please, tell him he was fantastic, stupendous, ask him when he is going to travel, but you already said you aren’t going to travel … So I’m going to ask you a more difficult question. Did you get scared when you saw the “Vatileaks” report?

[Repeated in Italian]

Pope Francis:

No, I’m going to tell you a story about the “Vatileaks” report. When I went to see Pope Benedict, after praying in the chapel, we went to his study and I saw a big box and a thick envelope. Benedict.

[Repeated in Italian]

Benedict said to me: “All the statements, the things that the witnesses said are in this big box, all are there. But the summary and the final judgment are in this envelope. And here one says ta-ta-ta …” He had everything in his head! But what intelligence! Everything memorized everything! But no, (words in Spanish) I didn’t get sacred, no. No, no. But it’s a big problem, alas. But I didn’t get scared.

Sergio Rubin:

Holiness, two little things. This is the first one: You have insisted a lot on halting the loss of faithful. In Brazil, it’s been very strong. Do you hope that this trip will contribute to having many people return to the Church, to feel closer to her? And the second, the more personal: you like Argentina a lot, and you have Buenos Aires very much in your heart. Argentines are wondering if you miss that Buenos Aires, the Buenos Aires you went around in a bus, on the streets. Thank you very much.

[Repeated in Italian]

Pope Francis:

I think a papal trip always does one good. I believe this will do good to Brazil, but not only the presence of the Pope, but what was done in this World Youth Day, they mobilized and they will do so much good, perhaps they will help the Church a lot. But these faithful who have gone away, so many aren’t happy because they feel they belong to the Church. I believe this will be positive, not only because of the trip, but above all because of the Days, the Day was a wonderful event. And of Buenos Aires, yes, at times I miss it. And that I’ve felt. But it is a serene missing, a serene missing, it is a serene missing. But I think that you, Sergio, know better than all the others, you can answer this question, with the book you’ve written!

Father Lombardi:

Now we have the Russian and then Valentina, who was the dean, who wanted to close.

Alexey Bukalov:

Good evening Holy Father. Holy Father, returning to ecumenism: today the Orthodox are celebrating 1,025 years of Christianity. There are great celebrations in many capitals. Would you like to comment on this event, I would be happy if you did. Thank you.

Pope Francis:

In the Orthodox Churches they have kept that pristine liturgy, so beautiful. We have lost a bit the sense of adoration. They keep, they praise God, they adore God, they sing, time doesn’t count. God is the center, and this is a richness that I would like to say on this occasion in which you ask me this question. Once, speaking of the Western Church, of Western Europe, especially the Church that has grown most, they said this phrase to me: “Lux ex oriente, ex occidente luxus.” Consumerism, wellbeing, have done us so much harm. Instead  you keep this beauty of God at the center, the reference.  When one reads Dostoyevsky – I believe that for us all he must be an author to read and reread, because he has wisdom – one perceives what the Russian spirit is, the Eastern spirit. It’s something that will do us so much good. We are in need of this renewal, of this fresh air of the East, of this light of the East. John Paul II wrote it in his Letter. But so many times the luxus of the West makes us lose the horizon. I don’t know, it came to me to say this. Thank you.

Father Lombardi:

And now we close with Valentina that, as she began in the trip of departure, now closes on the return trip.

Valentina Alazraki:

Holiness, thank you for keeping the promise to answer our questions on the way back …

[Repeated in Italian]

Pope Francis:

I delayed your supper …

[Repeated in Italian]

Valentina Alazraki:

It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter … well, the serious question on behalf of all the Mexicans: When are you going to Guadalupe?  But that one is of the Mexicans. Mine is: you are going to canonize two great Popes, John XXIII and John Paul II. I would like to know, in your opinion, what is the model of holiness that issues from one and the other and the impact they’ve had on the Church and on you.

[Repeated in Italian]

Pope Francis:

John XXIII is somewhat the figure of the “country priest,” the priest who loves each one of the faithful, who knows how to care for the faithful and he did this as bishop as well as nuncio. But how many testimonies of false Baptism he did in Turkey in favor of the Jews! He was a courageous man, a good country priest, with such a great sense of humor, so great, and great holiness. When he was nuncio, some didn’t like him so much in the Vatican, and when he arrived to bring things or ask for things, in certain offices they made him wait. He never, never lamented it: he prayed the Rosary, read the Breviary. Also he was one who was concerned for the poor. When Cardinal Casaroli returned from a mission – I believe in Hungary or in what was Czechoslovakia at that time, I don’t remember which of the two – he went to him to explain how the mission was, in that period of diplomacy of “small countries.” And they had the audience – 20 days later John XXIII was dead – and while Casaroli was going, he stopped him: “Ah Eminence – no, he wasn’t Eminence – Excellency, a question: do you continue to go to those youths?” Because Casaroli went to the prison of minors of Casal del Marmo and played with them. And Casaroli said: Yes, yes!” “Don’t ever abandon them.” This to a diplomat, who arrived from a tour of diplomacy, a very demanding trip, John XXIII said: “Don’t ever abandon the boys.” But he was a great man, a great man! Then there is the question of the Council: he was a man who was docile to the voice of God, because what came to him from the Holy Spirit came to him and he was docile. Pius XII thought of doing it, but the circumstances weren’t ripe to do it. I think that he [John XXIII] didn’t think of the circumstances: he felt that and he did it. A man who let himself be guided by the Lord.

Of John Paul II I wish to say he was “the great missionary of the Church”: he was a missionary, a missionary, a man who took the Gospel everywhere, you know it better than me. But how many trips did he make? But he went! He felt the fire of taking forward the Word of the Lord. He is a Paul, he is a Saint Paul, he is such a man; for me this is great. And to do the ceremony of canonization of the two together I believe is a message for the Church: these two are brave, they are brave, they are two brave men. But there is underway the cause of Paul VI and also of Pope Luciani: these two are on the way. But, again something that I believe I said, but I don’t know if here or elsewhere: the date of canonization. We thought December 8 of this year, but there’s a big problem; those who come from Poland, the poor, because those who have means can come by plane, but those who come, the poor, come by bus and in December the roads already have ice and I think the date must be thought out again. I spoke with Cardinal Dziwisz and he suggested two possibilities: either Christ the King of this year or the Sunday of Mercy of next year. I think Christ the King is too short a time for this year, because the Consistory will be on September 30 and at the end of October there is little time, but I don’t know, I must speak with Cardinal Amato about this. But I don’t think it will be December 8.


But will they be canonized together?

Pope Francis:

Together all two together, yes.

Father Lombardi:

Thank you, Holiness. Who is there still? Ilze? Then we will have given everyone a chance, even more than were registered first …

Ilze Scamparini:

I would like to ask permission to ask a somewhat delicate question: another image has also gone around the world, which is that of Monsignor Ricca and news about your privacy. I would like to know, Holiness, what do you intend to do about this question. How to address this question and how Your Holiness intends to address the whole question of the gay lobby?

Pope Francis:

In regard to Monsignor Ricca, I’ve done what Canon Law orders to do, which is the investigatio previa. And from this investigatio there is nothing of which they accuse him, we haven’t found anything of that. This is the answer. But I would like to add something else on this: I see that so many times in the Church, outside of this case and also in this case, they go to look for the “sins of youth,” for instance, and this is published. Not the crimes, alas. Crimes are something else: the abuse of minors is a crime. No, the sins. But if a person, lay or priest or Sister, has committed a sin and then has converted, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is important for our life. When we go to confession and truly say: “I have sinned in this,” the Lord forgets and we don’t have the right not to forget, because we run the risk  that the Lord won’t forget our [sins]. That’s a danger. This is important: a theology of sin. I think so many times of Saint Peter: he committed one of the worst sins, which is to deny Christ, and with this sin he was made Pope. We must give it much thought. But, returning to your more concrete question: in this case, I’ve done the investigatio previa and we found nothing. This is the first question. Then you spoke of the gay lobby. Goodness knows! So much is written of the gay lobby. I still have not met one who will give me the identity card with “gay” . They say that they exist. I think that when one meets a person like this, one must distinguish  the fact of being a gay person from the fact of doing a lobby, because not all lobbies are good.  That’s bad. If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in such a beautiful way, it says, Wait a bit, as is said and says: “these persons must not be marginalized because of this; they must be integrated in society.” The problem isn’t having this tendency, no. We must be brothers, because this is one, but there are others, others. The problem is the lobbying of this tendency: lobby of the avaricious, lobby of politicians, lobby of Masons, so many lobbies. This, for me, is the more serious problem. And I thank you.

Father Lombardi:

Thank you. It seems to me we can’t do much more. We have even abused the Pope who told us he was a bit tired and we now hope he will rest a bit.

Pope Francis:

Thank you and good night, good trip and good rest.

Pope Benedict speaks of the New Evangelization as an “encounter the Lord, who alone who fills our existence”

This morning in Rome, Pope Benedict opened the 13th Ordinary Synod of Bishops whose it will be to guide him and the entire Church, in the work of Evangelization. At Holy Mass, His Holiness bestowed the honor of being Doctors of the Church on Saint John of Avila and Saint Hildegard of Bingen. The Pope’s homily follows.

Syn on Evan.jpg

With this solemn concelebration we open the thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. This theme reflects a programmatic direction for the life of the Church, its members, families, its communities and institutions. And this outline is reinforce by the fact that it coincides with the beginning of the Year of Faith, starting on 11 October, on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. I give a cordial and grateful welcome to you who have come to be part of the Synodal Assembly, in particular to the Secretary-General of the Synod of Bishops, and to his colleagues. I salute the fraternal delegates of the other churches and ecclesial communities as well as all present, inviting them to accompany in daily prayer the deliberations which will take place over the next three weeks.

The readings for this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word propose to us two principal points of reflection: the first on matrimony, which I will touch shortly; and the second on Jesus Christ, which I will discuss now. We do not have time to comment upon the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews but, at the beginning of this Synodal Assembly, we ought to welcome the invitation to fix our gaze upon the Lord Jesus, “crowned with glory and honour, because of the suffering of death (2:9). The word of God places us before the glorious One who was crucified, so that our whole lives, and in particular the commitment of this Synodal session, will take place in the sight of him and in the light of his mystery. In every time and place, evangelization always has as its starting and finishing points Jesus Christ, the Son of God (cf. Mk 1:1); and the Crucifix is the supremely distinctive sign of him who announces the Gospel: a sign of love and peace, a call to conversion and reconciliation. My dear Brother Bishops, starting with ourselves, let us fix our gaze upon him and let us be purified by his grace.

I would now like briefly to examine the new evangelization, and its relation to ordinary evangelization and the mission ad Gentes. The Church exists to evangelize. Faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ’s command, his disciples went out to the whole world to announce the Good News, spreading Christian communities everywhere. With time, these became well-organized churches with many faithful. At various times in history, divine providence has given birth to a renewed dynamism in Church’s evangelizing activity. We need only think of the evangelization of the Anglo-Saxon peoples or the Slavs, or the transmission of the faith on the continent of America, or the missionary undertakings among the peoples of Africa, Asia and Oceania. It is against this dynamic background that I like to look at the two radiant figures that I have just proclaimed Doctors of the Church, Saint John of Avila and Saint Hildegard of Bingen. Even in our own times, the Holy Spirit has nurtured in the Church a new effort to announce the Good News, a pastoral and spiritual dynamism which found a more universal expression and its most authoritative impulse in the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. Such renewed evangelical dynamism produces a beneficent influence on the two specific “branches” developed by it, that is, on the one hand the Missio ad Gentes or announcement of the Gospel to those who do not yet know Jesus Christ and his message of salvation, and on the other the New Evangelization, directed principally at those who, though baptized, have drifted away from the Church and live without reference to the Christian life. The Synodal Assembly which opens today is dedicated to this new evangelization, to help these people encounter the Lord, who alone who fills our existence with deep meaning and peace; and to favour the rediscovery of the faith, that source of grace which brings joy and hope to personal, family and social life. Obviously, such a special focus must not diminish either missionary efforts in the strict sense or the ordinary activity of evangelization in our Christian communities, as these are three aspects of the one reality of evangelization which complement and enrich each other.

The theme of marriage, found in the Gospel and the first reading, deserves special attention. The message of the word of God may be summed up in the expression found in the Book of Genesis and taken up by Jesus himself: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24; Mk 10:7-8). What does this word say to us today? It seems to me that it invites us to be more aware of a reality, already well known but not fully appreciated: that matrimony is a Gospel in itself, a Good News for the world of today, especially the dechristianized world. The union of a man and a woman, their becoming “one flesh” in charity, in fruitful and indissoluble love, is a sign that speaks of God with a force and an eloquence which in our days has become greater because unfortunately, for various reasons, marriage, in precisely the oldest regions evangelized, is going through a profound crisis. And it is not by chance. Marriage is linked to faith, but not in a general way. Marriage, as a union of faithful and indissoluble love, is based upon the grace that comes from the triune God, who in Christ loved us with a faithful love, even to the Cross. Today we ought to grasp the full truth of this statement, in contrast to the painful reality of many marriages which, unhappily, end badly. There is a clear link between the crisis in faith and the crisis in marriage. And, as the Church has said and witnessed for a long time now, marriage is called to be not only an object but a subject of the new evangelization. This is already being seen in the many experiences of communities and movements, but its realization is also growing in dioceses and parishes, as shown in the recent World Meeting of Families.

One of the important ideas of the renewed impulse that the Second Vatican Council gave to evangelization is that of the universal call to holiness, which in itself concerns all Christians (cf. Lumen Gentium, 39-42). The saints are the true actors in evangelization in all its expressions. In a special way they are even pioneers and bringers of the new evangelization: with their intercession and the example of lives attentive to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they show the beauty of the Gospel to those who are indifferent or even hostile, and they invite, as it were tepid believers, to live with the joy of faith, hope and charity, to rediscover the taste for the word of God and for the sacraments, especially for the bread of life, the Eucharist. Holy men and women bloom among the generous missionaries who announce the Good News to non-Christians, in the past in mission countries and now in any place where there are non-Christians. Holiness is not confined by cultural, social, political or religious barriers. Its language, that of love and truth, is understandable to all people of good will and it draws them to Jesus Christ, the inexhaustible source of new life.

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At this point, let us pause for a moment to appreciate the two saints who today have been added to the elect number of Doctors of the Church. Saint John of Avila lived in the sixteenth century. A profound expert on the sacred Scriptures, he was gifted with an ardent missionary spirit. He knew how to penetrate in a uniquely profound way the mysteries of the redemption worked by Christ for humanity. A man of God, he united constant prayer to apostolic action. He dedicated himself to preaching and to the more frequent practice of the sacraments, concentrating his commitment on improving the formation of candidates for the priesthood, of religious and of lay people, with a view to a fruitful reform of the Church.

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Saint Hildegard of Bingen, an important female figure of the twelfth century, offered her precious contribution to the growth of the Church of her time, employing the gifts received from God and showing herself to be a woman of brilliant intelligence, deep sensitivity and recognized spiritual authority. The Lord granted her a prophetic spirit and fervent capacity to discern the signs of the times. Hildegard nurtured an evident love of creation, and was learned in medicine, poetry and music. Above all, she maintained a great and faithful love for Christ and his Church.

This summary of the ideal in Christian life, expressed in the call to holiness, draws us to look with humility at the fragility, even sin, of many Christians, as individuals and communities, which is a great obstacle to evangelization and to recognizing the force of God that, in faith, meets human weakness. Thus, we cannot speak about the new evangelization without a sincere desire for conversion. The best path to the new evangelization is to let ourselves be reconciled with God and with each other (cf. 2 Cor 5:20). Solemnly purified, Christians can regain a legitimate pride in their dignity as children of God, created in his image and redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and they can experience his joy in order to share it with everyone, both near and far.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us entrust the work of the Synod meeting to God, sustained by the communion of saints, invoking in particular the intercession of great evangelizers, among whom, with much affection, we ought to number Blessed Pope John Paul II, whose long pontificate was an example of the new evangelization. Let us place ourselves under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of the New Evangelization. With her let us invoke a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that from on high he may illumine the Synodal assembly and make it fruitful for the Church’s journey today, in our time. Amen.

Siena Forum for Faith and Culture hosts Frank Hannigan on Marriage lectures

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The Siena Forum for Faith and Culture is looking forward to Frank Hannigan’s presentation on “Building a Winning Marriage.”

Hannigan, director of the Office of Family Ministries for the Archdiocese of Chicago, will be here on March 10, 1-4:30.
Join us, bring a friend.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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