With this catechesis we take up again our reflection on the family. After speaking last time of wounded families caused by the misunderstanding of spouses, today I would like to focus our attention on another reality: how to take care of those that, following the irreversible failure of their marital bond, have undertaken a new union.
The Church knows well that such a situation contradicts the Christian Sacrament. However, her look of teacher draws always from her heart of mother; a heart that, animated by the Holy Spirit, always seeks the good and salvation of persons. See why she feels the duty, “for the sake of truth,” to “exercise careful discernment.” Saint John Paul II expressed himself thus in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio (n. 84), pointing out, for instance, the difference between one who has suffered the separation and one who has caused it. This discernment must be made.
If, then, we look at these new bonds with the eyes of little ones – and the little ones are looking – with the eyes of children, we see even more the urgency to develop in our communities a real acceptance of persons that live such situations. Therefore, it is important that the style of the community, its language, its attitudes are always attentive to persons, beginning with the little ones. They are the ones who suffer the most, in these situations. Otherwise, how will we be able to recommend to these parents to do their utmost to educate the children in the Christian life, giving them the example of a convinced and practiced faith, if we hold them at a distance from the life of the community, as if they were excommunicated? We must proceed in such a way as not to add other weights beyond those that the children, in these situations, already have to bear! Unfortunately, the number of these children and youngsters is truly great. It is important that they feel the Church as a mother attentive to all, always willing to listen and to come together.
In these decades, in truth, the Church has not been either insensitive or slow. Thanks to the reflection carried out by Pastors, guided and confirmed by my Predecessors, the awareness has greatly grown that a fraternal and attentive acceptance is necessary, in love and in truth, of the baptized that have established a new coexistence after the failure of their sacramental marriage; in fact, these people are not at all excommunicated, they are not excommunicated! And they are absolutely not treated as such: they are always part of the Church.
Pope Benedict XVI intervened on this question, soliciting careful discernment and wise pastoral support, knowing that “simple recipes” do not exist (Address to the 7th World Meeting of Families, Milan, June 2, 2012, answer n. 5).
Hence the repeated invitations of Pastors to manifest openly and consistently the community’s willingness to receive and encourage them, so that they live and develop increasingly their belonging to Christ and to the Church with prayer, with listening to the Word of God, with frequenting of the liturgy, with the Christian education of the children, with charity and service to the poor, with commitment to justice and peace.
The biblical icon of the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18) summarizes the mission that Jesus received from the Father: to give his life for the sheep. This attitude is also a model for the Church, which receives her children as a mother that 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).
In the same way all Christians are called to imitate the Good Shepherd. Above all Christian families can collaborate with Him by taking care of wounded families, supporting them in the community’s life of faith. May each one do his part in assuming the attitude of the Good Shepherd, who knows each one of his sheep and excludes no one from his infinite love!
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Dear Brothers and Sisters: We return now to our catechesis on the family, by reflecting on the situation of our brothers and sisters who have divorced and entered a second union. Though their unions are contrary to the Sacrament of marriage, the Church, as a Mother, seeks the good and salvation of all her children. As these situations especially affect children, we are aware of a greater urgency to foster a true welcome for these families in our communities. For how can we encourage these parents to raise their children in the Christian life, to give them an example of Christian faith, if we keep them at arm’s length? I am especially grateful to the many pastors, guided by my Predecessors, who have worked diligently to let these families know they are still a part of the Church. There is no easy solution for these situations, but we can and must always encourage these families to participate in the Church’s life, through prayer, listening to the Word of God, the Christian education of their children, and service to the poor. As the Good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep, so the Church as a Mother gives her life for all her children, by being always the “house of the Father, with doors wide open”. May everyone, especially Christian families, imitate the Good Shepherd, who knows all his sheep and excludes no one from his infinite love.
Pope Francis (in Italian):
I offer an affectionate greeting to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present in today’s Audience, including those from England, South Africa, China and the United States. May your stay in the Eternal City confirm you in love for our Lord, and may he make you his witnesses, especially for families who feel separated from the Church. May God bless you all!
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Dear Italian-speaking pilgrims: Welcome! We can see that you are enthusiastic! I am happy to receive the participants in the Young People’s International Meeting to Assisi, the altar servers of the Dioceses of Palermo and Treviso and the Company of Saint Ursula, with the Ecclesiastical Assistant Monsignor Adriano Tessarollo. I greet the young people of the Festival of Folklore of Cori, the Association Solidarity with the Saharawi People, together with the Diocesan Missionary Center of Florence; the Committee Feasts of the Divine Crucifix of Pove del Grappa and the faithful of Baucina. May the visit to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul nourish in all a faith that is manifested in concrete works of charity. Today we celebrated the memorial of the Holy Mother of God, the Salus Populi Romani, who is venerated in Saint Mary Major. She is our patroness. It is the first Church in the West dedicated to Our Lady: I invite you all, as we are, without moving, to prayer to her: Hail Mary…
A particular thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Today we celebrate the Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, where the icon is venerated of the Virgin Salus Populi Romani. Invoke the Mother of God, dear young people, to feel the sweetness of her love; pray to her in moments of the cross and of suffering, dear sick, in particular you “Angels of Liberty” of Syracuse; look at Her, dear newlyweds, as the model of your conjugal journey of dedication and fidelity.