It has been a long-standing custom for the president, vice-president and general secretary of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference to journey to Rome in October for a constructive conversation on timely topics of great interest to the church in the United States. How delighted I was to find that I’ll be meeting with Pope Francis on the feast of St. Francis, October 4.
I recall the wonderful meeting that Cardinal Dolan and I had with the pope last October. This year, I will be eager to express our love for him and bring back his message for all of us.
I suspect that one topic for this year’s conversation will be the Holy Father’s anticipated journey to Philadelphia a year from now. While usually the Holy See announces official travel seven months ahead of time, Pope Francis has publicly spoken of his desire to come to Philadelphia, likely on the occasion of the World Meeting of Families.
The World Meeting of Families typically takes place about every four years. I recall being in Valencia for the very enriching fifth meeting of families in 2006. Next year’s celebration is even more meaningful because of its timing between the two Synods on the Family.
The first two-week synod, a smaller one called an extraordinary synod, will begin with the opening Mass on October 5, the day after our meeting with Pope Francis. Gathering the presidents of episcopal conferences from throughout the world, Pope Francis will consult with us about challenges facing families. Each delegate will have an opportunity to present a brief intervention and will participate in dialogue, both at the general gathering of 180 or so delegates, as well as in small groups organized according to language. It is so enriching to meet bishops from every continent and to experience the unity of our faith in Jesus Christ working in and through the church.
While any public presentation of the proceedings will be the responsibility of the Commission on the Synod, I look forward to writing a daily blog from Rome, as I did two years ago for the Synod on the New Evangelization.
As I prepare for the synod, please pray for the other delegates and me. I have studied the Instrumentum Laboris, the “working document” that forms the basis for dialogue at the synod. The expected goal is to have a document emerge from this synod that will spark further consultation and that will eventually prepare for the 2015 synod, from which concrete pastoral proposals will result.
To prepare to serve as a delegate, I have engaged in listening sessions in the archdiocese and have greatly benefitted from the rich insights of our priests and people. If you wish to share your prayerful perspectives, we have an online instrument at www.archlou.org/familysynod.
A major theme is the church’s approach to marriage. One of our pastors, Father Dave Harris, suggested the book The Good News about Marriage by Shaunti Feldhahn, and I recommend it for your reading. Her major theme, which she supports with some startlingly positive statistics about the real state of marriage today, is that discouragement is the primary enemy of marriage in today’s culture.
Her point is very simple. Empowered by these positive statistics, we need to avoid self-fulfilling prophecies of doom that rob married couples of confidence. As we reach out to those preparing for marriage, seek to support those married, and accompany those who experience the pain and suffering of wounds within families, the need to point to the good news of marriage makes a lot of sense to me.
Of course, challenges to marriage and the accompanying pain and hurt are real. Pope Francis calls us to walk with and reach out to those who are wounded and hurting. He echoes the words and actions of Jesus, who calls his followers to do the same. As we seek ways to do this, we need to stir up, call forth, and sustain true witnesses to the faithful love of a married couple for each other, for their children, and for the world. Their witness to the good news will be essential for our efforts to support our families.
Please pray that the pastoral steps of the synod delegates will be true to the teachings of Jesus in the church and will bring forth the pastoral heart in the heart of Jesus. In Jesus is our hope, and as St. Paul proclaims: “Hope does not disappoint.” Romans 5:5
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz