CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Basic pastoral challenge for our Church

HONG KONG (SE): Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, described the somewhat controversial document produced by Pope Francis at the conclusion of the Synod on the Family, which ran over two sessions in 2015 and 2016, as a guide to pastoral approach rather than a dissertation on doctrine.
At a gathering for priests and religious held at St. Paul’s Convent School in Causeway Bay on May 14, he described The Joy of Love as being the result of over two years’ of listening to the people of God and the synod fathers at two sessions, calling the whole process a fine example of what the pope calls synodality topped off with the papal seal.
In approaching the controversial chapter eight, over which there has been much argument as to whether it opens up the possibility for the divorced and remarried in certain circumstances to receive communion or not, he said that it does not contain any change in the current doctrine, but does outline a new and refreshing pastoral approach to such couples.
Cardinal Baldisseri said that Pope Francis is expressing great care for those who have found themselves in irregular situations, saying that irrespective of the reason, he understands that it can be a source of great pain.
He also stresses that he understands that it is not a situation that can be addressed with simplistic platitudes, as human problems tend to be far more complex than what the purely one-size-fits-all approach can address and each one must be looked into step by step with great care and concern for the welfare of the couple and their children, as well as others involved in the dilemma.
He stressed on more than one occasion that Pope Francis notes that there are no across-the-board solutions to the many and varied situations that people find themselves in.
Cardinal Baldisseri also stressed that the bottom line motivating force of all pastoral outreach must be mercy and that each and every case must be discerned, and this is something that happens in stages.
“It is a challenge to strengthen families living together without sacramental marriage, but have a desire to do so and to ultimately receive the sacraments,” he said.
He referred to what Pope John Paul II called the law of gradualness, which acknowledges the human process of learning, or coming to know how to love and how to accomplish moral good through various stages of growth.
Pope John Paul’s approach is a direct encouragement to look at those who are in a second or even third union with the eyes of transforming their situation into a full reality of marriage and family in conformity with the gospel.
They should not be approached in the frame of mind that the important thing is to censure them and break up whatever relationship exists with the intention of bringing the situation back to what it was in the first place.
He then quoted Canadian Mark Cardinal Ouellet as saying, “You cannot reestablish what was before.”
However, Cardinal Baldisseri called this a big pastoral challenge, as few have the preparation and ability to enter into an appropriate discernment process with couples in irregular situations.
But the main thrust of the cardinal’s talk placed an emphasis on the pope’s description of the family as a community of love, with cracks in the wall entrusted to the power of grace and forgiveness.
“The first challenge,” he said, “is to make charity the path of all pastoral activity.” He then quoted St. Paul’s famous description of love in 2 Corinthians, citing first what love is not... Love is not jealous… then what is its…  Love is patient… Love is kind…
The cardinal described love as passion, saying that it has an important place in married love, although it is sometimes difficult to understand the connection between love and sexuality, and disappointment comes with change and the amount of love that a person is willing or able to give as they change through their various life stages.
However, ultimately Cardinal Baldisseri pointed out that a family is not just the couple, but embraces children and the wider family as well.
He added that children must be a prime focus in the dynamic of any family, as it is the first place of learning about their humanity and experiencing what love and life are.
“We cannot control every situation, but the pastoral challenge is to work with parents to create an atmosphere of love, mercy and guidance that can immerse children and guide them into their wider family and parish,” Cardinal Baldisseri pointed out.
“We cannot control every situation and can’t dominate, but we can equip children to make good decisions and form healthy relationships, especially during the ages when they need sex education, which can easily and often be trivialised by divorcing it from love,” he commented.
He also pointed out that Pope Francis stresses the importance of marriage preparation for engaged couples and support for them in coming to feel an interior contentment in the soul.
“They should always be ready to postpone the marriage,” he noted, as a good guide to relevance for any marriage preparation course is how many couples decide not to marry, or at least not to marry now.
In thanking Cardinal Baldisseri for his input, Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung said that Hong Kong must submit itself to this pastoral obligation, but because there are no clear answers, the huge challenge of education must be faced squarely.
“Young people need to learn many skills, languages, swimming and many things, even Church teaching, and this creates tension in time availability and tension between parents and children, so we must listen to educationalists,” he said.
“In a way we are kind of helpless, because of our personal aging and we do not always know what to do, so in Hong Kong we need to get together to discuss our frustrations and address the knowledge gap by sharing about it,” the next bishop of Hong Kong said.
Cardinal Baldisseri concluded the afternoon with encouraging words, saying that it is not only good to share about problems, but also about the beauty and joy of marriage and family life.
“We need to create a family of families in our parishes,” he concluded.

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