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Embrace the divorced and remarried

PARIS (SE): On the day that Emmanuel Macron was elected as the new president of France, a meeting of a different kind took place in the diocese of Le Havre, far from Paris in the northwest of the country.
Bishop Jean-Luc Brunin had sent out invitations to people who have been through the experience of a separation or a divorce, as well as to those who are divorced and remarried to come to a gathering on May 7 for a day of sharing and fellowship.
Twenty-six people turned up at a newly inaugurated centre set up by the mayor of the city with the aim of laying the groundwork for personal and pastoral discernment with a view to better integration with the Church.
Bishop Brunin explained that although the people that came are often referred to in the Church as being in an irregular state, they are mostly less concerned about access to sacraments than they are with a more general sense of the shame and marginalisation they experience in the Church.
“Many feel they are relegated to the fringes of Christian communities, pushed out to the Church’s forecourt,” he explained.
Like many of his counterparts in France, the bishop of Le Havre wants to make a concrete response to Pope Francis’ appeal for a warmer welcome to be given to the divorced and those that are derogatorily referred to in the Church as being in an irregular situation.
La Croix reported that Bishop Brunin said that he organised the day to try and begin some momentum in the overall community, “Because we don’t live our faith in an individual trajectory, but always within a Christian community.”
Sophie Charpentier, with her husband, Dominique, who is a deacon, both belong to the Pastoral Care for the Family Commission and described the day as being an opportunity to forge links with people who often feel stigmatised within the Church.
“It was very moving,” Charpentier said.
She said that as someone who believes her own marriage is going well, she has long found it hard to know what to say to people who have been through a breakup and in this context alone she finds the approach of Pope Francis a breath of fresh air.
“We should listen to people’s request for mercy,” she said, adding that she believes everyone is fragile and should offer support to each other.
Phone numbers were swapped at the gathering and new meetings arranged to be held in the future, probably at a more local level, which the bishop says he is giving his support to, as pastoral care should be given locally and not necessarily at even the level of parish, but in smaller units.
The 26 people who turned up for the inaugural gathering have volunteered to be part of the pastoral landscape and to reach out to all those who, like themselves, live in family situations which are sometimes distanced from the Church.
Over recent months, other dioceses in France have taken on this sensitive issue as well. 
In Rouen, a unique celebration took place on All Saints’ Day last year when the bishop sent seven priests out to provide support to divorced people who are in a new relationship.
However, the bishops warned that things should be kept in perspective and if The Joy of Love indeed does envisage that discernment may allow participation in the sacramental life of the Church, the process should not be regarded as automatic.

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