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Why Pope Francis
has called for a synod to look at family life

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the synod

Divorce, migration changing face of
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placeholder October 6, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 17   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers
Why Pope Francis has called for a synod
to look at family life

Rev. David K. O'Rourke, OP

Pope Francisco is opening a major meeting in Rome of bishops and others from all over the world. He has called them together to look at family life, and what the Church can do to support it.

And he is doing this because the changes in the ways families live are so great, and the demands and crises we face so overwhelming, that we need to figure out how to muster our resources to support families. After all, they carry on the most basic work of the human race — bearing, rearing and educating the next generation. And they have to do it without much social support, and with the realities of war, epidemics and financial collapse facing them every day.

Twenty some years ago, when I was working in the Family Life Office at the Diocese of Oakland, I was asked to serve as the writer for a pastoral plan in support of family ministry that the U.S. bishops wanted to create. I agreed, and then spent the next six months researching the history of family life in America since the Civil War.

I admit I was astounded at what I learned. Put simply, from the Civil War up to the present day we went from being a country based on the farm, to a nation whose people moved to towns and cities built around factories, steel mills and processing plants, and then, as the industries moved overseas, to a nation characterized by information processing, communications and entertainment. But now, in our lives focused on our smart phones, email and the Internet, relationships can get in the way.

Pope Francisco has likened the church in our changing world to "a field hospital after a battle." And the battles in our world continue bloody and non-stop. Pope Francisco wants the synod to look at the battlefield we all live in, and at the wounded we are.

Back in 1837 an English visitor wrote that "Americans love their country, not indeed as it is, but as it will be …" Church leaders in recent years have spoken much about how things should be. He wants the synod to do more. He wants them to look at the Church as it is in a world as it is. And he wants them to come up with ways and words of healing — healing especially for the wounds that are daily parts of family life.

I can see the changes in my own family history. My grandparents raised all their food on their little farm, and my grandmother made their clothes; their children, my uncles, built and operated factories; and my most recent book has been published not only as a book but is also available in digital form directly from the publisher in Switzerland on the Internet. And all this change, which affects how we live, has come about in a little over 100 years.

We talk about and describe the faith and the Church using our own language. But language is a human creation, and it reflects our lives and culture and set of mind.

(Father O'Rourke is parochial administrator at Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Point Richmond and defender of the bond for the diocesan Department of Canon Law/Marriage Tribunal.)


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