In the first apostolic exhortation written by Pope Francis, “Evangelii Gaudium,” our Holy Father emphasizes that “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord,” and he invites all of us to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Such an encounter presupposes a deeper awareness and acceptance of one’s true circumstance and a loving appreciation of God’s constant consideration of the human reality being lived now. In further describing his dream of a Church that gets involved with the lives of all people, especially those most despised and neglected, and therefore, a Church that is contextually missionary, Pope Francis humbly admits the need to also call himself and the Papacy into conversion. “It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization.” This pioneering thought must have triggered and shaped the background of the coming October, 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family.
The theme, “Family” is a most welcome focus of the Synod. For several decades, the on-going disintegration of family life for diverse reasons – mostly economic but also political, social, cultural and psychological – has been a nagging concern among societies like the Philippines. It has become a phenomenon to see the fast growing number of young boys and girls who come from broken homes or from families with one or both parents working outside the country. Parental presence in their growing up years has become a rare privilege even among students in several of our own Assumption schools. The situation generates grave consequences for all family members but most especially for the children. And as if to make up for long term absences of parents, children are
distracted with often unnecessary things like electronic gadgets which for some quickly become status symbols. Among adults, unhealthy relationships multiply, careers and professional commitments get compromised, and God becomes less and less allowed to be part of the home experiences. This being so, our schools have actually been trying to address this circumstance through the on-going family education programs in the past so many years. But nothing can really replace an experience of a complete family in the young years of children. In many occasions but for a limited forum each time, we find strength and inspiration in the words of Pope Benedict XVI :
“My friends, in the heart of everyone there is the desire for a home. Even more so in the young person’s heart, there is a great longing for a proper home, a stable home, one to which he can not only return with joy, but where every guest who arrives can be joyfully welcomed. There is a yearning for a home where the daily bread is love, pardon, and understanding. It is a place where the truth is the source out of which flows peace of heart. Do not be discouraged at the sight of crumbling houses, frustrated desires and faded longings. God, the Creator, who inspires in young hearts an immense yearning for happiness, will not abandon you in the difficult construction of the house called LIFE”
Today, what new hope and spiritual strength the coming October Synod provokes ! And what a wonderful way of setting the proposed “New Evangelization,” pulsating in the heart of Pope Francis, in the solid foundation of an actual glimpse into the lived realities of humanity in different cultures and walks of life. Consulting the People of God through the questionnaires forwarded to all the bishops in the world makes concrete the Holy Father’s desire to dialogue, to listen, and to humbly learn from the ordinary men and women in our global society today. The questions grouped into four themes (Fulfilling Relationships, Gender and Sexuality, How the Church Learns and Teaches, and Openness to Life) courageously open diverse issues, some of which the official Church leaders would not have dared discuss in the past. Although some topics seem more urgent in the Northern hemisphere and might sound strange to the poorer continents in the south, the mere fact that diverse issues are proposed as points for conversation and that the laity are directly addressed and invited into an open dialogue, show a tremendous openness and humble disposition of the Church ! As locally experienced, however, my observation in the Philippines is that the questionnaire has not been extensively disseminated. Inquiring from the leadership in the province in all levels, Assumption did not have any official participation in data-gathering. Some of us privately answered when we saw the questionnaire published on-line but it was unofficial and as an individual initiative. The same is true with the other congregations of women religious interviewed during diocesan assemblies. Several priests and bishops talked to about the questionnaire either were not aware of it or merely delegated the process to the parochial or diocesan council on the Family. What is strange is schools were not tapped when they could have the easy and captive forum of parents in their institutional structures. So based on this very limited sphere of observation I am sad to note that what could have been a vital source of significant information was not maximized. It is just hoped that in the actual Synod, despite the seemingly weak structure and procedure of data gathering, the participants may still arrive at critical decisions based on the truth of our human lived experiences today.
In the Assumption, at least for the Province, the Commission on Transformative Education is administering the questionnaire first to our school personnel and later, hopefully even to our parents. This is not anymore to influence the Synod but to seize the opportunity to reflect deeply on those issues proposed by the Church here and now. We will delve more deeply into particular items our clientele will find significant in their life as family and as Church. May it be another way of being with our Holy Father in his invitation for us to establish a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ and discover the joy of His Gospel as we journey forward.
S. Josefina Maria, r.a.