John Grabowski: Pope Francis and the Family – Another Take on the Synods and the World Meeting of Families
There is a narrative out there in the media and among some pundits that Pope Francis — unlike his predecessors — is not really interested in family. He is said to be interested in the poor, in social justice, the environment, or any number of other issues depending on the moment and the commentator’s point of view. And Pope Francis is certainly interested in these things.
However, the narrative that he is not interested in family is belied by the Holy Father’s own actions. Consider the current Pope’s ministry in reference to Saint John Paul II, a man whom Pope Francis himself called the “pope of the family” at the Mass of his canonization. At the beginning of Saint John Paul II’s pontificate he called the 1980 Synod on family, which led to his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio. At the beginning of Pope Francis’s pontificate he called two synods on family (last year’s Extraordinary Synod and this year’s Ordinary Synod). Since last December he has been devoting his weekly general audiences to an extended catechesis on family. He has chosen to signal his dedication to the family by fulfilling Pope Benedict XVI’s commitment to attend the World Meeting of Families this September in Philadelphia. Presumably the Pope’s catechesis and the input he receives from the Synod fathers will shape a forthcoming document (perhaps another Apostolic Exhortation) on family. These are not the actions of a man who is uninterested in the family or the Church’s ministry to it.
What is significant in Pope Francis’s pontificate is the way in which he has put the Church’s ministry to families in the context of the New Evangelization. In Evangelii gaudium (no. 3) he invited all Christians to a renewed encounter with the person of Christ. He then encouraged all the members of the Church to become “missionary disciples” and to actively share their faith: “The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each and every one of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization” (EG, no. 120). It is here that we find the big picture of Pope Francis’s vision for these events (both the World Meeting and the synods). In them he seeks to bring together the Church’s ministry to family with his programmatic emphasis on the New Evangelization. Christian families are called to be not just objects of the Church’s evangelizing mission, but active subjects and participants in it.
When the reporting on the Pope’s visit or the upcoming Synod fixates on particular issues, it might be helpful to keep this “big picture” in mind — the Holy Father certainly will.
— John S. Grabowski is an associate professor of moral theology/ethics at The Catholic University of America School of Theology and Religious Studies. Grabowski and his wife are one of two American member couples of the Pontifical Council for the Family. They will be participating in the World Meeting of Families. Grabowski has recently been appointed by Pope Francis as an expert (adiutor) of the forthcoming Synod of Bishops in Rome this October.