Families helping families — this may have been one of the greatest “fruits” to come from the Synod on the Family, said the president of the U.S. Bishops Conference Monday. “One of the greatest insights I brought home from the Synod last month is the recognition of families as ministers of the Gospel,” said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville. “Families are not simply objects, receiving from us who serve,” he added. “The families are subjects, those who give and share, who inspire others through their heroic lives often lived in very ordinary circumstances but lived in extraordinarily faithful ways.” Archbishop Kurtz, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, made his remarks in a presidential address to his brother bishops at their annual fall general assembly in Baltimore Nov. 16. The agenda for the bishops’ meeting included an address by the Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano and the approval of a formal statement on pornography, as well as a discussion of October’s Synod on the Family. In his presidential address, Archbishop Kurtz hearkened back to both Pope Francis’ September U.S. visit and to October’s Synod on the Family, and also pointed ahead to the Jubilee Year of Mercy which begins on Dec. 8. Recalling how Pope Francis urged the bishops to “be pastors close to the people” in his Sept. 23 address at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C., Archbishop Kurtz stressed that the bishops must be present to the faithful during the Year of Mercy. And that “mission of mercy begins with a presence,” he added. “A special arena where our presence is desperately needed is in the homes and the hearts of families,” he insisted. He referenced Pope Francis’ words at the synod’s closing Mass that priests and bishops should avoid “scheduled ministry” and embrace the inconveniences that may accompany pastoral ministry. The archbishop told of married couples who complained of feeling like a “completed project” after they were married in the Church, and who desired their pastors and bishops to be “present in their lives” even after marriage. Both this year’s synod and the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family reflected this need for pastoral accompaniment of families — to help those “struggling” to live out the Church’s teaching and also “inspire” every person to the “joy and strength in their vocation in Christ,” he added. There is also a need to encourage families who are faithfully living out Church teaching, he said, and there was “wide agreement” about the importance of this among the synod fathers. “These families who accompany other families — we often call them mentors — may be the greatest fruit of the synod process,” Archbishop Kurtz reflected. Bishops must also work to encourage families by promoting “the beautiful vision of self-giving love in marriage,” he continued. Part of these efforts will be the approval of a formal statement on pornography which is on the agenda at the bishops’ meeting. This will be an opportunity to “lift up the beauty of God’s plan for human sexuality,” Archbishop Kurtz said. The archbishop also shared an example of family love of his brother Georgie, who has Down syndrome. Georgie was the “glue of our family,” Archbishop Kurtz explained. He “forced us to slow down, to ask for help,” and “focus on being together.” These experiences of family love “are the ones that continue to enrich us,” he continued. “These families testify to Christ and His love simply by being faithful to one another, loving their children, welcoming others into their homes, teaching the faith, praying together.” These are “simple things, but they are a profound witness to a vocation that the world needs,” he added. In reaching out to help the faithful, “know that this Pope is at your side,” the archbishop told his fellow bishops. “The Pope supports you. He puts His own hand on yours.”
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