Most bishops at the recent Synod on the Family agreed that the Church should minister to married couples long after their wedding day, said a U.S. bishop who served as a delegate at the global meeting. Other bishops also voiced their impression of the synod, saying that the African delegates showed a particular clarity and strength in speaking about marriage and family life. What was “amazing” at the synod was that “almost everyone agreed that we need to do a better job once a couple is married, in the first eight years to 10 years of their marriage,” stated Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston. “That was agreed upon no matter where you were from. To me that was significant, and it was important,” the U.S. bishops’ conference vice president told fellow U.S. bishops at their fall general assembly. The synod’s “primary concern” was the “importance of the family as the basis of society and as a domestic Church,” stated Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, who was personally appointed by Pope Francis to attend the synod. Bishop Murry and Cardinal DiNardo were two of nine U.S. bishops to attend the recent Synod on the Family. They and other synod fathers from the U.S. shared their experiences at the U.S. bishops’ fall general assembly in Baltimore, Md. on Nov. 16. The Ordinary Synod on the Family was held in Rome from Oct. 4-25. It followed the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family, and the theme of both was “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the modern world.” Cardinal DiNardo saw the synod as an ellipse with the two focal points of marriage and family. “The two occasionally came into concord, sometimes into some discord,” he said. Bishop delegates from the U.S. were impressed by the witness of bishops from all over the world — the “truly international dimension of the Church,” as Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia described it — and they had high praise for the bishops from Africa and Eastern Europe in particular. The bishops from those areas were “astounding,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York testified, and were “particularly compelling in their exhortations about marriage and family life.” Cardinal DiNardo was “most impressed” by the “assertiveness” of the bishops from the “developing world,” particularly from Africa. The testimonies from India and Africa showed that their “family structure is much more cohesive” than in the West, Bishop Murry noted. He added that the bishops from those areas expressed concern — and sometimes anger — about the harmful effects of consumerism and technocracy on the family that are exported by the developed world. There was also a “wonderful experience of fraternity” among the U.S. bishops who attended, said Archbishop Chaput, highlighted by their celebration of daily Mass together. The Philadelphia archbishop also clarified that “some of the reports” of “battles” at the synod were not true. There were indeed “significant differences” among some bishops, but they were “for the most part” handled with a “fraternal spirit,” he said. “There was real conversion that took place” at the synod, said Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago. “People considered their positions in different ways” after hearing each other, he added. Bishops did express some “frustration” with the synod process and especially with the instrumentum laboris, or the final document from last year’s extraordinary synod that served as the preparatory document for this year’s synod discussions. Many bishops had criticized the document in October, citing its lack of clarity and saying that it put some of the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality in a negative light. It was “frustrating that our work primarily was to amend” the working document, Archbishop Chaput said of the whole process of 270 bishops suggesting and voting on amendments. But the bishops praised Pope Francis’ “presence” at the synod as a support for all the bishops there. Bishop Murry noted how the Holy Father greeted each bishop personally on the first day. His daily presence was “a strong reminder of who we should be as Church and of our unity with the Holy Father,” Bishop Murry said.
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