In a prayer vigil set before the opening of the synod of bishops, Pope Francis said we must be attentive to the signs of the times to see the needs of the family by listening, being open and looking to the Lord. “To search for that which today the Lord asks of His Church, we must lend our ears to the beat of this time and perceive the ‘scent’ of the people today,” the Roman Pontiff told the thousands gathered for the Oct. 4 evening vigil held in St. Peter’s Square. We must do this, he said, “so as to remain permeated with their joys and hopes, by their sadness and distress, at which time we will know how to propose the good news of the family with credibility.” The family, the Pope observed, is an unparalleled school of humanity thanks to the spouses’ “openness to the gift of life, the mutual protection, the encounter and memory of generations, educational support” and “the transmission of the Christian faith to their children.” And the deeper the roots of a family go, “the more it is possible in life to leave and to go far, without getting lost or feeling out of place in foreign lands,” he continued, saying that this knowledge helps us to understand the importance of the upcoming synod. Reflecting on the theme “The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization,” the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family was called for by Pope Francis last year in order to form a more concrete reflection for the Ordinary Synod to take place in 2015. This year’s extraordinary synod will launch with a Mass presided over by Pope Francis this Sunday, and will conclude with the beatification of Pope Paul VI, institutor of the synod of bishops, by the Pope Oct. 19. In his address, the Bishop of Rome turned to the Gospel, saying that in it we discover a salvation that fulfills the deepest needs of mankind, of which we as a Church are a sign and instrument. “If it were not so, our building would remain only a house of cards, and pastors would be reduced to clerics of state, on whose lips the people would search in vain for the freshness and ‘smell of the Gospel.’” Because of this we ask the Holy Spirit for three things for the upcoming synod, he said, the first being “the gift of listening for the synod fathers: to listen in the manner of God, so that they may hear, with him, the cry of the people; to listen to the people, until they breathe the will to which God calls us.” Aside from listening, the Pope also invoked an “openness toward a sincere discussion, open and fraternal, which leads us to carry with pastoral responsibility the questions that this change in epoch brings.” “We let it flow back into our hearts, without ever losing peace, but with serene trust which in his own time the Lord will not fail to bring into unity.” Finally, the secret to overcoming situations of difficulty with persistence, patience and creativity “lies in a gaze: and it is the third gift that we implore with our prayer.” To truly continue moving forward amid contemporary challenges, it is necessary to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, he said, which requires us pause for moments of contemplation when we look with adoration on his face. “If we assume his way of thinking, of living and of relating, we will never tire of translating the Synodal work into guidelines and paths for the pastoral care of the person and of the family,” the pontiff continued. “Every time we return to the source of Christian experience, new paths and un-thought of possibilities open up. This is what the Gospel hints at: ‘Do whatever he tells you…’ Let us make these words ours!” Pope Francis then went on to say that if this is the constant attitude of the synod participants, “our listening and our discussion on the family, loved with the gaze of Christ, will become a providential occasion with which to renew — according to the example of Saint Francis — the Church and society.” “With the joy of the Gospel we will rediscover the way of a reconciled and merciful Church, poor and friend of the poor; a Church ‘given strength that it might, in patience and in love, overcome its sorrows and its challenges, both within itself and from without.’” Concluding his address, the Roman Pontiff prayed that “the wind of Pentecost blow upon the Synod’s work, on the Church and on all of humanity.” “Undo the knots which prevent people from encountering one another, heal the wounds that bleed, rekindle hope,” he said, and “Grant us this creative charity which consents to love as Jesus loved, and our message may reclaim the vivacity and enthusiasm of the first missionaries of the Gospel.”