In their message to the faithful, the synod fathers praised the life-giving love between a man and a woman, which despite many challenges, endures through the grace given by God in the sacrament of marriage. “Such love, of its nature, strives to be forever to the point of laying down one’s life for the beloved. In this light conjugal love, which is unique and indissoluble, endures despite many difficulties,” the Oct. 18 message read. This love, it continued, “is one of the most beautiful of all miracles and the most common.” Synod fathers for the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family released their message to the people of God following almost two weeks of intense discussion on marriage and family life. Meetings began on Oct. 5 and will conclude tomorrow, Oct. 19, with the beatification of Paul VI, institutor of the synod, which will be presided over by Pope Francis, and attended by Benedict XVI. The synod’s message comes in the wake of the publication of the meeting’s controversial midterm report last weekend, which garnered from many bishops a call for the clarification of numerous phrases, as well as the shedding of a more positive light on the family and a greater reference to scripture. The final document is expected to be released Sunday, or perhaps this evening. In the message to the faithful, the synod fathers explained that their preparations for the synod have included not only the questionnaire sent out to local Churches around the world, but also listening to many families and their experiences. Because of this, “Our dialogue during the Synod has been mutually enriching, helping us to look at the complex situations which face families today.” They praised the union of spouses as being “a gift, a grace expressed, as the Book of Genesis says, when the two are ‘face to face’ as equal and mutual helpers." The love of a man and a woman show us that each needs the other in order to be truly one, the message read, while clarifying that while each remains different, they become one through the revelation expressed in a reciprocal gift of self. Such an authentic love, they said, begins with a process of courtship, waiting, and preparation before receiving the sacrament of marriage. It is spread through “fertility and generativity, which involves not only the procreation of children but also the gift of divine life in baptism, their catechesis, and their education,” the document continued. The synod fathers also pointed out, however, that despite the grace received in the sacrament of marriage each home is filled with both light and the shadow of various challenges and trials, including the darkness of sin. They recognized the increasing difficulties in remaining faithful to one’s spouse in conjugal love, saying that “enfeebled faith and indifference to true values, individualism, impoverishment of relationships, and stress that excludes reflection,” are all negative forces that leave a mark on family life. Burdens are also placed on families due to the suffering that can be caused by various situations such as caring for a child with special needs; serious illness; the deterioration of age; or the death of loved ones, they observed. The synod fathers pointed out that financial stress due to corrupt economic systems and unemployment are particular destructive forces to families, and also mentioned the despair of youth who often turn to drugs as an escape. Of special concern in family life today are the poor, as well as refugees and migrants who risk everything seeking a better life, and those affected by war or who are persecuted for their faith or spiritual values. They also drew attention to the violence toward and exploitation of women, and the abuse of children by those who should have protected them. “The culture of prosperity deadens us….all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us,” the synod fathers wrote, quoting Evangelii gaudium. “We call on governments and international organizations to promote the rights of the family for the common good.” However, despite the many hardships afflicting family life, the message emphasized that “God is always there to accompany us,” and that his presence can be felt inside the affection and dialogue that takes place inside the family dynamic. Prayer and the education of children in the faith were named as specific responsibilities of Christian parents, and the role of grandparents was also emphasized as being crucial to the family structure. In addition to performing works of mercy, especially to the poor and marginalized, the synod fathers said that most important element tying the threads of family life together is “the Sunday Eucharist when the family and the whole Church sits at table with the Lord.” The synod fathers gave a brief mention to their process of reflection on how to accompany those who have been divorced and remarried, which will be discussed further in preparation for the ordinary synod next year. The message concluded by asking the faithful to “walk with us toward the next synod” through prayer to the Holy Family, as well as by praying the prayer written by the synod fathers for families all over the world, which follows: Father, grant to all families the presence of strong and wise spouses who may be the source of a free and united family. Father, grant that parents may have a home in which to live in peace with their families. Father, grant that children may be a sign of trust and hope and that young people may have the courage to forge life-long, faithful commitments. Father, grant to all that they may be able to earn bread with their hands, that they may enjoy serenity of spirit and that they may keep aflame the torch of faith even in periods of darkness. Father, grant that we may all see flourish a Church that is ever more faithful and credible, a just and humane city, a world that loves truth, justice and mercy.