Vatican City, 16 October 2015 (VIS) – This morning, during the twelfth general congregation of the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, the Synod Fathers heard interventions by the fraternal delegates representing other Christian denominations.
Rev. Dr. Walter Altmann, of the World Council of Churches Central Committee, said that the WCC has been speaking since its 2013 Assembly in Korea of a “’pilgrimage of justice and peace’, underlining that we are together on a faith journey and are deeply committed to justice and peace as signs of God’s reign to come. This commitment to express the values of God’s reign as justice and peace is very significant for all those who live together in different types of family life. That is the first and innermost circle of our life together as we seek to bring fairness and reconciliation. From my own continent of Latin America, and from my experience as Moderator of the WCC, I know how many women and men, and not the least children, need that the church be a fellowship of inclusion and healing, recognising our differences in the bond of love. The openness required for change, and for new commitment to God’s call today, should be a mark of our pilgrimage as a common journey of the churches”.
The Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette of the Coptic Orthodox Church spoke about the pastoral mission of his Church towards persons with homosexual tendencies: that is, to “explain in a tender, tolerant and convincing way that homosexuality is a great sin forbidden by God according to the Holy Scriptures. … Consequently, the Church’s main pastoral mission is to encourage such people to repentance guiding them to lead a pure life. … If a married party is homosexual – forcing the other party into intercourses against the natural use – the church should not force the innocent party to continue in a sexual marital relation with him/her, because this damages the innocent party physically, physiologically and socially”.
Our Church allows divorce in cases of adultery and in cases of what we call ‘legal adultery’; which is anything that is counted as adultery like: homosexuality, intercourse against natural use, urging or compelling an innocent party into forbidden relations for materialistic gain or sexual exchange”.
Metropolitan Iosif of the Patriarchate of All Romania described the family as “the primary cell of the Church. … All family characteristics derive from its Eucharistic structure, based essentially on forgiveness nurtured by humility, which favours the growth of mutual love and transforms both the person and Christian life in the short and the long term. The divine greatness of marriage resides in the fact that in marriage we find a living representation of the union of the Word with human nature”.
The Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley of the Baptist World Alliance remarked that “There is no perfect family and no perfect marriage. In our broken world, families are not only a source of great blessing, they can also be a source of great harm. … This is the pastoral reality: families have their blessings and their dysfunctions. Amidst such experiences people yearn for mercy”. Therefore, he affirmed, Hence, in Baptist hymnology the theme of Jesus as friend is important. “Hymns … express for us the presence of God in the midst of our imperfections and struggles. They remind us of the one who in his vocation of suffering servant enters our woundedness. This is the one who invites sinners to sit at his table; the one who is ‘gentle and humble in heart, in whom we find rest for our souls’; the one to whom we pray in all confidence, ‘Lord, have mercy’”.
Archbishop Yostinos Boulos Safar of Zahle and Bekaa commented on the principle, in the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, of economy. “This principle finds in the sacrament of the Eucharist a medicine for wounded souls, as well as a help for those who wish to recover their relationship with the Lord”. He noted that this sacrament, “which is salvific in effect”, should not be withheld as “part of the norms of punishment, other than in certain exceptional cases. The Eucharist is not a prize or compensation, but the means by which the Lord Jesus cures our weaknesses and attracts us towards Him”.
Metropolitan Stephanos of Tallin and all Estonia, observed that “today marriage and family have changed direction. In a number of countries, new legislation is being enacted regarding this issue. These mutations in the family are a challenge to us. … The law confirms, without doubt, a new social situation but for the Church, the sacrament of marriage, it is hoped, is not revealed as a mere institution but first and foremost, it is hoped, as a mystery of life. Marriage makes sense only in relation to faith in Christ, in the Gospel, in the certainty that the actions of Christ continue in the Gospel, that is, in the Sacraments. Our first task is therefore to evangelise”. Perhaps, he added, it would be useful to help the “young and not so young, often uncertain, sometimes psychologically unwell, to adopt a different outlook, to free themselves from too symbiotic a relationship, to become truly responsible for each other, in the hope, at times, of already being able to experience the resurrection in the glory of the body”.
The fraternal delegate Tim Macquiban, director of the Methodist Ecumenical Office of Rome, remarked that “Sometimes in this Synod we seem to have concentrated on one form of family, of parents and children, as defined through sacramental marriage and its vocation. For some this fails to take account on the different ways many people experience different forms of family in our various contexts and cultures. … Those who are single, with or without children, or in civil partnerships or co-habiting relationships, and even those within marriages conducted in church and childless can easily feel excluded. The Church is challenged to accept that it can … add to these difficulties with such a stress on ‘the Gospel of the Family’”.
Bishop emeritus Ndanganeni Petrus Phaswana of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa comments that “Frequently, politics, religion and culture are instrumentalised and used to divide people and nations. This has led to growing alienation and disunity. In the midst of this isolation, it is our task as Churches to proclaim and witness that God does not call us to isolation, but, rather, to life in communion with Christ and with one another”. He also spoke about the great commitment on the part of both Catholics and Lutherans in promoting Christian unity through theological dialogue, noting that “we should therefore remain sensitive to how our theological discussions support individual Christians in the challenges and sorrows facing them in their everyday lives”.
The Right Rev. Timothy Thornton of the Anglican Communion commented that the first part of the Instrumentum Laboris “is too focused on the negative aspects of family life”, adding that “there is much joy in families and family life and much to celebrate”. He emphasised that “All families change. … Change is a key part of Christian faith. Every day we are called to be converted to Christ, to turn away from sin and turn to God. Every day we open ourselves to the possibility of transformation. That is why all Christians are full of joy and hope every day”.
The fraternal delegate of the Disciples of Christ, Dr. Robert K. Welsh, focused on three brief reflections. “First, how do we understand marriage and family life today? What can we do to respond to the growing number of divorces and the impact on the children in those families? These are urgent issues before all Christians, and all societies, that represent major theological, practical, and pastoral challenges”. Secondly, with regard to “mixed marriages”, he observed that in the Instrumentum Laboris, “mixed marriages are only named in the context of presenting problems; for example, at the pastoral level of religious education of children and in the relation to liturgical life. My hope is that this Synod might also identify ‘mixed marriages’ in a more positive and hopeful context as ‘great opportunities’ for witnessing to God’s gift of oneness in Christ and God’s love for all persons, especially for those marriages between persons baptised as Christians”. Finally, he focused on the challenge of facing the difficulties that inter-religious or interdenominational families experience every day. “My regret continues to be that, when I attend Mass with my grandson, I am not allowed to partake of the Eucharist. It is personal, and it is painful”.