One of the greatest privileges of my life was to work under Pope St. John Paul II at the Vatican during the late 1990’s at the Pontifical Council for the Family, which fosters the pastoral activities of the Catholic Church on behalf of the family and the right to life. Both in public and private conversation at the Council, we would often speak of the deep connection between protecting life and fostering God’s plan for the family.
The task of defending both could not be more urgent than it is right now.
Because of that, the integrally united themes of Family and Life will be key topics for the Catholic Church worldwide this year and next, in a multi-phase journey of reflection, prayer, special gatherings, and pastoral commitment. The first stage of the process began with the Consistory of Cardinals held on 20 February 2014. Then, of course, in canonizing Pope John Paul II, Pope Francis referred to him as “The Pope of the Family.”
From October 5 to 19 of this year, the 3rd Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will occur in Rome. These “synods,” or special meetings, have been effective tools to help bishops address topics of current concern for the Church. The October 2014 synod will focus on the theme, “Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization”. The preparatory document (“Instrumentum laboris”) has an entire section on the theme of “openness to life.” Without a doubt, that challenge which brings the most damage to the family is abortion, and the Church at every level needs to renew her attention to this fact and become more effective in addressing it.
This Synod will conclude with the beatification of Pope Paul VI on October 19. He, of course, was the author of the encyclical Humanae Vitae.
The results of that synod will then help to prepare for the Ordinary General Assembly of the World Synod of Bishops to be held at the Vatican from October 4 to 25, 2015 with the theme “Jesus Christ Reveals the Mystery and Vocation of the Family”. This promises to be a very fruitful theme, showing the truth that the family is not a temporary, superficial, or man-made phenomenon, but rather, truly, a sign of God’s presence that flows from his very heart, and that, as Scripture tells us, his gifts and his call are irrevocable (cf. Rom. 11:29). Foundational to those gifts are life and family.
The 2015 synod will send recommendations to the Holy Father, and a special document from the Pope is expected after that.
Immediately prior to the 2015 Synod will be the World Meeting with Families in Philadelphia, from September 22-27, 2015. This event is held every three years, and this is the first time it will occur in the United States. Its theme is “Love is our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.” No family can be fully alive, of course, if the youngest children are devalued and killed by abortion. Moreover, as we strive to bear witness every day, the saving of lives is a mission inspired by and carried out by the power of love.