“The question is not whether we're here to change doctrine, but to make sure pastoral care takes account of real, actual, concrete situations of what each person is doing,” Fr. Thomas Rosica told journalists Oct. 10, quoting one of the synod participants.
“The proclamation of the Gospel and the embrace of God's mercy are two equally valid and intrinsically related aspects of life.”
Fr. Rosica, the English-language assistant to the Holy See press office, read aloud snippets of the brief interventions given by unnamed synod participants in both last night’s and this morning’s general congregations during an Oct. 10 press briefing.
According to another synod father, “mercy toward sinners is not a form of weakness nor an abandonment of Church teaching.”
“Unless we acknowledge openly people's situations, we will not be able to address those situations clearly,” they said, adding that “we have to learn to speak the truth in love in many situations, because in many situations people are completely powerless over what has befallen them.”
Yet another participant stressed that in order to view the Church’s doctrine on marriage in the light of mercy requires both “attention to the pastoral dimension and the application of the Church's teaching.”
Others made such comments as: “mercy cannot be encountered unless it is measured against an eternal law,” and “one must seek truth in order to encounter mercy, and the Church must seek truth when confronting the theme of marriage.”
For another participant, “mercy means giving people a challenge; it is not covering reality with gift wrap.”
The overwhelming emphasis on the link between mercy and doctrine came as the synod fathers shifted into the second phase of their discussion.
Pope Francis officially opened the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops Oct. 4, with the event closing on Oct. 25.
Divided into three parts, each week dedicated to one of the three sections of the instrumentum laboris, or working document. Participants spent the first week of the meeting discussing the document’s section titled “Listening to the challenges of the family.”
The subsequent sections are “Discernment of the family vocation” and “The mission of the family today.”
In the briefing, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., said that mercy was a theme “very spoken about” by the 75 synod fathers who made interventions in the previous two sessions.
Specifically mentioned was mercy as “closeness and tenderness” toward families and couples in difficulty, he said, but noted that “the truth of mercy and justice – don't oppose mercy with the truth,” was also addressed.
Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, Major Archbishop of of the Syro-Malankar Archeparchy of Trivandrum, was also present at the briefing.
In response to a question from a French journalist on whether an in-depth examination of doctrine would take place during the synod, the cardinal said that the synod “in fact is destined to be a pastoral one.”
And not just this, he said, “but all synods, because it gives some guidelines to the pastors and the people around that pastoral community.”
He said that showing the mercy of God, given through Christ, is part of the family’s mission; but stressed that in his personal opinion, this mercy always demands conversion on the part of the other.
“When we speak about God's mercy, it is also demanding a certain personal acceptance of being converted to that reception of mercy…it demands a point of conversion from the individual recipient.”
Cardinal Thottunkal explained that while it is important to understand and support each person in the reality they are living, it’s also necessary to help them receive God's mercy “in a more conducive atmosphere of conversion to the Lord.”
The Gospel “demands this as a condition” when it says that “the Kingdom of God is at hand, be converted,” he said.
Christ gave the same message when he told sinners: “I forgive you, but don't sin anymore,” the cardinal said, adding that the Gospel asks for everyone to have this disposition.
Other topics brought up by the synod participants were the indissolubility of marriage, the role of parents in educating their children, the importance of prayer and a missionary spirit within families, the importance of children, and a longer marriage preparation process.