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Amoris Laetitia: Card. Farrell, “formidable pastoral responsibility”

Cardinal Farrell drew a balance of the reception of Amoris Letitia, Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, for SIR, a year since its publication. The document will be the focus of the next meeting of the families in Dublin.

Card. Kevin Joseph Farrell

“A formidable pastoral responsibility”, an “example of ecclesial accompaniment” that should be received “with a commitment at all levels, starting from the local level of parishes and associations.” It’s Amoris Laetitia in the words of Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life. His Eminence shared with SIR an overall view on the reception of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, a year after its publication. The document – he announced – will be the focus of the upcoming world meeting of families in Dublin.

Upon your appointment as Prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life, you said that Amoris Laetitia would be the first item on your agenda. One year after its publication, can the same be said with regard to the reception of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation in world Countries?
A year after its publication the Exhortation Amoris Laetitia remains one of Pope Francis’ most topical documents, the object of ongoing analyses, comments and debates in almost all world Countries, at the level of Bishops’ Conferences, dioceses, among theologians, pastoral care workers, etc. Moreover, Amoris Laetitia, stands before the Church especially as

A formidable pastoral responsibility, a concrete proposal and a call deserving to be answered with a commitment at all levels, starting from the local level of parishes and associations.

In this regard I appreciate being received by the news agency of Italian Catholic weeklies, so deeply-rooted and present in the thriving reality of local communities. Also the upcoming world meeting of families in Dublin – that revolves around Amoris Laetitia, starting from preparatory catecheses – can be considered one of its fruits. The Pope’s Letter, officially announcing the meeting and due to be published in the coming days, will provide further guidance on how the Gospel of the family may continue being received as a joy by contemporary societies and how Christian families may live out and bear witness to this good news that shows that mercy is at the heart of God.

A “polarization”, largely spread by the media, has characterised the reception of Amoris Laetitia since its publication, notably focusing on the eighth chapter that addresses the issue of remarried divorcees. How can this “trap” – as Cardinal Schönborn described it, quoting from the Pope – be averted?
Indeed, that is the case. It’s a distortion that must be overcome, also because

The fundamental chapter of Amoris Laetitia is Chapter n.4: a veritable manifesto of nuptial love.

However, the reason for this year’s overarching debate is understandable. In fact, the problems, the pain, along with the multifaceted forms of family suffering, testify to the serious crisis in marriage and in the family as such, inflicting open wounds on a daily basis.

The great challenge of Amoris Laetitia is to highlight true human and Christian love as the sole force capable of saving marriage and the family.

This very love must be at the centre of the family, as indicated by the Second Vatican Council and reiterated on many occasions by Pope Francis, who highlights its centrality throughout the Apostolic Exhortation, especially in Chapters 4 and 5.

“To welcome, to accompany, to discern and to integrate” are the key-verbs of Amoris Laetitia. In what way, and with which specific emphasis can they be expressed in the pastoral care of the family carried out worldwide?
The oil heals the wounds at all latitudes, because the pain is the same in all continents. Hence accompaniment should involve everyone, albeit with different degrees of attention. Those experiencing serious difficulties, such as the poor, the weak, the suffering, those wounded by life, require a greater degree of patience and mercy. Gestures of welcome, of companionship, of “reading the story of the families from within” and integrating them, are manifestations of the love for our brother that was wounded along the road. This is stated in clear terms in the Pope’s document. Moreover, the priority of pastoral care, indicated by Amoris Laetitia for our present times, is to do our utmost to prevent the wounds, the divisions and the breakdown of marriages:

“Today, more important than the pastoral care of failures is the pastoral effort to strengthen marriages and thus to prevent their breakdown.” (n 307).

Few have emphasized that in Amoris Laetitia the Pope – following the role model of Saint Paul in the Letter to the Corinthians – shows us the features of true love (almost a veritable “hymn” to charity), explaining them and applying them to family life: nuptial love is authentic, when the other person is appreciated and loved for who he/she is; it is spiritual, but it encompasses affection, tenderness, intimacy, passion, pleasure given and received, openness to procreation and to the children’s education; it consists in complete friendship, representing  the union with God, and the true way for sanctification.

The four attitudes suggested by the Pope (to welcome, to accompany, to discern, to integrate), that give renewed impetus to the pastoral care of the family,

are needed for everyone. Hence they are not limited to “situations of weakness or imperfection”, but they involve also regular couples.

To all of them the Churches offers her pastoral accompaniment throughout their journey.

The “revolution” requested by Pope Francis is one of “closeness” to families’ concrete situations, with their joys, with their difficulties, and their weaknesses, to be examined on a case-to-case basis. What could be the role of bishops and parish priests – as well as of the laity – in furthering “discernment”, bearing in mind also their role as local “judges”, entrusted to them by the Pope with the Motu Proprio “Mitis Iudex”?
With regard to the theme of civilly remarried divorcees and other relations out of religious wedlock, more emphasis should be placed on the path of ecclesial spiritual growth and integration to be pursued with the help of a priest. In the case of penitents and pastoral workers, this requires time, prudence, patience and perseverance, starting with the humble recognition that their condition does not correspond to the plan of God, never losing faith in His mercy and in the closeness of the Church; a journey toward maturity entailing a challenging, difficult commitment.

For pastoral workers (bishops, parish priests, families, the faithful) showing solidarity means accompanying and discerning: two delicate and complex activities.

Each one, according to one’s proper role, sees people whose love is wounded with the eyes of mercy; he/she seeks those people and seizes all opportunities for encounter in order to build a relationship based on friendship, trust and sharing. A sincere willingness to listen is required in order to truly understand the manifold situations and thus offer appropriate help; consciences need to be enlightened, and mitigating circumstances ought to be discerned; the wounds must be healed by “restoring faith and hope” in the ever-merciful God; significant relations with the parish community must be promoted to make a concrete experience of the Church as Mother; most of all, it is necessary to encourage a mature relationship with the Lord, critical to shaping one’s life according to the Gospel.

Along this path one may – and should – undertake steps of a juridical nature,

Such as verifying the validity of the previous marriage and, if need be, obtain a sentence of declaration of nullity by means of the procedural facilitations introduced by Pope Francis in the two Motu Proprio Mitis Judex Dominus Jesus and Mitis et Misericors Jesus. Whichever be the final decision, it is entrusted to the prudent discernment and to the pastoral charity of the priest.
I wish to underline one last aspect in particular. It appears to me that the newness of Amoris Laetitia, apart from the eighth chapter, is its special attention towards the human experience, towards existential experience, with detailed insights, practical advice for individuals and for pastoral care. Also the language is lively, captivating, addressed to everyone, making it easy to read and understand by all, without too much emphasis on theological and scientific accuracy. The document is equally addressed to the laity for their personal formation and to pastoral workers for catechesis.

The Exhortation Amoris Laetitia is in itself a veritable example of ecclesial accompaniment.



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