Dear Pope Francis,
I’ll be honest, I feel like I might be the only person in the world who didn’t follow the Synod on Marriage and the Family with a magnifying glass. My inundated Facebook feed ensured I had the highlights while it was going on, but a nasty head cold, three papers and a new job ate up any extra time to get a more thorough understanding. Even now that it’s over, I haven’t had much time to follow up with what was actually included in the document that came out of the synod.
Although reading for school has been dominating my reading list, I was able to glean some information and insights from the highlights I saw online.
While there seems to be some very interesting developments in how we talk about marriage and types of relationships, what struck me from the synod was actually a reminder: that we are a universal Church. So often, I get caught up in the reality of the Catholic Church in North America/the developed world/the city that I forget that how I experience ‘Church’ and the challenges I see facing the Church are not the same as people who come from other places in the world/the developing world/rural areas. So where issues of divorce, remarriage and receiving the Sacraments, and questions about homosexuality are dominant in my social context, the African bishops raising concerns about polygamy serve as a clear reminder, that I am part of one holy, catholic (universal) and apostolic Church, not the one, holy, catholic (North American) and apostolic Church. We can’t truly be a universal Church unless we address the variety of realities that are faced by the faithful in different contexts.
This reminded me of one of a passage in Evangelii Gaudium:
I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. (EV 49)
The universal Church exists everywhere in the world, and it is easy for individual members, congregations and even dioceses to be in the streets. However, as we move up the Church it becomes more difficult; the whole Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops would struggle to be serving in all the areas that are represented on the conference because the challenges and struggles of these areas are incredibly diverse, and require unique solutions designed for the specific locations.
But the upper tiers of the Church can embrace the messy local realities by learning about the realities, talking to people who live it every day. That is what was happening at the synod. Bishops from all over the world were sharing the reality they and their people face, be it polygamy, cohabitation, homosexual marriage or concerns about divorce and remarriage. You even went one step farther and invited all the members of the Church to make their voices heard through surveys filled out before the synod.
This probably isn’t exactly what you had in mind when you wrote about your desire for a Church that was broken, bruised and hurting. By inviting everyone to share, you invited the pain and hurt into the centre of the Church – for better or for worse you gave it a voice, and invited all Catholics to share in the reality of our brothers and sisters around the world. Without a doubt, you have opened some intense conversations about how the Church will carry on her mission in the future, but it is not a one dimensional conversation. By inviting us all in to the centre of the Church, you have given us a chance to expand our horizons as we stand in solidarity and prayer with and for Catholics around the world.