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April 8, 2016 —Today Pope Francis released the highly anticipated "Amoris Laetitia" (“The Joy of Love”), his reflection on the family
and family life. The pope wrote that the same
mercy and patience that are essential for building a strong family must be
shown to those whose families are in trouble or have broken up.

The document, subtitled "On Love in the Family," is
what is known as an "apostolic exhortation," a document addressed to
the whole church reflecting on themes of church life and faith. While it contains no new
rules or norms, it encourages careful review of everything related to family
ministry and, particularly, much greater attention to the language and attitude
used when explaining church teaching and ministering to those who do not fully
live that teaching.

"No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families
need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love," Pope Francis
wrote. People grow in holiness, and the church must be there to give them a
helping hand rather than turn them away because they have not attained some
degree of perfection.

The pope wrote the exhortation following the 2014 and
2015 synods of bishops on the family, which discussed controversial issues such
as divorce, remarriage and same-sex marriage and the Catholic Church. Like synod members did, the
pope insisted that God’s plan for the family is that it be built on the
lifelong union of one man and one woman open to having children.

Pope Francis greets newly married couples
during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in 2015. (CNS
photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

The document was officially released at noon in Rome at a Vatican news conference with Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, and Giuseppina and Francesco Miano, a married couple who participated in both the 2014 and 2015 synods.

"Amoris Laetitia" touches on all the issues raised at the
synods and gives practical advice on raising children, urges a revision of
sex-education programs and decries the many ways the "disposable
culture" has infiltrated family life and sexuality to the point that many
people feel free to use and then walk away from others.

uses and throws away, takes and breaks, exploits and squeezes to the last drop.
Then, goodbye," he wrote.

Much of the document is tied to the theme of God’s mercy,
including Pope Francis’ discussion of welcoming the vulnerable.

and concern shown to migrants and to persons with special needs alike is a sign
of the Spirit," he wrote. Both are "a test of our commitment to show
mercy in welcoming others and to help the vulnerable to be fully a part of our

The synod issues that garnered the most headlines revolved around
the question of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried, as well as
Catholic attitudes toward homosexuality. Pope Francis repeated his and the synod’s insistence that the church cannot consider
same-sex unions to be a marriage, but also insisted, "every person,
regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her

On the question of families experiencing difficulties, separation
or even divorce and remarriage, Pope Francis said responses to the
questionnaires sent around the world before the synod "showed that most
people in difficult or critical situations do not seek pastoral assistance,
since they do not find it sympathetic, realistic or concerned for individual

Giuseppina and Francesco Miano, a married couple, speak during a news
conference for the Synod of Bishops on the family in 2014. (CNS
photo/Massimiliano Migliorato, Catholic Press Photo)

Particularly in ministry to divorced and civilly remarried
Catholics, Pope Francis said pastors must help each couple look at their
actions and circumstances, recognize their share of responsibility for the
breakup of their marriage, acknowledge church teaching that marriage is
indissoluble and prayerfully discern what God is calling them to.

Pope Francis said it would be a "grave danger" to give
people the impression that "any priest can quickly grant ‘exceptions’ or
that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in exchange for


At the
same time, he insisted, "the way of the church is not to condemn anyone
forever; it is to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it
with a sincere heart."


and civilly remarried couples, especially those with children, must be welcomed
in Catholic parishes and supported in efforts to raise their children in the

Generally, without an
annulment of their sacramental marriage, such a couple would not be able to
receive Communion or absolution of their sins unless they promised to live as
"brother and sister." But every situation is different, the pope said,
which is why the church does not need new rules, but a new commitment on the
part of pastors to provide spiritual guidance and assistance with discernment.

Turning to those who believe allowing divorced and remarried
Catholics to receive Communion waters down church teaching on the
indissolubility of marriage, the pope said, "we put so many conditions on
mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is
the worst way of watering down the Gospel."

Pope Francis blesses a baby
during a visit to a Caritas center for the homeless in Rome Dec. 18, 2015. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)

Pope Francis called for church leaders to ensure more married couples are involved as leaders in designing and carrying out pastoral programs for families. Their witness is key, he said.

“Marital love is not defended primarily by presenting indissolubility as a duty, or by repeating doctrine, but by helping it to grow ever stronger under the impulse of grace,” he said. “A love that fails to grow is at risk. Growth can only occur if we respond to God’s grace through constant acts of love, acts of kindness that become ever more frequent, intense, generous, tender and cheerful.”

[Sources: CNSCatholic
News Service
, National
Catholic Reporter
, Crux]

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