They best symbolize the concern of the ongoing synod that ends on Sunday: The “pingpong children” shuttle between separated parents, are trapped in wars, or swept in often chaotic immigration waves.
Set up by Pope Paul VI in 1965, the synod convenes to give a pontiff counsel on key issues. Today’s extraordinary synod, the third ever held, brought together 184 bishops plus 69 lay people, sisters and priests.
Pope Francis jolted the synod when he added six to the team that will write its “Final Report,” which will anchor the October 2015 synod. “That could be a game changer,” the weekly America notes.
Note the spread of Francis’ choices: the cardinal-archbishop of Washington, an Italian who heads the pontifical council for culture, the president of the Korean bishops’ conference, the father general of the Jesuits, the rector of the Catholic University of Buenos Aires, plus the archbishop of Tlalnepantla, Mexico.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila presided over a session that heard George and Cynthia Campos from Couples for Christ in the Philippines. George is an engineer and Cynthia a psychologist. They have four children. CFC is present in all 81 Philippine dioceses and has been brought to 163 countries.
As a novice, Cynthia was told by the retreat director: “Your work is outside. God will give you a husband who will help you rear children who’ll serve Him.” That turned out to be George who, at age 46, quit his job of 25 years. “I spent the first half of my life serving this firm,” he told the owner. “Now, I’ll spend the second half serving the Lord.”
On her fourth pregnancy, Cynthia was diagnosed with gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia; her life was at risk. The child had a high probability of being born abnormal. Abort or risk? Choose. “We decided to abide by the will of God.” She survived, and daughter Christen is now a healthy adult.
In 1998, breast cancer struck and Cynthia was given three to six months to live. Instead of letting go of CFC service, “we continued—with prayers,” she said. “Now, I stand before you cured with a simple medical intervention and antibiotics.”
But what about those who do not have a support group? They were stunned when a local church advisory came: CFC is “meant only for couples married in church.” The synod can foster “an enlightened pastoral charity,” they said. That’d inaugurate innovative forms of “accompaniment,” of conjugal spirituality formation, and of inclusionary participation leading to full communion.
In a report, the New York Times quoted Cardinal Tagle as telling a news conference that some of the bishops felt the “spirit” of Vatican II in this synod. He said the mid-synod report was a marker against which bishops could “see what needs to be deepened, what needs to be clarified, and what other things should be raised.”
At the synod’s first plenary session on Oct. 6, Francis gave what was “akin to a bill of rights that creates a climate of freedom,” Gerald O’Connell wrote. Say what you really think. And do so in total freedom and without fear of consequences.
“You bring the voice of local churches through the bishops’ conferences,” Francis told them. “You bring the realities of the churches, to help them to walk on that way which is the Gospel of the family.”
“A cardinal wrote to me after the Consistory of Cardinals in February 2014,” Francis recalled. “He said it was a pity that some cardinals did not have the courage to say certain things, thinking perhaps that the Pope thought differently.”
“This is not synodality,” Francis said. “It is necessary to say everything that in the Lord we feel must be said. We must listen with humility to all that our brothers say. And do so with peace, because the synod is conducted always with Peter who guarantees custody of the faith.”
Today’s climate of freedom departs from previous synods, where Vatican bureaucrats clamped “discreet but effective censorship,” said Archbishop Jose Maria Arancedo, president of the Argentine Bishops. Even more damaging was the “self-censorship” by participants. The second week found disagreement aired by bishops from Poland and the United States.
There’s consensus on the question of the indissolubility of marriage. But other positions emerged. How is mercy matched with justice? Is there a path that can open the door to the reception of the sacraments of reconciliation and communion for divorced and remarried Catholics?
“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community,” says the synod document “Relatio,” Reuters reported on Monday. Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. “Are we capable of guaranteeing them a further space in our communities?”
It did not change the Church’s basic stand on homosexual unions. But it clearly reflects Pope Francis’ desire to adopt a more merciful pastoral approach on marriage and family issues, wrote Vatican expert John Thavis.
Mercy can, in some cases, be offered too cheaply in the style of cheap grace—that is the critique of pastor-martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the New York Times’ Ross Douthat wrote. From well-intentioned relief new forms of injustice can fall on children or spouses who are secured by the line the Church draws on marriage and the ideal it upholds. “A mercy too easily given to some can be effectively unmerciful to others.”
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children,” Nelson Mandela once wrote. The “pingpong children” know that.