The bishop’s agenda – Bishop de Korte’s homily

Bishop Gerard de Korte has the habit of not writing out his homilies. He usually makes somes notes, but for the most part he speaks from memory. His homily during his installation Mass as bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, yesterday, was no different. But, contrary to past occasions, the bishop’s notes were published, and they’re complete enough to reconstruct the lengthy homily that ended in a welcoming applausse from the full cathedral basilica.

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The bishop begins by reflecting on the person whose feast it was yesterday: the Apostle who was chosen to replace Judas, St. Matthias. An important criterium in his election was his being a witness of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 1: 21-22). And since a bishop is a successor of the Apostles, his first task is to be a witness of the resurrected Lord. The Church is a community around the living Christ, the bishop said, so let us live with Christ and His Gospel as our basis.

Of course, there was occasion to look back, first to Bishop Bekkers, who was buried from St. John’s basilica exactly fifty years before Bishop de Korte’s installation. He remains a symbol for many Catholics of a loving, mild and hospitable Church. But also to Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, the now retired bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Bishop de Korte thanked him for his work as parish priest, seminary rector, vicar general and bishop.

Then, a look to the future. Bishop de Korte’s takes up the call of Bishop Hurkmans to defeat all division in the diocese. Tolerance is a virtue, there is room for different emphases and spiritualities in the Catholic house, and, most importantly, if Christ has chosen us, who are we to not accept each other?

As ever, Bishop de Korte has a realistic eye for the Church in our times. Yes, there are few young people, yes, the Church is vulnerable, yes, in many ways these are the years of truth. Like he said in his letter with that title from January 2015, Catholics must take their responsibility. Priests, deacons, pastoral workers, religious and all the baptised.

The bishop extended a specific invitation to the religious in his new diocese, asking them to work with the diocese, to reinforce and support each other.

Ever with an eye for ecumenism, Bishop de Korte siad he wants to continue working for better ecumenical relations in his new diocese. To not only celebrate, but also learn and serve together and so bear witness together of the risen Lord.

Taking a page from Pope Francis’ book, the bishop desires a Church which is open to the needs of the world, that joins all spiritual forces to realise more global justice and the protection of Mother Earth.

In closing, the bishop directs the attention to Mary, to whom there is a strong devotion in the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Mary continuously refers to Christ (Do what He tells you to). Mary is also the mother of the faithful, a source of comfort, an example of the love for God and the neighbour. Let’s follow her example.

Photo credit: Ramon Mangold

“Farewell diocese” – Bishop de Korte says goodbye

While the Mass for his installation as bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch has begun, here is my translation of Bishop Gerard de Korte’s final message to the faithful of Groningen-Leeuwarden, the diocese he leaves behind:

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“On Monday 29 February, around 10:30, the Papal Nuncio, Msgr. Aldo Cavalli, rang and asked if he could come to Groningen that day. He wanted to discuss an “important topic”. I knew then that it would be about the succession of Bishop Hurkmans of Den Bosch. And my intuition was confirmed that afternoon. The Nuncio told me that Pope Francis had appointed me as the new bishop of Den Bishop. The news led to some necessary chaos, both for me as for many faithful in our diocese.

In september of 2008 I was installed in the cathedral as bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden. Despite all sorts of great and small concerns – when is our earthly life ever without clouds? – I look back on the years behind me with gratitude. A few years ago, the downsizing of the diocesan offices caused many concerns. Especially the letting go of several respected employees, solely for economic reasons, was a difficult but also necessary decision.

A lot has happened in the past years. Almost automatically, I recall the merger of parishes and caritas groups. After a long period of preparation and a broad consultation of pastoral teams and parish councils, the decision was made in autumn of 2011 to merge the 80 parishes into some 20 new parishes. This process must be completed on 1 January 2018. Starting point is the vision to combine administrative upscaling with pastoral downsizing. In the large diocese of the north we must try and maintain as many of the 80 faith communities as possible. In my letter “The years of truth” (January 2015) I made a distinction between church building and faith community. When it is no longer possible to maintain a church building, but the local faith community is still (relatively…) alive, the faithful can choose to continue coming together for the liturgy and other activities. The core thought here is: keeping the Church as close to the faithful as possible.

By now, I have moved to ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Moving is an exercise in the art of letting go. I have to say goodbye to a nice house, a great team of coworkers and so many other good people. In recent days I have spoken of an Abrahamic experience. Like the father of our faith I must leave the good and familiar country and go into the unknown in the hope that it will be good to be there as well. By the way, I am confident that I will soon find a true home again in Den Bosch.

You will go on as Catholics of the north. A small but conscious minority. I gladly repeat the call from my letter “The years of truth”: Catholics, take your responsibility. You are called to manifest the faith of your baptism. Pope Francis urges Catholics not to remain hidden in the sacristy or church building. Vital faith communities are missionary communities with open doors. All things being equal, we gather in out church buildings for the celebration of the Eucharist and other forms of liturgy. This feeds our soul and gives us the strength to give form to the imitation of Christ in our daily lives. Pope Francis frequently speaks of a Church which looks towards all of society. A Church that prefers to be dirty because she has spent too much time in the streets, instead of sick because she has been inside too much.

Finally, I would invite you to pray for each other. Hopefully you are willing to pray for the success of my new mission in the south. My task will not always be easy, but much is possible in the power of God’s Spirit. In the south I pray for wisdom for Pope Francis and all who are preparing the appointment of a new bishop. I hope for a new bishop who will work for a warm and hospitable Church around Christ as our living Lord. I wish you all the best and God’s  blessing. Continue on the path of faith, hope and especially love “trusting in Christ”.

+ Msgr. Dr. Gerard De Korte”

Photo credit: Ramon Mangold

Comings and goings – two dioceses prepare for a new bishop

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In preparation for Saturday’s installation, Bishop Gerard de Korte’s (redesigned) coat of arms is placed above the cathedra in the cathedral basilica of St. John the Evangelist in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

In a couple more days, ‘s-Hertogenbosch will have its new bishop while Groningen-Leeuwarden will welcome its temporary diocesan administrator. This administrator, most likely vicar general Msgr. Peter Wellen, is to manage current affairs in the diocese until the new bishop arrives. The next step of the selection of that new bishop now lies with the Nuncio, Archbishop Aldo Cavalli. The cathedral chapter of Groningen-Leeuwarden has sent him their list of three candidates, the so-called terna, and it is the Nuncio’s task to collect information on the men on it, as well as collecting the advice and suggestions of the others bishops in the country. The list and information will then be sent to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, after which Pope Francis will make the final choice. For now, I expect one of the auxiliary bishops of Utrecht, Herman Woorts or Theodorus Hoogenboom, to come to Groningen-Leeuwarden. Yes, that is slight change in previous ideas on my part.

Whoever it will be, his appointment will probably take place after the summer, which means that the diocese’s major annual event, the St. Boniface Days in Dokkum on 10 to 12 June, will happen without a resident bishop. Under Bishop de Korte, this event has seen a significant development, and this year it will for the first time expand beyond Catholic boundaries, containing a significant ecumenical element in the participation of local Protestant churches. Bishop de Korte will attend and offer the Mass at the procession park in Dokkum on the final day. He may also participate in the preceding procession, but an episcopal presence is at least assured in the person of Bishop Karlheinz Diez, auxiliary of Fulda. Both Groningen-Leeuwarden and Fulda have events dedicated to St. Boniface, being the places where he was respectively killed and lies buried, and Bishop de Korte has previously attended the Fulda festivities.

Groningen-Leeuwarden, in the mean time, has taken every opportunity in bidding their beloved bishop farewell, not least during the diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes earlier this month, as well as in a special edition of the diocesan magazine.

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Photo credit [1] Ramon Mangold, [2] Marlies Bosch

Ready for launch – a new translation of the Lord’s Prayer

prayerThe Dutch and Flemish bishops announced today that the new translation of the Lord’s Prayer, drafted over the past couple of years as a first step to come to a completely new translation of the Roman Missal, will enter into effect on 27 November of this year, the start of Advent. In August of 2014 the new translation was already presented, and I discussed the changes at that time in this blog post.

The two bishops’ conferences each delegated a member to sit ona joint commission preparing the new translation. For the Netherlands that is Bishop Jan Liesen of Breda, and for Belgium it is Archbishop Jozef De Kesel of Mechelen-Brussels. Both prelates have released explanatory notes announcing the change: Bishop Liesen back in 2014, and Archbishop De Kesel today.

The translation itself, as I have outlined in the blog post I linked to above, is not extremely different from the existing texts, although the differences will certainly be noticeable when it comes into use, and could be considered an amalgamation of both. A noteworthy change is the translation of the word tentationem, temptation in English. In his note, Archbishop De Kesel discusses the new translation of this word:

de kesel“Until now this word has been translated as “bekoring” [temptation]. The Greek has peirasmos. This can be translated as both “bekoring” and “beproeving” [ordeal/test]. Most often this is translated as “beproeving”. So “beproeving” is the more concordant translation of the Greek basis. Translating it as “bekoring”, furthermore, presents a theological problem. “Bekoren” means to incite to evil. In Scripture this is said of the devil, not of God. God does not try and encourage man to commit evil. In that sense it is not God who tempts us, as the Letter of James (1:13) explicitly says. James responds here to an incorrect understanding of temptation or testing. It is not God, but, “when a man is tempted, it is always because he is being drawn away by the lure of his own passions”.

Yet it is an undeniable Biblical concept that God can test someone’s faith. For example, Abraham was tested, and so Jesus was tested also. “Thereupon, the Spirit sent him out into the desert:  and in the desert he spent forty days and forty nights, tempted by the devil” (Mark 1:12-13). The wording is striking and to the point: it is the Spirit who sends Jesus to the desert to be tested for forty days by Satan. The Spirit of God does not lure us into doing evil and tests us in that way, but He can bring us into situations in which our faith is being tested. These are situations in which we are presented with the unavoidable choice: for God and thus against evil, or for evil and thus against God. Only in and through the testing you know whether or not you really believe in God. Whether you, like Abraham, trust Him unconditionally, even in the darkest hour. This is also the meaning of the forty years in the desert. As Deuteronomy 8:2 says: “the Lord thy God led thee through the desert, testing thee by hard discipline, to know the dispositions of thy heart”.

Hence the meaning of the final prayer in the Our Father. We do not ask God not to tempt us. He doesn’t. But we do ask Him not to test us beyond our abilities. And this is not just any test. It is about whether or not, when it really matters, we do not deny our vocation as Christians. That, as happened to Simon Peter, we would say, when things get dangerous, “No, I do not know Him.” That is what we ask God earnestly in the last prayer of the Our Father: do not lead us to that ordeal.”

Bishop Liesen explains the process by which the new translation was arrived at:

liesen“Although the Altar Missal for the Dutch Church Province of 1979 included an ecumenical text of the Lord’s Prayer, the Netherlands and Flanders did not succeed in realising a joint translation of the Our Father as part of the liturgy renewal following the Second Vatican Council. All attempts came to naught. […]

The current review of the translation of the Order of Mass on behalf of the Dutch and Flemish bishops was seen by the joint commission as a unique opportunity to realise a joint text of the Lord’s Prayer for the entire Dutch language area. Following the Second Vatican Council new translations of the Our Father had already been realised and introduced in other language areas. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments made it known that, as part of the review of the Missale Romanum, a joint Dutch text of the Lord’s Prayer was diserable.

Starting point in achieving a new translation was to stay as close as possible to the familiar Flemish and Dutch texts and therefore maintain what is the same in both translations. Attention also had to be paid to the source text and understandability and the ecumanical translations also had to be consulted. The joint commission entrusted the task of developing a proposal in this sense to a Dutch and a Flemish exegete, who quickly presented a result which was adopted in full by the commission.”

So it took fifty years for an attempt to create a new translation of the Lord’s Prayer to succeed, and now it was only a matter of months. I suppose that shows how the polemics and pasionate differences of opinions following the Second Vatican Council have finally settled into a situation where bishops can agree on said translation. I say ‘bishops’ for a reason, since the general tone of the reaction I see on social media is one of disregard, mockery even, coupled with, in some cases, the decision to stick with the old familiar text. There are definitively parallels to be drawn with the introduction of the new English translation of the Missal in 2010. It’ll be interesting to see how the new translation will be accepted come Advent.

A Roman retirement for Bishop Hurkmans?

4ae8de7b-b9ab-4df9-938a-0a0b20ae4a22Strong rumours appeared yesterday that Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, retiring from the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, will not be returning to his hometown of Someren, as he previously announced. Instead, his retirement will be spent in the eternal city, Rome, where he will become the new rector of the Church of the Frisians.

The church of Saints Michael and Magnus, as it is officially known, is a 12th century church adjacent to Saint Peter’s Square. While just outside the borders of Vatican City, it is an extraterritorial possession of that country. It was restored as the national church of the Dutch in Rome in 1989, largely because of efforts by the late Msgr. Tiny Muskens, later bishop of Breda.

Bishop Hurkmans will succeed Dominican Father Tiemen Brouwer, who has been responsible for the church since 2007.

The presence of Frisian Christians in Rome can be traced back to the ninth century. All inhabitants of the coastal areas (reaching quite far inland at times) of what is now the Netherlands, northern Germany and southwestern Denmark were considered Frisian at that time. The current church was built in 1141, but only 5 years later Pope Eugene III took the perpetual right of the Frisians to use the church away from them. In 1910, the later Cardinal Jan de Jong, who was then studying in Rome, made a pilgrimage to the church and found that all knowledge of the Frisian history of the church seemed forgotten. In 1989, the head of the Dutch College, Msgr. Muskens, succeeded in making the church a Dutch centre in Rome. In 2005 this was made official, and the church became a parish church in its own right.

EDIT: Bishop Hurkmans was put forward as rector of the Church of the Frisians by the Dutch Bishops’ Conference. This suggestion now lies with the Vicariate of Rome to accept or refuse.

The news has not been officially confirmed yet, so treat it as as rumour for now. Chances are that we will get said confirmation on or shortly before 14 May, when Bishop Hurkman’s successor in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Msgr. Gerard de Korte, is installed.

Bishops on Amoris laetitia

While there will be a precious few who have already carefully studied all of Amoris laetitia, the vast majority of us, so soon after its publication, won’t have. But that does not mean that there are no opinions (some ultra-orthodox channels have gone beyond themselves in pointing out how dangerous the Exhortation and Pope Francis are for us poor Catholics… but such irresponsible agenda-driven writing is another story altogether).

The bishops of the world have had a head start in reading the text, albeit a small one, as Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia tweeted this as late as last Wednesday:

I will share some of the thoughts and opinions of local bishops in this post, which may be a guide in looking at the actual text as we read it, taking our time as Pope Francis suggested, for ourselves. Some excerpts from their various commentaries:

dekorte2Bishop Gerard de Korte, bishop-elect of ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Apostolic Administrator of Groningen-Leeuwarden: “As far as I can see the Pope tries, in the first place, to be a pastoral teacher. … In Amoris laetitia Francis pleads for an inclusive Church. The Pope does not want to build walls, but bridges. People who have failed in relationships are also a part of the Church and must be able to continue with their lives. Wise pastors can, in the privacy of pastoral encounter, support failing people and help them, so that they can continue with the journey of their lives. It is about continuous dialogue with people who, even when they have fallen short, are and remain God’s creatures.”

5a9cb713fa77e634993fee309c99be46_b9478b025386639ff26f12b5fc4db73dBishop Jan Hendriks, Auxiliary Bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam: “The Exhortation has a very strong pastoral spirit. The text breathes understanding and love for all people. Nothing is being rationalised or denied, no new doors are opened that were closed, but throughout the entire document there is a warm, ‘inclusive’ spirit: you belong, even when the situation you are in is not perfect. Besides, we are all people “on our way”. Developing what’s good and involving people where possible is the starting point of the ‘divine pedagogy’ that the document intends to promote. Teaching remains teaching, but what matters here is the approach of people and that is open, warm and pastoral.”

hesseArchbishop Stefan Heße, Archbishop of Hamburg: “The Pope is aware of the realities of life of the people of today. In the past decades this reality has changed more than in the centuries before. On the other hand, Francis makes clear: we do not reject our ideals. But we must consider anew how people can live according to them. We must succeed in building a stable bridge between ideal and reality. The Pope consciously made no new regulations. He rather wants to provide the means to promote the formation of people’s conscience.”

Dr. Heiner Koch, Erzbischof von BerlinArchbishop Heiner Koch, Archbishop of Berlin: “I see this text as a great invitation to the local Churches, to commit ourselves even more to marriage and family, in marriage preparation, the guidance of married couples, but also in the attention to remarried divorcees and single parents. … Pope Francis rejects any “cold bureaurcratic morality” and describes all pastoral care as “merciful love”, which is “ever ready to understand, forgive, accompany, hope, and above all integrate” (n. 312).

150608kutschkeMsgr. Andreas Kutschke, Diocesan Administrator of Dresden-Meißen: “The text reminds us that the loving God cares for every person and wants him to grow towards Him. That is our good news to the whole of society. The actions of the Church regarding marriage and family must always direct themselves to that. The challenges of the Gospel should not be concealed, but addressed in a timely and comprehensible manner. That is the tone of this multilayered text.”

archbishop ludwig schickArchbishop Ludwig Schick, Archbishop of Bamberg: “The Pope shows himself a realist in Amoris laetitia. He knows that marriage and family need special attention in Church and society today, so that they can really be lasting communities of love. That is why, in addition to the fundamental statements, based on the Bible and the Tradition of the Church, about the beauty, richness, value and necessity of marriage, it is important for the Pope that marriage preparation and the guidance of families gets a closer look. State and society, employers, associations and individuals are encouraged to support marriage and family more and give them the necessary assistance.”

van looyBishop Luc Van Looy, Bishop of Ghent: “Amoris laetitia is in the first place a pastoral and not a doctrinal document. This means that it departs from reality as it exists in all its complexity and diversity. That reality is listened to, and not in the first place condemned. The good that is present must be promoted and given the chance to grow. A pastoral approach means: walking together (synodal) in joy (laetitia), but also in difficult times and crises that people go through in relationships and the raising of children. This must happen with sensitivity, with a lot of respect, tactfully and patiently, in dialogue and without preconceptions. Secondly, this pastoral approach is an inclusive approach. This means that no one is excluded. That is the baseline, if you will, of the entire document, which can be summarised in the key words in the title of the important eighth chapter: Accompanying, discerning and integrating. The Church must do all to let people, in whatever situation they find themselves, be part of the community. That returns like a refrain.”

22a4937a8468aea098eebd462e1106edBishop Rudolf Voderholzer, Bishop of Regensburg: “Amoris laetitia is an attractive and inviting text, a hymn on God-given love. It contains neither generalisations nor blanket solutions. I hope very much that chapters two and three, which recall in a new and fresh way the Biblical and doctrinal basis of conjugal love, will be read and internalised. Of course the Holy Father especially takes those situations into account, in which people are threatening to fail or have failed to achieve the ideal. It is the wish of the Church, the Pope says, “to help each family to discover the best way to overcome any obstacles it encounters” (AL 200).”

foto_1386335339Bishop Frans Wiertz, Bishop of Roermond: “In his text, the Pope wants to emphasise mercy. Although nothing changes in the ideal of marriages and the rules surrounding receiving the sacraments, the Pope invites everyone in the Church to find ways in which no one will have to feel excluded. These words of the Pope are important for many Catholics, as they want to clarify that the ideal of a good life can always only be achieved via a way which knows imperfections in reality. Although no one can afford to accept broken or unwanted situations, at the same no one is excluded or treated second-rate because of the situation in which they find themselves.”

woelki32Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki, Archbishop of Cologne: “It is above all important for Pope Francis that the Church is close to people, that she avoids every appearance of idealistic exagerration, indifferentiated judgement, loveless condemnation or even exclusion. This attitude of closeness, a “humble realism” and mercy remains in tension with the fact that the Church is always ‘Mater et Magistra’, mother and teacher, which does not witthold the people anything that the Creator has wanted in Creation and taught through Christ.”

Geburtstag_bischof_konrad_zdarsa_2009-11-06Bishop Konrad Zdarsa, Bishop of Augsburg: “In the introduction, the Holy Father recommends not to read it hastily. That is why I will not be commenting in haste. Read those sections that are important to you in your situation, relate to them in all peace in your family, consider them also carefully in your parish communities and pastoral councils.”

An ‘existential document’- Cardinal Eijk present Amoris laetitia

Per the request of Pope Francis, bishops’ conferences everywhere officially presented his Post-Synodal Exhortation Amoris laetitia today. In the Netherlands, Cardinal Wim Eijk, president of the conference and two-time participant in the Synod of Bishops assemblies that are now concluded with this document, did the local honours here. Below is my translation of his remarks:

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^Cardinal Eijk with Patrizia, Massimo and Davide Paloni at the presentation of Amoris laetita this afternoon. The cardinal attended both Synod assemblies, and the Paloni’s, including little Davide, participated in the second. (photo credit: KN/Jan Peeters)

“Today is an important day in the pontificate of Pope Francis. Today is the crowning moment of an extensive journey which he began soon after the start of his pontificate: a journey with the goal of starting a process of reflection in the Church regarding pastoral care in the fields of marriage and family. There are different reasons for that: the Christian vision on marriage and family is understood, accepted and practised less and less in a world which is getting increasingly secularised. This is manifested most clearly in the western world, where secularisation has advanced so much that in many places, and especially in western Europe, Christians have become a minority. But a secularisation trend is manifest everywhere in the world under the influence of social media, albeit not to the same extent in all places and in some parts of the world only in certain circles. Partly because of distrust towards institutions and the reluctance to make definitive choices for life, certainly in western Europe a minority of Catholics enters into sacramental marriage. In addition, there are fewer people who get married civilly and the choice for simply living together is generally made. On the other hand we see many people who have chosen marriage and get stuck in it and – often after a painful process for both – divorce.

The openness of marriage to receiving and raising children, as the teaching of the Church upholds on Biblical basis, is also no longer seen as an essential value of marriage. Other relationships than that between man and woman are increasingly treated as equivalent to marriage, either de facto or by law. Under the influence of gender theory, the differences between the genders are generally no longer traced to the biological differences between man and woman, but seen as a personal and autonomous choice.

The pressing question with all these developments is: how can the Church find ways of pastoral care and proclamation to present her teachings about marriage and family in such a way that it is understood better and reaches more people? Ways by which she can also help couples and families to live according to God’s intentions. In order to find answers to these questions Pope Francis started this aforementioned journey of reflection. This journey included two assemblies of the Synod of Bishops. An Extraordinary Assembly, in which the presidents of the bishops’ conferences of the entire world Church took part and which took place in October 2014. Subsequently an Ordinary Assembly took place in October of 2015, in which bishops who were selected by the conferences they belonged to took part. I attended the Extraordinary Synod in 2014 as president of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference. In 2015 I attended the Ordinary Synod as elected representative of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference.

For both Synods, Pope Francis appointed a number of Synod fathers of his own choosing. He also invited married couples to witness of the way in which they put the Catholic vision of marriage and family into practice. He also invited a Dutch couple for the last Synod, Massimo and Patrizia Paloni. They attended with their youngest child, Davide. They will speak later.

It should be clear that this was a major journey, requiring a lot of work, when we realise that a preparatory document, the Lineamenta, was written for both Synods by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. A worldwide consultation was held about it. Based on this a working instrument, an Instrumentum laboris, was created for both Synods. Both Synods recorded the result of their deliberations, each in their own final document. The final documents were the Synod fathers’ advice to the Pope.

Today we witness the conclusion of this major journey, with the publication of the so-called Post-Synodal Exhortation, with the title Amoris laetitia (The joy of love). In it Pope Francis presents his final conclusions about the Synod’s discussions. Regarding the journey’s length and the importance of the topic for the Church we can comfortably charactise the publication of this Post-Synodal Exhortation as a decisive moment in the pontificate of Pope Francis.

As before he surprised Church and world with this publication, in several ways. Personally, I had to re-arrange my agenda for this week to prepare this presentation of this document of 325 paragraphs and almost one hundred closely-printed pages. It will take some time before one has absorbed the complete and rich content. The Pope himself advises not to read the Exhortation hurriedly, but study it and take it in in peace.

Also surprising is the character of the document. I would qualify the Post-Synodal Exhortation as ‘a Church document with a notably existential character’. This is something we are used to with Pope Francis, you will say, but here, at least, it is even more notable than in his other publications. Of course in the first place Pope Francis presents the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church regarding marriage and family. He also devotes plenty of space to the difficulties that people experience in understanding, applying and upholding those teachings.

Pope Francis is aware that this does not always involve resistance to the teachings of the Church. The choice for a civil marriage alone or cohabitation alone is often not motivated by a rejection of Christian marriage, but also by cultural and contingent situations: prevailing distrust towards institutions in general, the difficulties many have in accepting a specific state of life and obligations for the rest of their lives, problems finding work, finding permanent employment or assuring themselves of an adequate income, because of which they consider marriage a “luxury” (n. 294).

Regarding so-called irregular situations, that is to say situations in which people are in a relationshop which is not, or not in all aspects, in accord with the demands of Church teachings, the Pope urges all who work in pastoral care to approach these people with great mercy. Without letting go of Church teachings or compromising them, but by accompanying and being close to these people with a lot of love and patience. People in irregular situations should not be excluded from Church activities, but be integrated as much as possible. It is essential, according to the Pope, that priests and others who work in marriage care try and make the best possible ‘discernment’. He understands this as the constant effort to illuminate the concrete reality of life, the situations and relationships in which people live, with the Word of God. And he also recommends that they look for the openness that may be present in people in irregular situations, to yet shape their relationship according the teachings of the Church.

The Exhortation has nine solid chapters. It is of course no surprise that Pope Francis describes the Biblical vision on marriage and family in the first chapter “in light of the Word”. In the second chapter he comprehensively discusses modern reality and the current challenges of the family. The Pope emphasises in Chapter III that amidst all modern difficulties for the family, we must look towards Jesus, who will fulfill God’s plan with us, and so (re)discover the vocation of the family. In short, this chapter present a summary of Church teachings regarding marriage and family. Chapter IV continues this line with an exposition on marital love, based on the canticle of love written by the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 13:4-7; n. 90). In Chapter V, “Love made fruitful”, the Pope emphasises that conjugal love presumes an openness to new life. In Chapter VI, “Some pastoral perspectives”, the Pope discusses the need to find new ways for marriage and family care, limiting himself to several general starting points. He sees the development of more practical initiatives as a task for the various bishops’ conferences, parishes and communities. Chapter VII is about the raising of children and Chapter VIII about the accompaniment of fragile relationships. The final Chapter IX, about the spirituality of marriage and family, is emblematic for the existential character of the document, as it points out some ways to develop a solid faith life in the family, as well giving common and personal prayer an established place in it.

I want to address one other topic seperately, which has played a major role during both Synods, and this is the question of whether people who are divorced and civilly remarried can receive Communion. In the Post-Synodal Exhortation, Pope Francis addresses this topic in two places, but he does not speak of people who are divorced and civilly remarried, but more broadly about people who are divorced and live in a new relationship. These people, the Pope says, should not have the feeling that they are excommunicated (n. 243 and 199). It is important to emphasise that he is not saying anything new here. Excommunication is an ecclesiastical punishment which someone can legally incur automatically, which can be legally declared after having been incurred or which can be imposed by verdict after serious misbehaviour or crimes. The situations in which this happens are limited: they includes a limited number of situations, and the situation of people who are divorced and have begun a new relationship is not among these. But nowhere in the Exhortation does the Pope say that they can receive Communion. Regarding people who are divorced and in a new relationship, this means that the traditional praxis, that they can not receive Communion, and which was formulated as follows by Pope John Paul II in Familiaris consortio in 1981 remains current:

“However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.” (n. 84)

In Chapter VIII of the Exhortation Pope Francis answers the question of what the Church could offer people in these situations, and says what has been mentioned above: people working in pastoral care must accompany these people and consider how they can be involved in the life of the Church as much as possible. It is important to realise here that God’s mercy is not only received by means of the sacraments, but also by listening to and reading the Word of God and through prayer.

As mentioned, this papal document has the title Amoris laetitia, the “joy of love”. It is our duty as Church to promote and protect that joy, convinced that that joy is beneficial for married couples and families as well as for us as society. It is therefore our duty to be close to married couples and families and accompany them according to our abilities with our prayer and pastoral care, especially when they carry the heavy and painful burden of a marriage or family life that is broken. With this Exhortation the Pope urges us to do so.

Pope Francis concludes his Exhortation with a prayer to the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph):

“Holy Family of Nazareth,
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God’s plan.””