Bishop Grech’s welcoming address at the European Conference on the Family
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The European Conference on the Family, organised by the Faculty of Theology in collaboration with the European Society for Catholic Theology and the Association of European Theologians in Malta has organised a conference on the Family taking place today at Verdala Palace, entitled: Between Two Synods: Journeying Together.
For this occasion there are thirty theologian from several European countries, together with lecturers of Theology and students, in the presence of their Excellencies the Bishops, the Apostolic Nuncio and the President of Malta, to discuss some of the conclusions of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome which ended last October and offer their reflection for the following Synod.
Below is the welcome address in full by Gozo Bishop Mario Grech President, of the Maltese Episcopal Conference”
“It is my pleasure to convey this short message to welcome all scholars and invited guests participating in today’s conference. Our gathering aims to contribute in the ongoing reflections taking place in this period between the two Synods concerning the cultural and emerging pastoral challenges of marriage and the family in Europe. A special greeting to six speakers who will help us reflect through their valid contributions.
In the presence of theologians, as a bishop I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation for your precious work. It is your vocation, in communion with the Magisterium, to acquire “an ever deeper understanding of the Word of God found in the inspired Scriptures and handed over by the living Tradition of the Church”. This Conference is a step in the right direction to service our brethen with the light of that Truth that sets us free and enlightens the Church to preach the Gospel of Joy and compassion. Your theological investigation is pivotal in order to address the challenges facing marital life and the family, because what the Church needs in the next “synodus”/ “coming together” is to provide new answers that are rooted in the Word of God, faithful to the Tradition of the Church, and creative. It is of little use to come together just to repeat what is already known. Deep theological reflection is necessary in the Church because as Vatican Council II states this enhances “the growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down” (Dei Verbum, 8).
However in order to provide concrete answers we must be in contact with the concrete experience of our families. Thus I commend the Conference’s starting point: the concrete experience of the challenges facing marriage and family in our continent. We need to look attentively and compassionately at the situations families find themselves in today. Allow me to quote what I already expressed in the last Synod: “Creativity in both the language as well as in the pastoral attitude towards persons who find themselves in difficult pastoral situations requires far more than a mere external modification. On the contrary, it demands the sustained pursuit of new answers alongside new pastoral approaches some of which can be extracted from the teachings of the Church Fathers. It is desirable that such situations be closely examined with theological erudition together with a pastoral mindset, in order for suitable pastoral solutions that are built upon deepened doctrinal considerations to be obtained.”
Some fear that this Synodal experience can shaken the solid foundations of the Church’s teaching on marriage and family. I think that what we ought to fear is our resistance to the Holy Spirit who guides the Church: a fear that should be felt by all those who love Christ and His Church – that timor Domini that constitutes the initium sapientiae (cfr Ps 111,10). We all should, in front of God, examine our conscience to remain always rooted in the Lord and let our reflections and proposals be guided by a sincere and true love for Him and for His Church.
Reflecting upon this moment in the history of the Church, it is my impression that this Synodal experience is not just about marriage and family, but about the Church itself and how we are to live our calling to be brothers and sisters in Christ. This fraternal charity will help us to live by the Pauline axiom maior est charitas: above all things, love should prevail (cfr 1Cor 13,13). So this Conference is not just an “academic” moment but a fraternal gathering of brothers and sisters who love Christ and are willing to serve Him. I don’t fear a Church that as a family questions herself about how to preach the Gospel in today’s world. I fear a Church that stops short from continuing her journey under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to arrive to an evernew fuller understanding of truth. So, your presence today is encouraging and consoling. We need to move ahead with courage and creativity.
Thus we should all invoke upon our Church the Spirit of Truth who is also the Spirit of Love and of Communion. It saddens me when I meet priests and lay people who have a profound love and dedication towards the Lord and His Church, and tell me that they feel confused and disorientated by the theological reflection and discussion that is taking place regarding the pastoral challenges concerning the family. I confess that sometimes such disorientation is due to a vision of a Church divided in two opposing poles: the conservatives and the progressive who mutually accuse one another of being wrong and false in their assertions. While recalling to mind the temptations earmarked by Pope Francis in his final address at the conclusion of last October’s Synod that concern both the so-called conservatives and progressives, we should avoid “pigeonholing” one another in divisive labels. Instead, we must all strive to be truly faithful to Christ Our Lord and His Church while progressing in our journey in the world. In other words, what I would like to stress is that falling into compromise with current and populist trends is one thing and ought to be avoided, whereas being faithful to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit is something else; something that is not only praiseworthy but necessary to fulfil our mission of proclaiming the Gospel to all humanity.
As His Holiness states, “the Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel” (Evangelii gaudium, 114). A merciful Church is one that makes it possible for all to experience the redeeming love of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Some may retain this emphasis on mercy as a sign of a Church that is becoming “sentimental” rendering blurred her vision of what is True and Good. However, a merciful Church is one that conveys the Truth whose heart is bruised by love for mankind. Mercy does not make the Church vulnerable but credible because it is that Church who is wounded out of love that truly gives witness to the wounded Heart of Her Master Jesus Christ. Pope Francis, again, clearly says, “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.” (Evangelii gaudium, 49). True mercy, far from being laxist, is what humanity, and in particular our families, are thirsting for to encounter their one Lord and Saviour.
Concluding, I would like to thank the Faculty of Theology of the University of Malta and the European Society of Catholic Theologians for organising this conference and H. E. the President of Malta for patronising it.
My prayer is that this day may help us grow into a Church that accompanies all families in their encounter with Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, the Life (cfr Jn 14,6).”