Speaking to the Polish bishops last week, Pope Francis encouraged a stronger understanding of marriage, accompanied by a merciful attitude toward those in difficult family situations.
“Today marriage tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will,” the Pope said. “Unfortunately this vision also influences the mentality of Christians, promoting a tendency toward divorce or separation.”
He encouraged pastors to consider how they can help those who are divorced “so that they do not feel excluded from God's mercy, from the fraternal love of other Christians and the solicitude of the Church for their salvation; on how to help them not to abandon their faith and to enable them to raise their children in the fullness of Christian experience.”
Pope Francis’ words came Jan. 7 at the Vatican’s Clementine Hall in an address to the bishops of Poland, who were in Rome for their ad limina visit, a trip that bishops must make every five years to discuss the state of their dioceses with the Pope.
Continuing to reflect on families, the pontiff stressed the importance of improving marriage preparation for young people, “in such a way that they can discover more and more the beauty of this union which, well-founded on love and responsibility,” is able to overcome trials and difficulties through mutual forgiveness.
“One has to consider,” he added, “how to help families to live and to appreciate both moments of joy as well as of pain and weakness.”
The Holy Father had begun his address looking forward to the April 27 canonization of Bl. John Paul II, whom he said “has given us a shining example of total abandonment to God and to his Mother, and of complete dedication to the Church and to mankind.” He also pointed to the late Pope’s example of communion among bishops, highlighting the importance of their unity.
“During our encounter these days I have had confirmation that the Church in Poland has great potential for faith, prayer, charity and Christian practice,” he said, thanking God that the Sacraments are frequented in Poland, and that there are good initiatives for the new evangelization and catechesis, as well as many priestly vocations.
However, he also noted “a certain decline in various aspects of the Christian life,” referencing an idea of limitless freedom, distrust of truth and “resistance to the Church's legitimate opposition to prevailing relativism.”
This situation calls for “discernment, a search for underlying reasons and for ways to face new challenges,” he said.
After discussing family life and marriage, Pope Francis turned to the upcoming World Youth Day, to be held in Krakow in 2016. He called youth, together with the elderly, “the hope of the Church.”
Contemporary technology offers “new possibilities for communication, but at the same time reduces interpersonal relationships based on direct contact, on the exchange of values and shared experiences,” he said. “However, in the hearts of the young there is the yearning for something deeper, which allows their personalities to bloom fully. We must meet this wish.”
He suggested improved catechesis for the young, focusing on “existential knowledge of Christ, a personal relationship with the God who is love,” rather than treating formation as an “abstract science.”
“Perhaps we should insist more on the formation of lived faith as a relationship, in which one experiences the joy of being loved and of loving.”
Pope Francis also encouraged youth participation in movements based on scripture or liturgy, as well as volunteer or missionary work.
Noting the large number of Polish missionaries and the high quality of the country’s seminaries, he emphasized the importance of maintaining a “missionary spirit” of service.
“In priestly ministry the light of testimony can be obscured or ‘hidden under a bushel’ if there is a lack of missionary spirit, of the wish to ‘go out’ with an ever-renewed missionary conversion to seek – even in the peripheries – or encounter those who await Christ's Good News,” he reflected.
“This apostolic style also demands a spirit of poverty, of abandonment, to allow freedom of proclamation and sincere witness to charity.”
He lamented a decline in the number of those in consecrated life, especially among women, expressing hope that “female religious institutes may continue to be … privileged spaces for the affirmation and human and spiritual growth of women.”
Concluding his remarks, Pope Francis exhorted the bishops to show “solicitude for the poor,” both those in Poland and those who emigrate.
“Be close to them!” he urged, calling on the bishops to support those in poverty “so that they can preserve the faith and the religious traditions of the Polish people.”