Synod on family can help renew marriage, English bishop says

Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth Credit Mazur catholicnewsorguk CNA 10 16 13 Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth. / Mazur/

Next year's synod on the family and evangelization is a chance to renew family life and the Catholic vision of marriage, Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth, England has said.

"How might we educate, form and support Catholics to embrace with joy the Church's vision and to put it into practice?" the bishop asked.

The extraordinary synod will be held at the Vatican in October 2014 to discuss the pastoral care of the family and pastoral challenges in the context of evangelization. About 150 leading bishops are expected to attend.

Bishop Egan, in an Oct. 15 letter to the clergy and laity of his diocese, said the synod is an opportunity to reflect on marriage preparation, the valid celebration of marriage, and pastoral care and support for married couples and family life.

The bishop hopes the synod will help foster "a renewed appreciation of the demanding yet beautiful vision of marriage and family life that the Church presents us with."

He said this renewal is "so evidently necessary" given the decline of committed lifelong marriage and the rise of cohabitation.

Catholic marriages in the Plymouth diocese numbered 1,319 in the year 1962, but there were only 566 marriages in 2012 despite a 25 percent rise in the diocese's Catholic population.

Bishop Egan said the synod is an opportunity for Catholics in the diocese "to articulate once again the teaching of Jesus and his Church on marriage and family life, and to explore new ways of showing mercy to those in difficulty."

He said he hopes Pope Francis' call for the extraordinary synod will help the diocese develop new resources, including a comprehensive "spiritual, theological and practical" marriage preparation program.

The bishop also voiced hope that the synod will help "find new ways of celebrating and supporting parents, married couples and Christian family life." He suggested the development of new ways to celebrate engagements, marriages, and significant anniversaries in family life.

Among his suggestions was the creation of a "family manual" for the diocese that contains Scripture passages, Church teaching, a proposed life plan and simple prayers for meals, for sick family members, for departed loved ones and for cemetery visits.

"We need to share wisdom and good practice in parenting skills, in bringing up children, in creating a happy home, in honoring grandparents and our relations, and in living as a family the routines of being 'the domestic church,' such as attending Sunday Mass," Bishop Egan said.

He suggested that families be encouraged to keep fast days and feast days, to develop family activities for the liturgical seasons, to say the family rosary, the Divine Office and mealtime prayers, and to set up a small altar or sacred space in the home.

Bishop Egan's final hope for the synod is that it will renew attention to the situation of Catholics who are in "irregular unions" or who are divorced and remarried.

"Is there some way of affording them mercy, help and reconciliation?" he asked.

He is hopeful that the synod will offer some help for non-Catholics who wish to enter the Church but are prevented because of irregularities in their marital status or their partner's marital status.

In focusing on family issues, he said, Catholics must not forget to "love, care and support all people, including those who are single."

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"Let us ask the Lord Jesus to pour out the many gifts of the Holy Spirit upon us all, above all on our families," Bishop Egan concluded.

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