'Journeying together' is essential to life of church, says Cardinal Wuerl

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WASHINGTON — The process of "journeying together" during the Catholic Church's synods of bishops examining contemporary challenges on marriage and family life offers a map for the church's outreach, Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said Sept. 12.

This process reflects not only the pontiff's pastoral approach, but also offers a template for how priests and laypeople can accompany others to help them understand and live the faith, he said.

Cardinal Wuerl made the remarks at Georgetown University in an address on "Pope Francis: Fresh Perspectives on Synodality" as part of the university's Dahlgren Chapel Sacred Lecture series.

He explained that "synodality" refers to coming together or journeying together, which he said is how those gatherings of the world's bishops tackled issues facing married couples and families.

The cardinal noted that Pope Francis emphasized the importance of dialogue as those discussions unfolded. "We can recall his advices to the bishops ... to speak with openness and clarity, to listen with humility and be open to the Holy Spirit."

Cardinal Wuerl said that the pope's understanding of synodality, that journeying together, involved not only dialogue with bishops who teach and transmit the faith, but also drew upon insights from married couples and families in dioceses around the world.

The proceedings formed the basis for Pope Francis' 2016 apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love").

"We have to listen to people living the faith," the cardinal said, who added that journeying together toward the love and truth of Christ then involves all members of the Catholic Church — clergy, religious and laity. The two synods on marriage and family, the cardinal added, were preceded by consultations of local churches throughout the world on the lived situation of families, their challenges and experiences.

That approach, he said, resulted in "Amoris Laetitia" being a "consensus exhortation," with its elements drawn from the bishops' discussion and the worldwide consultation of Catholics receiving approval from a significant majority of the participating bishops.

"I have been present in some capacity for 11 synods and as a bishop member for seven. The last two, the 2014 and 2015 gatherings, were, in my opinion, the most open, engaging and reflective of episcopal collaboration and consultation," Cardinal Wuerl said.

That same approach, he said, has marked the preparation for the upcoming 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.

In the Archdiocese of Washington, a "Share with Francis" initiative preparing for that synod involved gathering feedback from 661 participants in listening sessions at parishes, in young adult groups and on college campuses, and nearly 1,000 online responses from young people.

"Pope Francis understands the process of listening to the faithful and to his brother bishops to be a key part of his own teaching and pastoral ministry," the cardinal said. "It is a part of the 'synodality' or 'journeying together,' which he sees as essential to the very life of the church."

He also noted that Pope Francis demonstrates that witnessing to the faith involves not just words, but actions.

Cardinal Wuerl said "Amoris Laetitia" reaffirmed Catholic doctrine on marriage and family life and highlighted the teaching of recent popes on those subjects. The document also underscored the importance of discernment and helping people form consciences guided by church teaching, he said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017