It was just a few days ago, during the conversation I had with Sean Herriott on his Morning Air with Sean Herriott radio show, that I was talking about the prominent place that the family has taken in the still-young pontificate of Pope Francis. I pointed out to Sean that the Vatican has recently announced the Pope’s call for an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops (the first such gathering since Pope John Paul II called for one in 1985) on the topic of “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of the Evangelization.” It will meet at the Vatican in October of 2014.
Following upon that announcement came the Pope’s fascinating meeting with families in St. Peter’s Square, held to help mark the close of the Year of Faith. Though its most memorable moment was clearly the Pope’s wonderful interaction with the young boy who refused to leave his side, it was also notable as a clear expression of the prominent place the family has on Francis’s pastoral radar.
Now comes a dramatic development. Yesterday the Vatican released the Synod’s Preparatory Document. What is, to me, the most fascinating part came at the very beginning, in a sentence that explained the Synod plans the Pope has in mind:
[T]he Holy Father has decided to call for a Synod of Bishops, which is to have a two-staged itinerary: firstly, an Extraordinary General Assembly in 2014, intended to define the “status quaestionis” and to collect the bishops’ experiences and proposals in proclaiming and living the Gospel of the Family in a credible manner; and secondly, an Ordinary General Assembly in 2015 to seek working guidelines in the pastoral care of the person and the family.
In short: not one, but two synods, in two years, on the topic of the family! (Looking a step farther ahead, by the way, this suggests that a major papal document on the family is highly likely to result from all this, not to mention perhaps other significant initiatives or developments in the Pope’s ministry or Vatican policy regarding the church’s pastoral care of married couples and families.)
And don’t forget this part: All of this leads up to the World Meeting of Families (WMF), to be held in September 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (scheduled before Pope Benedict’s resignation). The WMF is a triennial event, founded by Pope John Paul II very much along the lines of a World Youth Day, but for families instead of young people. The reigning pope has attended every other event of this kind in the past, wherever on the globe it has been held. (Most recently it was Pope Benedict in Milan, Italy, in 2012.)
To my knowledge, the Vatican has not yet confirmed that Pope Francis will attend the 2015 WMF. But given the central place the Pope obviously intends to give to family life in his ministry, I would, frankly, be very surprised if he declined the opportunity to be there. And that means that we’ll likely see the first visit of Pope Francis to the United States in less than two years’ time, in September 2015. And it will give him an opportunity to address a topic that is very much on his mind. Should be very interesting.