Archbishop Paul Bùi Văn Đọc: “Pastoral Care for Family Is an Art”
A reflective interview on the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on Family
CBCV (Oct. 27, 2014) After having returned to the Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City from the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family held in Rome from October 5-19, Mgr. Paul Bùi Văn Đọc, archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City and president of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam, was interviewed by the staff of Episcopal Commission of Social Communications. The Archbishop freely accepted this interview in which he shared his reflection on the 2-week meeting in Rome.
Your Excellency, as you just returned from the Extraordinary Synods of Bishops on the Family, could you share with us on the key topics that were discussed and their resolutions?
This Extraordinary Synod of Bishops discussed on family life, not solely about marriage or nuptial issues. This was a broad topic, especially about the Catholic families that face challenges in this world.
The goal for this Synod is to listen to the Synodal Fathers, especially the presidents of the national episcopal conferences, in order to identify the situation prior to propose a common direction for the Church. The common direction of the Church is the combination of love and truth, the mercy of God and the command of following Christ on his way to the cross. Thus the Church needs to be patient under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who is the educator of the Christian families in our day.
As we followed the Synod on media channels, the Synodal Fathers discussed some striking problems such as abortion, divorce, “same-sex union”, domestic violence and abuse; did the Synod cover other categories beside those issues?
Actually, those striking problems did not take up too much time of the Synod. We spent great amount of time on discussion about faith education and pastoral care for Christian families. And the pastoral care for family is an art.
First of all, pastoral is the highest order of arts as St. Gregory the Great commended. Pastoral care for family is also an art that inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Synod strived to guide the pastoral care for family in such a way that Jesus accompanied the disciples on Emmaus. And, of course, sometimes it needs healing remedy. Hence pastoral care for family should not be lack of healing. Pastoral care for family has to enables the family to be the school that teaches the children to become good persons, the first school for socialization, the first school that people can learn to love the Church and to be the Church in which Christians are called to be holy and invited to follow Christ in his likeness.
Secondly, the Synodal Fathers discussed many possibilities for a solid and sound faith education.
Thirdly, we discussed potentialities of training Catholic families to be agents of evangelization.
Last but not least, we discussed about the complexity of those families who live with difficulties and crises. For those cases of divorced and remarriage, how the Church care for them with truth and charity. That is the core of the issues. That is a knotty element! In addition, there are many cases of de facto unions and non sacramental marriages around the world. The Synodal Fathers also discussed about the tribunal and its issues: How to simplify the procedure and let the local Churches to resolve the cases in ways that help those families in crises.
Could you share about the working atmosphere at the Synod?
It was resilient and very free. Sometimes the Synodal Assembly was warmed up with burning discussions but ended up in harmonious ambience with charity and oneness. Before the conclusion of the Synod, after having read the Synodal message, I spoke at the Assembly and this is my opinion: I see the Synodal message was drafted nicely; it encourages and consoles all the People of God, particularly for the Catholic families, but it did not mention the Holy Spirit who is the Consoler! All the Synodal assembly was filled with laughs including the Holy Father, but it was too late to amend the final version of the Synodal message. After that, in his final speech, the Pope filled in when he recalled that the Synodal Fathers, in general, did not take enough courage to follow the guidance and stimulation of the Holy Spirit. I am personally akin to the diversity in freedom, charity and unity. And this was the spirit of the Synod.
After returning from this Synod, do you have a new pastoral direction for Vietnamese families?
I don’t know we can say whether the coming pastoral direction for Vietnamese families is new or not because the Church has a rooted foundation and is always innoviated in the same time. However, it may composed of the following ways:
First and foremost, the fundamental is deepening faith formation for all Christians, especially in their families. Faith formation combines these elements:
- The first is sacramental teachings that I repeatedly mentioned at the Synod; not only the sacrament of matrimony but also Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. How best we can do the sacramental formation in order to prepare for the faithful to enter into their marriage lives with certainty and happiness.
- The second is companionship. The Church wants to accompany with all families on their journey. And I think, when we speak of companionship, we need to go and visit people. How can we accompany people without encountering them first? One of the challenges for the Church in Vietnam is the large population of each parish which could disable many individual pastoral visits. But if we do not visit the families of our parishioners, how can we accompany them? Where such individual pastoral visits become undoable, then we need to look at the next element.
- The last is the participation of the laity in our pastoral outreach. Catholic families are not merely the objects of pastoral care but can actively participate in the pastoral care with their pastor, particularly for pastoral visitation. This is the pastoral direction of the Church in our day. So the pastors of the small parishes should be joyful, do not look at the large parishes. In a small parish, the pastor can easily visit his parishioners and accompany their families on the journey with the Church. If our priests can do this then the Church in Vietnam can move forward much further on our journey of faith.
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