During his weekly general audience Pope Francis spoke about the gift and call of the Christian family and urged attendees to pray for the intentions of the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the family.
“The church needs a prayer full of love for the family and for life,” the pope told pilgrims gathered in a drizzly St. Peter’s Square for his March 25 general audience.
“Because of this, I ask you to pray insistently for the next Synod of Bishops, on the family, so that the church is increasingly more committed and unified in her witness of the love and mercy of God with all families,” he said.
Francis emphasized that ahead of the October meeting, which will gather more than 200 bishops and representatives from all over the world, “we [the church] need prayers, not gossip,” and asked that “those also pray who feel alienated or are not accustomed to praying.”
The pope’s petition for prayer took place during his continued catechesis on the family -- a theme he announced last fall would be the subject of every general audience leading up to this year’s synod of bishops as a means of preparation.
After last year’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, which explored the theme “the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization,” set the groundwork, this year’s Ordinary Synod on the Family will wrap up the synodal discussion.
Set to take place Oct. 4-25, this year’s ordinary synod will reflect on the theme “Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the family.” The conclusions of the gathering will be used by Pope Francis to draft his first Post-Synodal Exhortation, which can be expected in 2016.
In his audience address, Pope Francis noted how the day marked the feast of the Annunciation, which commemorates the Archangel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would be the Mother of God.
The solemnity, he said, “invites us, in the context of the church’s preparation for the forthcoming Synod on the Family, to consider the relationship between the Incarnation and the mission of the family.”
With Gabriel’s announcement, “the Lord illuminates and strengthens the faith of Mary, as her husband Joseph will do later, so that Jesus is born and welcomed into the warmth of a family,” the pope explained.
He also pointed out how March 25 celebrates the Day for Life and the 20th anniversary of John Paul II’s encyclical “Evangelium Vitae,” which the saint authored in 1995 emphasizing the sacredness and value of human life.
The family plays a central role in the encyclical, Francis said, noting that from the beginning of time God blessed man and woman and entrusted them with the task of procreating and forming “a community of love to transmit life.”
In the sacrament of marriage, Christian spouses commit themselves with this task for life, the pope said, noting that it is the responsibility of the church to accompany and support families, especially those most in need.
When a couple is married, he said, “the church, for her part, is obliged not to abandon the new family, not even when it moves away or falls into sin, always calling it to conversion and reconciliation in the Lord.”
However, in order to carry out this mission, the church needs loving prayers in support of both life and the family, Pope Francis noted, particularly for the Synod of Bishops on the Family.
“I ask you to continue praying for the Synod, so that it will reflect the compassion of the Good Shepherd for his flock and help the church to be ever more committed and clear in her witness to the truth of God’s merciful love for all families,” he said.
Francis closed his speech with this appeal for prayer and went on to greet groups of pilgrims present from various countries around the world.
Among those in attendance at the pope’s audience was Mike Haines, the brother of British aid-worker David Haines, who was murdered by ISIS after being kidnapped while working near the Syrian border with Turkey in 2013.
In a news conference ahead of Wednesday’s audience, British Ambassador to the Holy See Nigel Baker said that Mike Haines “will be bringing to the Vatican his message of interreligious understanding.”
“Pope Francis has called for a common commitment to end fighting, hatred and violence. Mike Haines is living that commitment in an extraordinary way.”
Haines was accompanied to the papal audience by Imam Shahnawaz Haque, from East London.
Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi, Pakistan, was also present during the audience, and exchanged a long handshake and several words with the pope after the event was over.
Numerous attacks against Christians have taken place in Pakistan in recent months, the most recent being a suicide bombing on two Christian churches March 15.
— Elise Harris / Catholic News Agency / EWTN News