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Cdl. Schönborn, Bishops Aquila and Gudziak discuss challenges for families, hopes for upcoming synod

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One of the highlights of this weekend’s Napa Institute was a bishops’ panel discussion of modern challenges facing the family and expectations for the upcoming Synod on the Family. Moderated by George Weigel, the panel featured Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver, and Ukrainian Greek Catholic Bishop Borys Gudziak.After a brief introduction by Weigel, each bishop in turn discussed the particular challenges to marriage and family life that he has observed in his home diocese, as well as what he hopes to see from this October’s gathering of the Synod of Bishops.Cardinal Schönborn began the conversation on a personal note: he related the pain he experienced when told, at the age of 13, that his parents were getting a divorce. This experience and his work as a pastor in a country with a very high divorce rate have informed his hopes for the upcoming synod.“What I expect from the synod is a clear word to parents all over the world: have mercy on your children,” Cardinal Schönborn said. “This is a message I hoped that the synod of last October would have conveyed—there was little word about the children.”The cardinal described his own pastoral approach to divorced couples, stating that he does not focus, primarily, on the highly controversial question of Communion. “My first and most essential point is not to ask the question of whether the Church is merciful to the divorced, but whether the divorced were merciful to their children. ... If you ask mercy of the Church, I must ask you the question: did you put the burden of your conflict on the shoulders of your children? This is deeply unmerciful.”Cardinal Schönborn said that he hoped that the upcoming synod would maintain “a strong encouragement against divorce.”“I hope that the synod is not stuck only on the problem of divorce but is mainly encouraging matrimonial fidelity,” he said. “There is no mercy without truth. ... Mercy without truth is wobbly, truth without mercy is harsh.”“What we need in the synod is a message of the healing power of God’s mercy,” the cardinal continued. “How to translate that into practice—that will be the big challenge of the synod.”Archbishop Aquila emphasized the importance of solid marriage preparation and of education in the theology of the body for young people.“Most of our young people and many of our families have been formed by the secular world,” he said. “Many of them have a very superficial understanding of the truth and the dignity and the beauty of marriage. It becomes very important to present the truth with mercy and charity.”“We must always remember that the first blessing the Lord bestowed on man and woman was their fertility,” Archbishop Aquila said. “He blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’ And contraception, same-sex acts, any sexual act outside marriage is a rejection of that blessing. It is in essence saying to God, ‘You really don’t know what you were talking about.’”Bishop Aquila spoke of his decisions when he was bishop of Fargo, North Dakota to mandate a full course in natural family planning for all couples preparing for marriage, and to implement instruction in the theology of the body at the middle and high school levels.“It is critical for bishops to have the courage to mandate [this instruction], otherwise it’s not going to get done,” Bishop Aquila said. “And it’s essential that we do it with charity because what it does is give the young people the courage to live the virtue of chastity, and to understand why they should be living it…and so we have to make that good news available.”The panel discussion took a different turn when Bishop Gudziak took the floor. As head of the Ukrainian Greek Eparchy of Paris, Bishop Gudziak is the shepherd of Ukrainian Greek Catholics in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, and Switzerland. He is also president of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine, and it was primarily of the situation in Ukraine that Bishop Gudziak spoke. Highlighting the massive persecutions suffered by Ukrainian Greek Catholics under Soviet rule, Bishop Gudziak discussed the ways in which the Church has experienced renewal since its legalization in 1989, including a surge in vocations to the priesthood.But huge challenges persist for the Church in the former Soviet state, including the damage wrought by decades of little to no catechesis for large swaths of the population.“The catacombs are not romantic—the underground is real, it’s a real marginalization,” Bishop Gudziak said. “Fear and distrust entered into the DNA of the population. … We know that all relationships, particularly marriage and family relationships, are based on trust. And over the last century the trust of the people of Ukraine has been tried in ways we cannot even imagine.”“There’s a long a road ahead; we’re facing incredible problems,” Bishop Gudziak continued. “There’s bewilderment, there’s frustration. But we should trust that the Lord is working in history. … Let us be peaceful and joyful in our faith in God who is the God of history, who will not let his truth be trampled. And as the story of the Church in Ukraine shows he leads his people from a land of slavery to the Promised Land.”Bishop Gudziak’s presentation was the final one; Archbishop John Nienstedt, former archbishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, was scheduled to participate in the panel but did not. Weigel closed the discussion with a quote from Pope Pius XI, whose papacy saw the rise of totalitarianism in the 1930s: “Let us thank God that he makes us live among the present problems. It is no longer permitted to anyone to be mediocre.”