THE sun was scorching, more like July than late October. The
position was fantastic: right near the front, just yards from the
canopied altar, and from the Pope's throne. Right at the heart of
But then I stood and looked out across the packed St Peter's
Square behind me, and wondered whether perhaps that was really
where the action would be found. This is where the ordinary people
would comment on the beatification of Pope Paul VI; here is where
comments would be heard about Pope Francis, and about the
relatio synodi released on the Saturday evening.
The splendid pontifical mass concluded the Extraordinary Synod
on the Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of
Evangelisation. All the cardinals, bishops, archbishops, and lay
auditors were there on the highest steps in front of the
ever-impressive St Peter's. This was us gathering for worship
together for the final time.
In spite of the size of the group, there was a camaraderie that
reflected the fellowship and friendships that had grown through the
fortnight. Yet it also illustrated for me some of what the whole
synod had been wrestling with throughout its time, both in the
plenary congregations of week one, and the small groups of week
Here were gathered all the great and mighty of the Roman
Catholic Church, with a few invited lay and fraternal guests
Down in the square and up on the surrounding balconies were the
bulk of ordinary faithful Roman Catholics who love their Lord,
their Church, and their Pope.
At the far back of the square were those who perhaps had
happened upon this all by accident, and just hung around to watch
How well do the three worlds connect?
THE brave decision to ask RCs all over the world to respond to
eight questions about family life led to a very rich input from
delegate after delegate around the world.
We heard so many stories: of faithful family life, and of
suffering, pain, breakdown - and valiant, faithful rebuilding;
marriage after divorce, broken family relationships because of
enforced migration, poverty, domestic violence, and many other
reasons; the deep passion and compassion of pastors, and of truly
impressive lay organisations, seeking to care for those who found
themselves broken, often through no fault of their own - and yet,
from these same people, a desire to show that family life is joyous
for many, that marriage does work, and that the gospel remains good
Then there were those who were desperately concerned that,
somehow, any change in eucharistic discipline, or by responding
positively to people whose relationships do not conform to the
sacrament of an indissoluble marriage, would so undermine core
teaching that all would be lost. Sometimes these voices seemed
disconnected from the others; and sometimes they did not.
Sitting listening throughout was Pope Francis himself. He
challenged everyone at the outset to speak openly, and they took
him at his word. He challenged us all at the very end to reflect on
where we had given in to the temptation to play safe and not go
adventuring with the God of all mercy and truth.
He is deeply committed to the truths held by the Roman Church;
anyone who thinks he is going to make radical changes to doctrine
really does misunderstand him. But he is also deeply committed to
accompanying people in their pain. The Good Samaritan parable
speaks powerfully to him of how the Church should respond to the
challenges of poverty, violence, and family breakdown, wherever
they are found.
IT WAS an extraordinary privilege to be part of this synod. The
seriousness of engagement throughout was hugely impressive. The
depth of welcome for those of us acting as fraternal delegates was
humbling. The commitment to faithful living out of the gospel,
especially from the lay auditors, was inspiring.
There is, no doubt, disappointment at some of the final
statement. But it is important to avoid misunderstanding. Nothing
was being decided at this synod: that comes at the end of next
year's larger and longer ordinary synod. What was produced this
time goes back out for bishops' conferences and, possibly, parish
churches to consider again.
Undoubtedly, Pope Francis told us all at the end to keep
journeying in mercy and accompaniment. The people in the square are
being listened to by their Pope, and he is serenely and firmly
seeking to lead his whole Church forward, though holding fast to
the core of its faith.
After the final congregation, and the Relatio had been
voted on, the Pope went out of the hall and straight over to talk
with the journalists. One had her baby with her. He smiled,
laughed, and prayed with them. As a journalist said to me: "He has
time for everyone." It will be interesting to see what more time
for everyone will produce in 12 months' time.
The Rt Revd Paul Butler is Bishop of Durham.
Paul Vallely: Don't
be fooled: this was a big thing