The Polish Bishops’ Conference expresses its gratitude to the Holy Father Francis for the gift of the Synod of Bishops, whose theme this year will be „The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World.” We also thank the millions of Poles – including family communities and movements – who are praying for Pope Francis, the Cardinals, the Bishops and people who will take part in the Synod. We encourage everyone to continue praying for the synod, in which – at the request of the Holy Father – Bishops from Poland will participate with joy and care for the families.
1. The teaching of the Popes and the Bishops – based on the Scriptures and the Tradition of the Catholic Church – indicates that marriage and the family represent one of the most precious goods of humanity, which should be surrounded by special care. Jesus Christ presents marriage as a covenant between man and woman, united in love for their entire life and open to the gift of new life. Marriage is both a divine and human reality that Jesus Christ raised to the dignity of a sacrament. Spouses are in fact „able to live in their married and family lives the very love of God for people and that of the Lord Jesus for the Church, His bride” (St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 56).
Many Polish families, responding to the questionnaire in view of the upcoming synod, emphasized that their joy and peace of mind are the fruit of faith in God, of the sacramental life and prayer, both individually and in the family, as well as of the time they dedicate to one another. We therefore underscore that the family, which is the domestic Church, is a holy and sanctifying reality (cf. Acts 10:24–48; St. John Paul II, Homily at the opening of the V Synod of Bishops, 26.09.1980).
2. We thank God for the fact that, in our country, there are many healthy families who, in „good and bad fate,” strive daily to be faithful to their vocation. As we wrote in a pastoral letter, these are „people who believe in love and want to live it every day, understanding it not only in the sense of emotions and as a source of excitement, but as a happy opportunity to take responsibility for those they love, so that they may enjoy the indissoluble and exclusive relationship with him/her forever. They are people who look at the mystery of the human body and the gift of conjugal life together with a sense for holiness and admiration in their hearts, who welcome a new child in the family with prayer of praise, and consider each life – from conception to natural death – as they do holiness. For these people, the dignity of the human person is, always and everywhere, the absolute value” (Letter of the Polish Bishops’ Conference on the Feast of the Holy Family, 30.12.2005). We thank the priests who minister to them with fatherly wisdom and dedication.
3. „What God has joined together, let not man put asunder,” says Christ (Mk 10:9). Therefore, sacramental marriage is, by its very nature, indissoluble. The law of God sets limits that human decisions cannot transgress. Man does not have „any power over the divine law, natural or positive” (St. John Paul II, Address to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, 21.01.2000). In a situation where the spouses are in difficulty, the task of the Catholic Church is to help them in deepening their love and mutual responsibility, as well as in their conversion. Today, this kind of pastoral care is needed more than ever.
In the Catholic Church, there is no divorce nor are there processes that lead to divorce. There are only processes in which it is determined, individually, whether the marriage was valid or not. All should avoid a divorce mentality. Every separation of spouses offends God; moreover, it causes much harm, leaving not only them with wounds, but also throwing a painful shadow over their children, the immediate family, friends and acquaintances, and destroys the foundation of the entire society.
In this kind of situation, pastoral care is even more necessary for those living in non-sacramental unions. We remind you that divorced persons, although they remain separated, are not excluded from the Church, but continue being members; and should be encouraged in the faith and, in their relationship with the ecclesial community, to participate in Sunday Mass and in the life of parish communities (St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 84). At the same time, we encourage those who are not impeded in any way from getting married, to open themselves to the love of God and accept the challenge of building their family on the solid foundation of Christ’s grace.
4. With pastoral concern, we embrace married couples, who, for years, have been awaiting a child. At the same time, we recall that artificial insemination is not the right way to solve the problem of infertility, and that this method is not to be used by Catholics (Pope Francis, Audience to the Association of Italian Catholic Doctors, 15.11.2014). We share the pain of families who are experiencing the drama of miscarriage or whose children are stillborn. We remind you that each of these children have the right to a complete Catholic funeral.
5. We hope that during the Synod even greater gratitude will be expressed to spouses who, with wise deliberation and generously (Gaudium et Spes, 50), have chosen to have many children, giving them life and care, and introducing them into the world of faith and culture (Pontifical Council for the Family, Family and Human Procreation, 18-19). This gratitude is also extended to the spouses who adopt children and to people who create family-like homes for children.
We believe that the Synod can help change the social discourse with respect to families with many children, to which Pope Francis drew attention during a meeting with several thousands of large families, when he spoke, with the deepest respect and gratitude, about their indispensable contribution to the future of the Church and the world, and called on structures in society to guarantee them adequate assistance (Pope Francis, Address to the Italian Association of Large Families, 28.12.2014; cf. idem, Wednesday Audience on children in the family, 08.04.2015).
6. Care for the poorest families, for families with disabled persons and elderly couples, should become an integral part of family ministry. It is necessary to make especially the young generation aware of persons and families who need all kinds of assistance. Family ministry must care for families who are separated because certain members have migrated for reasons of employment. At the same time, we recall the need for fair payment for work: „society and the State must ensure wage levels adequate for the maintenance of the worker and his family, including a certain amount for savings” (St. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 15).
7. The number of persons living alone is growing. We find among them those who, for various reasons cannot get married as well as those who consciously choose the path of loneliness in a world in order to serve others in many ways. There are also those who, surrendering to the mentality of consumerism, remain alone for their own comfort. Pastoral care should be given to all of these people, by including them in the Church’s life and offering support to families in need (St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 85).
8. We note, on the one hand, that approximately 90% of Poland’s young people consider marriage and family as the way to reach happiness in adult life. On the other hand, the number of people living in de facto unions is growing. Often, people are also afraid of responsibility and irrevocable self-giving. It is therefore necessary to give greater importance to the institution of engagement and to extend the period of preparation for the reception of the sacrament of marriage. We thank the spouses who help other couples by showing that beautiful and faithful conjugal love is possible.
9. In connection with the discussion about Holy Communion for the divorced living in new civil unions, we are grateful to Pope Francis for having reminded us that „the Eucharist is not a private prayer or a beautiful spiritual experience. (…) Eating ‚Bread of Life’ means entering into harmony with the heart of Christ, assimilating his choices, his thoughts, his attitudes” (Angelus, 16.8.2015). In order to live this Eucharistic life, it is necessary to deepen the cult of the Eucharistic (Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 66). The teaching of the Catholic Church remains unchangeable when it says that, in order to go to Holy Communion, one must stay in sanctifying grace (1 Cor 11:26–29; 1 Cor 6:9–10; Code of Canon Law, can. 916).
The family is the work and the property of God. We are therefore preparing for the upcoming Synod with faith, hope and love.