Egyptian Christians feel safer, though Islamism still looms

While problems still exist, Christians in Egypt feel “much safer” under the presidency of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a former military officer who played a key role in the coup that ousted Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013, a Catholic official said.

“The mood has improved considerably. The security situation is getting better. There is greater stability,” Father Rafik Greiche, press officer for the Egyptian bishops’ conference, told Aid to the Church in Need Oct. 21.

“Christians feel a lot safer. They are going to church without feeling threatened as they did under President Morsi … In all, a more peaceful atmosphere is being created.”

A 2011 revolution, part of the Arab Spring, had overthrown Hosni Mubarak, a military officer who had been Egypt’s president since 1981. The following year Morsi, of the Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood, became the first democratically elected Egyptian president.

“Under the Muslim Brotherhood Molotov cocktails were hurled at churches or graffiti was sprayed on the walls,” Fr. Greiche recounted.
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30th Sunday of Ordinary Time A

Reading I: Exodus 22:20-26
Responsorial Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51
Reading II: 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
Gospel: Matthew 22:34-40

On Being Loved Sinners

We’re strange creatures, more lovely than we think and more sinful than we imagine, too hard and too easy on ourselves all at the same time.

Human nature is a curious mix. On the one hand, we’re better than we think and this beauty and goodness doesn’t just come because, deep down, we’re made in the image and likeness of God or because, as Plato and Aristotle say, we’re metaphysically good. That’s true, but our loveliness is also less abstract. We’re beautiful too, at least most of the time, in our human and moral qualities.

Most of the time, in fact, we are quite generous, often to a fault. As well, most of the time too, despite appearances, we’re warm and hospitable. The same is true in terms of the desire and scope of our embrace, both of our minds and our hearts. Inside of everyone, easily triggered by the slightest touch of love or affirmation, lies a big heart, a grand soul, a magna anima, that’s just itching to show itself. Mostly the problem isn’t with our goodness, but with our frustration in trying to live out that goodness in the world. Too often we look cold and self-centered when we’re only hurt and wounded.

We don’t always look good, but we are. Mostly we’re frustrated precisely because we cannot (for reasons of circumstance, wound, and sensitivity) pour out our goodness as we would like nor embrace the world and those around us with the warmth that’s in us. We go through life looking for a warm place to show who we are and mostly don’t find it. We’re not so much bad as frustrated. We’re more lovely than we dare imagine.

That’s the half of it. There’s another side: We’re sinners too, more so than we think. An old Protestant dictum about human nature, based upon St. Paul, puts it accurately: “It’s not a question of are you a sinner? It’s only a question of what is your sin?” We’re all sinners and, just as we possess a big heart and a grand soul, we also possess a petty one (a pusilla anima). Inside us too, congenitally, there’s selfishness, jealousy, and a pettiness of heart and mind that is never far from the surface.

Moreover, generally, we are blind to our real faults. As Jesus says, we too easily see the speck on our neighbor’s eye and miss the plank in our own. There’s a real contradiction here: Where we think we’re sinners is usually not the place where others struggle the most with us and where our real faults lie. Conversely it’s in those areas where we think we’re virtuous and righteous that, most often, our real sin lies and where others struggle with us.

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Vatican reorganizes Montecassino, mother abbey of the Benedictines

Pope Francis on Thursday appointed a new Abbot of Montecassino – the first monastery built by St. Benedict – and at the same time reduced the territory for which the new abbot is responsible.

“The Monastic Community warmly welcomes Father Donato Ogliari as 192nd Ordinary Abbot of the territorial Abbey of Montecassino,” the abbey posted on Twitter Oct. 23.

Abbot Ogliari, O.S.B., who is 57, was professed as a member of the Consolata Missionaries in 1978, and ordained a priest of that institute in 1982. He later transferred to the Order of Saint Benedict, and was solemnly professed there in 1992. Before his appointment as Abbot of Montecassino, Abbot Ogliari had been abbot of Santa Maria della Scala Monastery in Noci, Italy.

The Territorial Abbey of Montecassino had been vacant since June 2013, when Abbot Pietro Vittorelli resigned.

Montecassino is one of the few remaining “territorial abbeys” in the world. This means that the abbey is independent of a diocese, and is in fact its own particular church.
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‘Don’t abandon us’ – Church in Mosul ‘no longer exists’

Reflecting on his recent trip to the Holy Land and to Iraqi Kurdistan, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City said that for all practical purposes, the bishops of Mosul no longer have Churches to shepherd.

“When we were in Erbil, we met with the Archbishop of Mosul, who along with his priests and all of the faithful of the archdiocese, have been driven out,” Archbishop Coakley said in an interview.

“He is, in effect, the archbishop of a Church that no longer exists.”

Archbishop Coakley continued, saying, “they’ve all been scattered. There are no more Christians in his archdiocese. That’s a traumatic, but illustrative situation, of what’s happening there, and what can happen, if things don’t improve.”

There are in fact two Catholic archbishops of Mosul: one for Chaldean, and one for Syriac Catholics. Both of them, as well as three Orthodox bishops, were forced from their home along with their people by the Islamic State in mid-July – three months ago.

As chairman of Catholic Relief Services, Archbishop Coakley spent seven days earlier this month travelling to Gaza, Jerusalem, and Iraqi Kurdistan to survey the work being done by the U.S. bishops’ international charity.
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Hard winter looms for Iraq’s ‘betrayed’ Christian refugees

Despite efforts by northern Iraq’s Catholic bishops to ensure that Christians and other refugees can survive the winter, housing shortages and a significant lack of financial support pose serious threats.

“The Church is pretty much alone in caring for them; so far the Iraqi government has not done anything for them. The tents of the refugees are set up on parish properties,” said Karin Maria Fenbert, an official with the international pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need.

Fenbert assessed the situation in Erbil. With the start of the school year, many of the refugees who had been sheltered in schools have left quickly in order to avoid tensions with local Christians, she explained.

“Moreover winter is not far away and many refugees are still living in tents that are not waterproof, some of which are set up on the bare ground,” Fenbert continued in an Oct. 14 statement.

More than 100,000 Iraqi Christian refugees have fled their homes in and near the northern city of Mosul following the seizure of territory by forces from the Islamic State group earlier this year. Many refugees have escaped to Iraqi Kurdistan. They are among the more than 30 percent of Iraqi Christians who are now refugees.

Northern Iraq’s bishops, Fenbert said, “are only reporting what they hear hundreds of people say: the Christians feel betrayed: betrayed by their central government in Baghdad; betrayed by their former Muslim neighbors; and betrayed also by the international community.”

“They feel that they are being perceived merely as collateral damage in geopolitical power plays. Add it all up, and the bishops feel quite helpless and powerless.”
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Resist ‘hidden euthanasia’ of elderly, Little Sisters stress

Receiving an award recognizing their works of service, members of the Little Sisters of the Poor stressed the need for loving attention and care for the elderly, particularly by the youth.

“I urge you to fight against the tendency to marginalize and abandon the elderly, to commit what the Pope refers to as ‘hidden euthanasia’,” Sister Constance Veit, the Little Sisters’ U.S. national communications director, said.

She spoke at an awards ceremony at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, where the Little Sisters were awarded the Poverello Medal in honor of their service.

Sr. Veit said that the elderly “have become the contemporary outcasts” of society at a time when their numbers are increasing. The elderly will make up 19 percent of the U.S. population by 2030, she said.

She called for a “covenant between generations” to join young and old together.
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Church teaching on sexuality is simple, but not easy, priest says

When it comes to human sexuality, one of the predominant themes discussed by participants at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family pertains to the certainty that truth and mercy cannot be separated.

This is according to Fr. Stephen Fawcett of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, who was one of 27 volunteers serving at the Synod on the Family.

Fr. Fawcett, whose role throughout the Synod had been in part to act as one of two secretaries to one of the small groups over this past week, said that “one big strand that came out of the groups echoed Benedict XVI’s reminder of the link between love and truth.”

“God shows his mercy to all of us… to grow into the people we should be,” he said. “It’s not (that) some people need mercy, and some people don’t. All of us need the truth… and all of us need the grace to journey in that truth.”

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Will Boko Haram honor a ceasefire? Probably not.

A reputed ceasefire and agreement to return scores of abducted schoolgirls in Nigeria merit skepticism given Boko Haram’s violent ideology and the previous failures of the Nigerian government, one observer says.

“We have heard that these girls have been rescued by the military – twice in the last six months. We have also heard of ceasefires twice in as many years. As with all information coming out of government circles, the rule of thumb is to wait till we hear the terrorists’ side of the story,” Emmanuel Ogebe, managing partner of the U.S.-Nigeria Law Group, said.

The militant Islamic group has been leading an uprising since 2009.

“Boko Haram has repudiated or denounced ceasefires within days so I am not holding my breath on this,” said Ogebe, a human rights lawyer who lobbied the U.S. government to recognize Boko Haram as a terrorist group.

“Frankly it is difficult to imagine that overnight these die-hard Islamist terrorists suddenly had a rethink about violent jihad against all infidels.”

“They have clearly shown their disinterest in money, reason or civilization. It is hard to conceive that they simply changed their minds on their evil theology especially when they hold 26 towns captive at the moment.”
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Angelus: On the Pontificate of Blessed Paul VI

“To this Pontiff, the Christian people will always be grateful for the Apostolic Exhortation Marialis cultus”

At the conclusion of the Holy Mass, Pope Francis recited the Angelus with the faithful and pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square. These are the Pope’s words of introduction to the Marian prayer:

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters,

At the conclusion of the this solemn celebration, I wish to greet the pilgrims from Italy and from various countries, with a respectful greeting to the official Delegations. In particular, I greet the faithful from the diocese of Brescia, Milan and Rome, who are significantly linked to the life and ministry of Pope Montini. I thank you all for your presence and exhort you to faithfully follow the teachings and example of the newly Blessed.

He was a staunch supporter of the mission ad gentes; a testimony of this is the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii with which he intended to awaken the enthusiasm and commitment to the mission of the Church. It is important to consider this aspect of the Pontificate of Paul VI, especially today as we celebrate World Mission Day.

Before invoking Our Lady all together with the Angelus prayer, I would like to underline the profound Marian devotion of Blessed Paul VI. To this Pontiff, the Christian people will always be grateful for the Apostolic Exhortation Marialis cultus and for having proclaimed Mary as “The Mother of the Church”, on the occasion of the closing of the third session of the Second Vatican Council.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, help us to carry out faithfully in our lives the will of the Lord, as the newly Blessed had done.


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Pope’s Homily at the Beatification Mass of Paul VI

“When we look to this great Pope, this courageous Christian, this tireless apostle, we cannot but say in the sight of God a word as simple as it is heartfelt and important: thanks!”

Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s homily at the Celebration of Mass for the Closing of the Synod of Bishops and the Beatification of Pope Paul VI.

* * *

We have just heard one of the most famous phrases in the entire Gospel: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt22:21).

Goaded by the Pharisees who wanted, as it were, to give him an exam in religion and catch him in error, Jesus gives this ironic and brilliant reply. It is a striking phrase which the Lord has bequeathed to all those who experience qualms of conscience, particularly when their comfort, their wealth, their prestige, their power and their reputation are in question. This happens all the time; it always has.

Certainly Jesus puts the stress on the second part of the phrase: “and [render] to God the things that are God’s”. This calls for acknowledging and professing – in the face of any sort of power – that God alone is the Lord of mankind, that there is no other. This is the perennial newness to be discovered each day, and it requires mastering the fear which we often feel at God’s surprises.
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Pope Francis’ closing synod speech received with standing ovation

Pope Francis’ address at the conclusion of the Synod on the Family, delivered Saturday, was responded to with a four-minute standing ovation on the part of the bishops attending the Vatican meeting.

In the Oct. 18 speech, the Pope thanked the bishops for their efforts, and noted the various temptations that can arise in such a synod setting. He encouraged the bishops to live in the tension, saying that “personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it (Spiritual Exercises, 6), if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace.”

“Instead, I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parrhesia. And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the ‘supreme law,’ the ‘good of souls; (cf. Can. 1752).”

In conclusion, looking forward to the 2015 synod, which will also be on the family, Pope Francis said, “now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.”

Please find below the full text of Pope Francis’ address:

Dear Eminences, Beatitudes, Excellencies, Brothers and Sisters,

With a heart full of appreciation and gratitude I want to thank, along with you, the Lord who has accompanied and guided us in the past days, with the light of the Holy Spirit.
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A missionary Pope: Cardinal Etchegaray’s memory of Paul VI

Paul VI was a missionary Pope who wished to bring the light of the Gospel all over the world, a cardinal who worked with the late Roman Pontiff, who will be beatified on Sunday, has recalled.

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, 92, vice-dean of the College of Cardinals, had a long term relation with Paul VI, whom he first met during the 1960s.

“I was serving as general secretary of the French bishops’ conference, and I met the-then Cardinal Montini, who showed great interest in European matters,” Cardinal Etchegaray said in an interview.

Giovani Battista Montini had served for several years in the Secretariat of State before being appointed Archbishop of Milan in 1954.

In his years in the Secretariat of State, Cardinal Montini had been (from 1925 to 1933) the spiritual assistant to the Italian Federation of Catholic University Students, while as a young priest Fr. Roger Etchegaray had served as responsible of the Catholic Association in the Diocese of Bayonne.
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From bad to worse – religious persecution growing in China

The state of religious freedom in China is moving from bad to worse, said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), responding to a new report by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

“There’s a huge gulf now” between China and the Catholic Church, Smith stated during an Oct. 9 conference call with reporters. He acknowledged that “the underground church has been brutally persecuted in China, both Protestant and Catholic,” but said that now even the state-recognized church is facing persecution.

“The Patriotic Church, the Catholic Church, they are being targeted with church demolitions and other kinds of repression which we have not seen before. So there’s a great deal of concern that religious freedom, as bad as it was, has further deteriorated in China.”

Smith and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) co-hosted the teleconference, focusing on the latest annual report from the human rights monitoring group, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

Both lawmakers cited various ways that the Chinese government has infringed upon the freedom of its citizens, including gross violations of human rights and targeting churches.

Smith cited a statement from the report: “Chinese authorities continued to harass, detain, imprison, and interfere with the religious activities of members of both registered and unregistered Protestant communities who ran afoul of government or party policy.”
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Synod fathers laud miracle of conjugal love in final message

In their message to the faithful, the synod fathers praised the life-giving love between a man and a woman, which despite many challenges, endures through the grace given by God in the sacrament of marriage.

“Such love, of its nature, strives to be forever to the point of laying down one’s life for the beloved. In this light conjugal love, which is unique and indissoluble, endures despite many difficulties,” the Oct. 18 message read.

This love, it continued, “is one of the most beautiful of all miracles and the most common.”

Synod fathers for the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family released their message to the people of God following almost two weeks of intense discussion on marriage and family life.

Meetings began on Oct. 5 and will conclude tomorrow, Oct. 19, with the beatification of Paul VI, institutor of the synod, which will be presided over by Pope Francis, and attended by Benedict XVI.

The synod’s message comes in the wake of the publication of the meeting’s controversial midterm report last weekend, which garnered from many bishops a call for the clarification of numerous phrases, as well as the shedding of a more positive light on the family and a greater reference to scripture. The final document is expected to be released Sunday, or perhaps this evening.

In the message to the faithful, the synod fathers explained that their preparations for the synod have included not only the questionnaire sent out to local Churches around the world, but also listening to many families and their experiences.

Because of this, “Our dialogue during the Synod has been mutually enriching, helping us to look at the complex situations which face families today.”

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‘The Christian minority in India is under serious threat’

With the election of Narendra Modi of the Hindu “Bharatiya Janata Party” (BJP) as prime minister of India the country’s secular constitution has come under threat, a Catholic priest in India has charged.

Father Ajay Kumar Singh, a human rights activist in Kandhamal District in the East Indian state of Odisha (formerly Orissa), warned of the growing influence of radical Hindu forces on the Indian subcontinent.

“Especially under threat is the Christian minority because it is rejected by extremists as alien and because the Christian message is threat to the caste system,” the priest said in an interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

According to Father Kumar Singh – who is associated with the “Odisha Forum for Social Action” – the BJP aims to establish a state religion which excludes the lower castes and all minorities.

“They even want to impose only one language, Sanskrit, even though hundreds of languages are spoken in India,” he continued, adding that the strength of party and the movement it represents has become the strongest political force in India, taking many observers, including Church leaders and their flock, by surprise.

“It is important for us to understand what is happening. As a Church we must think way beyond the bounds of the individual dioceses; we must act regionally and nationally in order to find responses to this challenge,” the priest said.
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29th Sunday of Ordinary Time A

Reading I: Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Responsorial Psalm 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10
Reading II: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b
Gospel: Matthew 22:15-21

At that he said to them,
“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God.” (Gospel)

What Does God Look Like?

Years back, as a young professor of theology, I had a dream, to write a book on the question of faith. My hope was to shed some light on why God is hidden to us. Why don’t we see God physically? Why doesn’t God simply show himself to us in such a way that it would remove all doubt?

For a couple of years, in my spare time, I did some reseach. I prepared a bibliography on the question, looked up what many of the saints and classical theologians had to say on the issue, and I began to ask colleagues and friends what they thought. One day, sitting at table in our college cafeteria, I asked a colleague, an elderly man who had been one of my own mentos and who was now a professor emeritus, what he thought on the issue: “Why does God hide himself?” I asked, “Why doesn’t God just appear, physically, beyond doubt, and then we wouldn’t have to have faith, we would know God with certainty?”

His answer took me by surprise, especially because of its directness: He spoke very gently, as was his style, but, after his answer, I decided I would not write that book after all: “Your question is an interesting one,” he said, “If it is asked by a young person and asked with sufficient passion, it can seem like a profound question. But it is not, in the end, profound. What is betrays is a profound lack of understanding of the incarnation! But don’t be discouraged. It is a perennial question. It’s the one that Philip asked Jesus. The answer, therefore, that I will give you is the same one that Jesus gave him: ‘You can look at all you have seen and heard and still ask that question? To see certain things is to have seen the Father!’

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Resignation of the Archbishop of Malta and the nomination of the Apostolic Administrator

The Holy Father Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of His Grace Mgr. Paul Cremona O.P. from the office of Archbishop of Malta. Archbishop Cremona resigned for health reasons. The resignation is effective as of the 18th October 2014 at noon. Mgr Cremona acquires the title of Emeritus Archbishop of Malta. In a letter addressed to Mgr Cremona, the Holy Father thanked Archbishop Emeritus Cremona for his episcopal ministry, well known and appreciated for its human warmth and spiritual proximity to the people of God.

The Holy Father, Pope Francis has nominated His Lordship Mgr Charles J. Scicluna, Titular Bishop of San Leone, as Apostolic Administrator sede vacante with the authority to govern the Archdiocese of Malta until the new Archbishop of Malta takes canonical possession of the Archdiocese. During the period in which the Archiepiscopal See of Malta is vacant, ordinary pastoral ministry is guaranteed under the leadership of the Apostolic Administrator, but all innovative initiatives are to be put on hold for the new Archbishop to decide about them.

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Vindicated: why a maligned Pope will be beatified

He had the unenviable task of being Pope during a most “tumultuous” era for the Church, but Paul VI stood “deeply rooted in Christ” through it all, a theology professor has said.

“Pope Paul VI suffered greatly from the growing apostasy of the world from Christian values and from the distortions of the teaching of Vatican II,” said theology professor Dr. Alan Schreck of the Franciscan University of Steubenville. “Through it all, he remained deeply rooted in Christ and the Holy Spirit.”

Giovanni Battista Montini – soon to be Blessed Paul VI — will be beatified Oct. 19, at the conclusion of the Synod on the Family.

His cause for beatification moved forward after a miracle was attributed to his intercession by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and approved by Pope Francis in May.

Benedict XVI had affirmed his “heroic virtue” in 2012, officially recognizing him as “Venerable.”
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Secular institutes to explore evangelization in Far East

The general assembly of secular institutes in Asia, being held later this month in South Korea, is committed to finding new ways to share in the continent’s evangelization.

The Asian Conference of Secular Institutes (ACSI) meeting will be held for the first time at the Notre Dame Education Centre in Seoul Oct. 24 – 26.

“The delegates will reflect on the uniqueness of the charism of ‘secular consecration,’ which is still to be understood and appreciated,” Dr. Ivan Netto, president of ACSI, said.

First given papal recognition by Pius XII’s Provida Mater Ecclesia, secular institutes are societies of either clerics or laity whose members profess the evangelical counsels and who live in a secular condition for the sake of Christian perfection.

Members of secular institutes, though they profess the evangelical counsels, live in the world, unlike members of religious institutes, who live in communities.
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Amid criticism, Cardinal Marx supports synod’s midterm report

Even though the Synod on the Family’s midterm relatio was widely criticized by the bishops’ small groups, Cardinal Reinhard Marx affirmed it only needs to be balanced, while speaking at Friday’s synod press briefing.

The Archbishop of Munich and Freising also noted the importance of the document’s openings regarding the Church’s praxis toward homosexual persons and the divorced and remarried.

“There are those who defend the image of a Church who do not want to lose anything (in terms of doctrine), while others are pushing for a different path. The will to find a common ground is needed, and we have it: we have listened to everyone,” the German cardinal said Oct. 17

On the other hand, he stressed that “the (final) document cannot include everything that has been said within the small working groups: it would lead to a huge document.”

In the small groups’ reports released Thursday at the end of four days of discussion, the synod fathers had strongly criticized the structure of the synod’s midterm report.

The reports asked that the synod focus more on the positive examples of Christian families; to rewrite the introduction and to more often refer to the Gospel of Family; and also that it adopt a more prudent approach concerning the issues of the divorced and remarried, and homosexuals, in order not to produce confusion among the faithful about Church teaching.
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