ROME — Pope Francis on Wednesday called for Catholics to stop gossiping about October’s Synod of Bishops on the Family and to focus instead on praying for it — including those not accustomed to doing so.

“Everyone, the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, the priests, the religious, the laity, we’re all called to pray for the Synod,” Francis said during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, adding that “we need prayers, not gossip!”

Building on a similar summit last October, the looming Synod of Bishops will bring together roughly 300 prelates and other Catholic leaders to debate hotly contested matters such as outreach to gays and lesbians and whether Catholics who divorce and remarry outside the Church ought to be able to receive Communion.

Clashes at last October’s session over those issues generated heated debate across the Catholic Church, and already speculation about the outcome of the pending synod has produced friction even at senior levels of the Church.

On Feb. 25, during a press conference after the German bishops’ Conference plenary meeting, Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the conference, declared that “We’re not a subsidiary of Rome.”

“Each conference of bishops is responsible for pastoral care in its cultural context, and must preach the Gospel in its own original way,” Marx said, who was among the champions of the progressive line on divorce and remarriage last October.

“We cannot wait for a synod to tell us how we have to shape pastoral care for marriage and family here,” said Marx, who will be one of Germany’s three representatives at the meeting. The comments were seen by many as an indication that the German bishops are committed to allowing divorced and remarried Catholics, at least in some cases, to receive Communion.

Marx drew a testy response from another senior member of the German church, retired Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, who in an open letter said that such statements are more suited “to the counter of a bar.”

A former high-ranking Vatican official, Cordes is seen as close to emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.

In that context, Francis’ call on Wednesday to avoid gossip will likely be seen as an effort to keep the differences over family issues manageable.

Since January, Pope Francis has dedicated his weekly audiences to reflections on the family.

Addressing the thousands gathered for the weekly audience in Rome’s St. Peter Square, the pope called for the prayers to be said “with holy insistence,” and “animated by the compassion of the Good Shepherd for his flock, especially for persons and families who for various reasons are ‘troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.’”

Francis called for the prayers to be offered so that the Church can be even more committed and united in the witness of the truth of God’s love and mercy for the families of the world.

The pope then said that no one is excluded from this mercy, “may they be inside or outside the fold.”