ROME — Many people following the Oct. 4-25 Synod of Bishops on the family are hoping the 270 prelates gathered in Rome will come out with solutions for various crises facing families today, such as high divorce rates, poverty, migration, and elderly who have been abandoned.
At least one of the married couples advising them, however, is doing its best to say: “Hey, you don’t have to do that all by yourselves.”
Luis and María Angélica Rojas are from Colombia. They’ve been married for 23 years and have two children. They’re members of the Focolare Movement, a Catholic lay effort stressing unity that was founded in Italy during the Second World War and is currently in more than 180 countries.
The Rojas were invited to participate in the synod by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family as one of 18 married couples that have an active voice, but no vote, in the synod of bishops.
He’s a biologist and a professor of ethics and humanities; she’s a dentist. Both are “family mediators,” which means they dedicate part of their time to helping couples in difficulty.
As members of the Focolare, they’re also big proponents of lay communities, which they believe are essential to live the Christian concept of the family in today’s world.
Luis said it’s because of community that they’re still married today.
“It’s not easy to carry out a marriage, a family, to begin with, and today it’s harder than ever,” he said.
María Angélica chimed in, saying that their personal experience doesn’t invalidate those who have an individual spirituality, but “we believe that we’re living in a historical and cultural moment in which it’s easier to live the Christian concept of family with a community.”
Crux spoke to the Rojas’ outside the Synod Hall on Thursday, with the two hanging on each other’s words, complementing their responses, and finishing each other’s thoughts.
They were quick to clarify that in the synod they’re not just speaking as one family, but representing a community that brings together families, young people, priests, and bishops, and which works on being available for those who need help, advice, formation, material assistance, or prayer.
The couple agreed that many important issues have been discussed during the past two weeks, highlighting a broad mea culpa from the synod fathers regarding the Church’s role in the problems facing families.
“The Church has been very absent in the matter of marriage preparation, accepting young couples that weren’t prepared for the challenge,” Luis said.
“The most important thing of the synod is that the Church has realized there have been flaws, we have been resting on our laurels,” he said, “and the Church has recognized its responsibility.”
However, he added that “the Church has also recognized that we have to welcome with mercy those who have failed. With mercy and truth. We can’t keep them out.”
Throughout the interview, both consciously used the plural when referring to the Catholic Church.
“We’re all Church,” María Angélica explained. “Often, we say that it’s the priests, the hierarchy, that is responsible, but we, the laity, are also part of the Church, and together, we’re responsible.”
“We can’t leave the formation of communities and families solely in their hands,” she said.
Speaking Saturday during an event marking the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops, Pope Francis seemed to agree.
He said that the word “synod” means “walking together – laity, shepherds, [and] the Bishop of Rome.” It’s a concept, he added, that is “easy to put into words, but not so easy to put into practice.”
This idea of walking together is, for the Rojas, a key concept.
“It’s one of the novelties of our work, this walking together of the [lay] movements, the families, the ecclesial communities, the youth, the hierarchy, as a community that is alive,” she said.
Luis added that when they were in Rome last January for a meeting of movements that focus their pastoral work on the family, “excessive clericalism,” was one of the issues discussed.
“This is a very important step that we feel the synod is welcoming,” María Angélica added. “Many bishops are asking, ‘How do we do this?’ Many are raising their voice, sharing their experience of having welcomed the laity into their parishes.”
“It’s evident that this joint effort is the response we need to give to humanity, because in this moment we can no longer think about ‘me,’ we need to think about the future of humanity, and with humility welcome the others,” she said.
“Society is a reflection of families,” Luis added. “This is why it’s worth working for the family.”