ROME — In a room full of people with an average age well north of 60, it’s been no surprise that Davide Paloni, a four-month-old baby brought into the hall each day by his parents, has become a star at the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the family, winning hearts and drawing smiles from pretty much everybody.
Including, of course, Pope Francis.
“When we introduced Davide to him, his whole face lit up in a smile,” said Massimo Paloni, Davide’s father. “Then we showed him the picture of all our children, and it got even bigger!”
Davide’s parents are among the 18 married couples participating in the synod as auditors (meaning non-voting observers), and Davide is the youngest of their 12 children, including six boys and six girls.
They have no problem communicating with the 270 bishops who do have voting power, since they speak Spanish, Dutch, English, French, and German in addition to their native Italian.
At four months old, Davide Paloni is the youngest participant to ever take part in a synod since it was instituted more than 50 years ago.
Like most proud fathers, Paloni claims Davide has been very well behaved so far, “making himself heard during the opening prayers,” and expressing his opinion about the bishops’ speeches by either remaining awake or falling asleep.
“Someone wrote that the other day,” Massimo told Crux. “I can’t deny it happened, but I can’t say which prelates put him to sleep!”
Massimo and his wife, Patrizia Calabrese, were born in Rome, but have been living in the Netherlands since 2004 (which, in their case, is seven children ago). They’re members of the Neocatechumenal Way, a lay movement founded in Spain in 1964 by Kiko Argüello and Carmen Hernández.
Created to offer post-baptismal formation for Catholics who want to deepen their faith, many see the Neocatechumenate as “New Evangelization” in action — high-octane, aggressively missionary, and remarkably successful.
“This is the place where our faith grew,” Massimo said. “It promotes a very serious path of Christian initiation where we can make our baptism grow. Among the baptized, you can have a faith that is forever a small child, or you can make it grow.”
(Massimo said he had to speak on behalf of himself and his wife, because Patrizia was busy feeding the baby during a break in synod actions.)
The Palonis believe that to face the challenges of today’s society, faith has to be authentic, or, as they put it, “adult.”
“God knows our weaknesses, our sins, but still works with us because he always chooses weak things to show how powerful he is,” Massimo said. “He’s overcome our weakness and gifted us [with] a heart open to life.”
Not surprisingly, the Palonis are thankful to Pope Paul VI for his 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, confirming the Church’s traditional opposition to contraception, based on the idea that married couples should be open to having children.
“For us, Humanae Vitae is a gift, a grace, we haven’t seen it as an enormous weight,” Massimo said, insisting that “there are hundreds of thousands of families open to life that are very happy with this encyclical.”
Although they won’t be able to vote on the synod’s final document, to be presented to Francis at the end, the Palonis and the rest of the married couples have been an active voice in the gathering so far.
On the job done so far by the bishops, Paloni says he’s been “impressed by their humility.”
“Some are openly saying that maybe the Church is partly responsible for the challenges families face, that perhaps they’ve erred by not offering a serious path of Christian initiation,” Peloni said. “I see in them an openness to risk it all for the family.”
When asked about the hot-button issues such as the divorced and the remarried and how he sees them being addressed, Paloni said it’s still too soon to tell how things might turn out.
“They’re only heating up the engines!” he said.