Archbishops Richard Smith and Paul-André Durocher were two of the Canadian delegates to the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican in October.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING

Archbishops Richard Smith and Paul-André Durocher were two of the Canadian delegates to the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican in October.

December 7, 2015
LASHA MORNINGSTAR
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Celebrate the beauty and joy of marriage. Too often, said Archbishop Richard Smith, society focuses on the glitches and tribulations of family life.

The Edmonton archbishop made this comment during a teleconference interview with Catholic media representatives following his return from the World Synod on the Family in Rome.

It was the 50th anniversary of world synods of bishops and the first that Smith attended.

"I did not know what I would be facing or all that would unfold," said Smith.

The three solid weeks of meetings, leaving Smith "blurry eyed with the amount of work," was ultimately "fascinating and gave a lot of blessings."

Given the diversity of bishops - they came from the Americas, Europe, Africa, and even the island nation of Tonga - who brought their own cultures and traditions to the table, the various dialogues were insightful.

"What did unite all of us is the sense of the whole, the universality of marriage between man and woman - truly beautiful," said Smith.

Still, Smith said he heard the "cries of bishops of Iraq and Syria where families are being ripped apart by terrorism," the trials of Asian bishops who shepherded minorities of Christians "living in a vast sea of Muslim majority," African bishops facing congregations struggling with poverty, kidnappings, terrorism and polygamy.

The gathered assembly, including lay auditors, religious, and delegates, worked from the instrumentum laboris, or the final document from last year's extraordinary synod that served as the preparatory document for this year's synod discussions.

Everyone found the instrumentum laboris "thin, shallow and Eurocentric in its concerns and emphasis," said Smith. The working document was also "thin in biblical theological grounding."

The synod began with each giving their three-minute interventions at the universal meeting. They then broke off into small working groups, groups that included participants from the various cultures.

Smith reminded the media that the synod sent its recommendations to the pope. "He is the audience."

The final document had 94 paragraphs, with Smith noting that the bishops realized "no one point was fully developed, that it was a broad consensus."

The missive will now go to the pope who will consider the synods' findings while he drafts his own document on the synod topic.

"I am looking forward to what the Holy Father will say," said Smith.

Pope Francis' actions during the synod pleased Smith.

"He cleared his calendar while we were there and was present for the submissions," said Smith. "I was really impressed. He was as a brother among brothers and listened to our comments in the beginning and end. I found this really beautiful and encouraging."

ACCOMPANIMENT

The key takeaway synod bishops gleaned from their meetings, said Smith, was how to accompany people during their various marital situations. The key word is "accompaniment," the love of Christ that allows marital partners to live out their vocation.

Each bishop, said Smith, went back to his own diocese with some thought of what they could do pastorally there. "Every diocese has its own reality."

MEDIA COVERAGE

One of the more universal situations addressed during the synod targeted domestic violence. Smith said he was sad to say Alberta has Canada's highest incidence of domestic violence per capita.

As an aside, Smith addressed media coverage that made it seem two synods were happening, that bishops were "throwing tomatoes at each other or that skullduggery was going on behind the scenes to undercut the pope."

It seemed to be "a lot more exciting than the one I was sitting in. In actual fact," he said, "there was no acrimonious fighting at all."