POPE FRANCIS’ POST synodal apostolic exhortation; Amoris Laetitia  remains a never dying subject of intense discussion within the true Body of Christ – The Holy Roman Catholic Church. What does this document mean to a lay person, how does he understand it, and how do the ongoing debate and subtle disagreement affect him or her. Let me take a personal perspective and see how far I can get in understanding what is going on.

The Pope, also called the Holy Father is the undeniable successor of Saint Peter. Who can forget the primacy of Peter amongst the apostles? If you think of Peter as a failed fisherman, then you only know the beginning of a man, not his progression, and eventual victory. You may not have read William Shakespeare but more than likely you have heard those evergreen words instructing us that the world is nothing but a stage, with man in one lifetime playing many parts. Peter went from fisherman to being a fisher of men.

Peter, a man deep in faith, and deeper in his love of Christ, ended up a recipient of divine revelation.  The man whom we first encountered as a failed fisherman rose to become one on   whom Christ built His Church and to whom He gave the keys of heaven. Peter is thus regarded as the first Pope. Between Simon Peter and Jorge Bergoglio (Pope Francis) we have had 264 other Popes.

Pope Francis, as successor of Peter, is the visible head of Christ’s Church. In that role, he leads the Church in faith and morals, serves as the chief Priest, a shepherd even of shepherds, while he remains Servus servorum Dei - Servant of the Servants of God. He is the head teacher if the Church is likened to a school, one whose proprietor is the Good Shepherd Himself. In this role the Pope issues from time to time, documents in exercise of his teaching authority. One of such is an Apostolic Exhortation which, when issued, following a synod, is commonly called post-synodal.

Since ascending the throne of Peter, Pope Francis has issued two Apostolic exhortations, the first being Evangelii Gaudium- On the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World (2013). Amoris Laetitia is the second, the one that has invited so much attention and so much discussion. How did it come about? Towards the end of 2013, Pope Francis called an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to discuss “Pastoral Challenges of the Family in Context of Evangelisation” . The Extraordinary synod held  October 5-9,  2014.

The following year, an Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops met  October 4 -25, 2015 on the theme “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world”. It was a continuation of the work of the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod held in 2014. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria CBCN was represented at the 2015 synod by Archbishop Matthew Man-oso Ndagoso of Kaduna, Bishop Camillus Raymond Umoh of Ikot Ekpene, and Bishop Jude Ayodeji Arogundade of Ondo. Ms. Agnes Offiong Erogunaye, national president of the Catholic Women’s Organisation of Nigeria, CWO was also in attendance. While the Extraordinary General Assembly of 2014 was the third of its kind; the General Assembly of 2015 was the fourteenth of its own kind.

 At the conclusion of the 14th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Synod Fathers submitted a final report to the Pope. The report dated October 24 2015, is a treasure for those seeking an understanding of The Vocation and Mission of the Family in The Church and in The Contemporary World. For that, it is worth reading for every Catholic man or woman engaged, or desirous to be engaged in the important vocation of family life. So also is it for priests who minister to us and help us to live a life of family and faith.

Another great document deserves mention here The Instrumentum  Laboris of the  Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops; : The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization. It contains responses received from the universal Church to questions put out in preparation for the synod. It was in this document that I read that “at times people wrongly think that divorced people as such, without entering a new union, are automatically excluded from receiving Holy Communion. Such people, however, are not prohibited from receiving the sacraments”(91)I still think so, maybe wrongly.

So it came to pass that after the synod fathers  completed their assignments and submitted their work to the Holy father, Pope Francis issued his now famous conclusions in the form of an Apostolic Exhortation; Amoris Letitia – The joy of Love. In that document, The Holy father opens  with  words fit to be etched In the hearts of the faithful for all times - “The joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church”How can anyone disagree with such powerful expression of faith and truth? The document is an excellent discuss of family, its purpose, its dynamics, its joys and its challenges.

Well, since the publication of Amoris Laetitia, tongues have not stopped wagging, pens have not dried up, and debates have not stopped. What is there to debate, one might ask. It would have been easier to dismiss such questions if they have simply died down or if they were not coming from so high in the hierarchy. Since the arguments often revolve around salus animarum, the salvation of souls, our souls; we need to attempt an understanding of the issues, the points of divergence. (To be continued)

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