The greatest is Love

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1 Pastoral Letter To the Parish Communities of the Diocese of Rottenburg Stuttgart In the Lenten Period st Sunday of Lent: 5 th March 2017 Bishop Dr. Gebhard Fürst The greatest is Love Marriage and Family Pastoral care In the Light of Amoris Laetitia 1

2 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13,13) I Dear Sisters and Brothers! We are at the beginning of the Lenten Period. The coming days give us an opportunity to consciously reflect on our lives. They are an occasion to remind us of our achievements and successes. And at the same time they challenge us to look at what hurts and pains. Despite the pressing problems with which all of us are concerned, I would like to dedicate my letter of this year s Lenten Period to the theme Marriage and Family". II According to Christian understanding, marriage is a visible sign of the love of God and its effective power. It is a part of a lived church. That is why we also understand marriage and family as a small church, as a "home church 1, with a task to enter and cultivate it. I am pleased with the great gift of the post Synodal document Amoris Laetitia On love in the Family that Pope Francis gave to the Church. In a very natural and life-affirming way, Pope Francis speaks of the meaning of interpersonal relations. He speaks about marriage, partnership, sexuality, parenthood and above all of love. We, the German Bishops, have dealt intensively with the writing Amoris Laetita. In doing so, we have followed the express wish of Pope Francis in each country or region to seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs (AL no. 3). 1 Cfr. Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, 49 2

3 At the beginning of February, we published a statement deepening the papal writing Amoris Laetitia for our area of action. 2 I would like to take up this "Word of the German Bishops" and apply it in the pastoral care of our diocese. III When two people come together and continue their journey as a couple and family, they are supported and accompanied by God's blessing. The love between two people is very special. It is the image of the love of God to us human beings. In the Catholic Church, marriage is a sacrament which the lovers themselves give to each other. In this Sacrament it becomes clear: Just as the love of God to man is inviolable, eternal and unique, so should the union of woman and man be (unbreakable and unique). IV Despite all the good will of the married couples and despite all the preparation for the marriage, it happens that relationships break. Again and again, during my encounters with people and through letters, people tell me of the painful experiences that they go through in connection with their broken marriages. They suffer due to the failure to live up to the ideal of a life-long love, or because they have been abandoned by a beloved partner. For me, one of the most painful experiences is that many people in this life situation do not feel supported by the Church. I ask all those whose marriage is broken, to let the children feel that they are still there for them as parents. Dear sisters and brothers, V 2 Die Freude der Liebe, die in den Familien gelebt wird, ist auch die Freude der Kirche Einladung zu einer erneuerten Ehe und Familienpastoral im Licht von Amoris laetitia: Wort der deutschen Bischöfe, Bonn/Würzburg The document can be accessed on the internet page: 015a Wortlaut Wort der Bischoefe Amoris laetitia.pdf 3

4 The indissolubility of marriage is one of the indispensable properties of faith in the Church. Amoris Laetitia leaves no doubt about this. But equally undoubtedly, people whose marriage has failed, remain members of the Church. They are still called to be real witnesses to Jesus Christ. Pope Francis describes a pastoral culture that lives by the freedom, responsibility and conscience of church members. In Amoris Laetitia, he emphasizes clearly: they need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church and experience her as a mother who welcomes them always, who takes care of them with affection and encourages them along the path of life and the Gospel (AL no. 299). Pope Francis sees a careful integration as the aim of the pastoral care. This also applies to the reception of the sacraments. We Bishops also emphasize in our common statement: Amoris Laetitia overlooks neither the grave guilt that many people encounter in situations of fragmentation and failure of marital relations, nor the problem that a second civil marriage contradicts the visible sign of the sacrament of marriage. 3 As a bishop, I therefore advocate and promote differentiated solutions that are appropriate to the particular cases. This is what the bishops say: Amoris Laetitia goes out of a process of decision-making, which is accompanied by a pastor. Under this condition of decision-making process, in which conscience is required to the highest degree, Amoris Laetitia opens the possibility of receiving the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist. ( ) At the end of such a spiritual process, which always involves incorporation, it is not all about reception of the sacraments of penance and Eucharist in every case. The individual decision not to, or not yet to be able to receive the sacraments under the respective circumstances, deserves respect and attention. But also a decision to receive the sacraments is to be respected. 4 Dear sisters and brothers, VI It is a big challenge to accompany couples in crisis, or even divorced and remarried couples. Especially in such existential situations of life, people should 3 Wort der deutschen Bischöfe, a.a.o., S. 5 4 Wort der deutschen Bischöfe, a.a.o., S. 6 4

5 be able to know that their church, the community of believers, is at their side. In doing so, I am convinced that our understanding of marriage, indeed our image of man, has to be brought up again and again. As a diocese whose Patron is St. Martin, we want to be a missionary, diaconal, helping, and healing church. For us all, for me as your bishop, for the priests and deacons, for the staff in the pastoral ministries, and for the services of Caritas, it becomes an obligation to have a compassionate feeling for all those whose marriages and relationships have fallen into crisis or broken. We want to accompany and support them so that they can find a new and successful perspective. Therefore, I encourage those affected to talk to a pastoral minister and to use the various diocesan offers of advice and guidance. 5 Together with the responsible personnel right from the diocesan level to the parish communities, we will deepen our offers, which accompany the path to marriage as a conscious path of faith. At the same time, we are also obliged to increase our efforts in accompanying the couples and their families. In the near future, we will offer a handout to priests, deacons and pastoral caretakers to help guide them in dealing with partners, married couples and families. VII Finally, I would like to thank you all. You all bear testimony to the joyous and life-affirming message of Jesus Christ. We all live with trust that God accompanies every human being with his mercy for all his life as the "upright and just God (Deut. 32: 4). I thank all who contributed to the success of the Synod on the Family in Rome through the synodal means of Pope Francis. I thank all those who carry out different ministries and duties, for their valuable services in accompanying the people of God. My greatest thanks go to you, the women and men, mothers and fathers, who daily face the various demands of everyday life. I thank the families with their children, who revive the communion of the faithful in such diverse and lively ways. May God's blessings accompany you! 5 5

6 Rottenburg, On the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, 2 nd February 2017 Yours Bishop Dr. Gebhard Fürst 6

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