Francis opens two-day meeting of the world's cardinals at the Vatican

Opening a two-day meeting of the world’s cardinals, Pope Francis said the Church’s pastoral approach to helping couples must be “intelligent, courageous and full of love” because the family today is “looked down upon and mistreated”.

“Our reflection must keep before us the beauty of the family and marriage, the greatness of this human reality, which is so simple, yet so rich, made up of joys and hopes, of struggles and sufferings,” the Pope told the cardinals earlier today as they began meeting in the Vatican synod hall.

Pope Francis arrived in the synod hall before many of the approximately 150 cardinals and cardinals-designate in attendance. He stood in the narrow entryway, greeting those who arrived after him, while the others renewed old friendships, met the new cardinals or sat quietly praying or reading.

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After a prayer service, led by the Sistine Chapel choir, Pope Francis thanked the cardinals for coming and told them their two days of discussions would focus on the family, “which is the basic cell of human society. From the beginning, the Creator blessed man and woman so that they might be fruitful and multiply,” being a reflection of God, one and triune, in the world.

Cardinals-designate Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Leopoldo Brenes Solorzano of Managua, Nicaragua, talk before meeting of cardinals at Vatican

The cardinals should try to avoid “falling into casuistry,” the pope said, and instead attempt “to deepen the theology of the family and discern the pastoral practices, which our present situation requires.”

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said his understanding of the Pope’s warning about “casuistry” was that it was a plea to “avoid a fragmentation of the discussion by focusing on too many particular cases” and never getting to the point of discerning a general approach that should guide the Church’s pastoral activity. “I think he is saying that our discussion should not be too fragmented by listing specifically difficult situations or cases that have touched us.”

While many in the world today look down on and even mistreat the family, Pope Francis said, the Church must help people recognise “how beautiful, true and good it is to start a family,” and must find better ways to help Catholic couples live God’s “magnificent plan for the family.”

The cardinals’ two-day discussion with Pope Francis was introduced by retired German Cardinal Walter Kasper, a theologian who has written a book Pope Francis admired on mercy as one of the most basic traits of God and as the key to living a Christian life, both individually and as the church.

In the early 1990s, while he was a diocesan bishop, he and two other German bishops tried to institute a policy that in certain circumstances would allow divorced and civilly remarried couples to return to the sacraments even without an annulment. The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith forced the bishops to drop the plan.

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