1. The Joy of Love experienced by families
is also the joy of the Church. As the
Synod Fathers noted, for all the many signs of
crisis in the institution of marriage, “the desire
to marry and form a family remains vibrant,
especially among young people, and this is an
inspiration to the Church”.1
As a response to
that desire, “the Christian proclamation on the
family is good news indeed”.2
2. The Synod process allowed for an examination of the situation of families in today’s
world, and thus for a broader vision and a renewed awareness of the importance of marriage
and the family. The complexity of the issues
that arose revealed the need for continued open
discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral,
spiritual, and pastoral questions. The thinking of
pastors and theologians, if faithful to the Church,
honest, realistic and creative, will help us to
achieve greater clarity. The debates carried on
in the media, in certain publications and even
among the Church’s ministers, range from an immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, to an attitude that
would solve everything by applying general rules
or deriving undue conclusions from particular
theological considerations.
3. Since “time is greater than space”, I would
make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal,
moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by
interventions of the magisterium. Unity of
teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the
Church, but this does not preclude various ways
of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or
drawing certain consequences from it. This will
always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards
the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13), until he leads us
fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to
see all things as he does. Each country or region,
moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its
culture and sensitive to its traditions and local
needs. For “cultures are in fact quite diverse and
every general principle… needs to be inculturated,
if it is to be respected and applied”.3
4. I must also say that the Synod process
proved both impressive and illuminating. I am
grateful for the many contributions that helped
me to appreciate more fully the problems faced
by families throughout the world. The various
interventions of the Synod Fathers, to which I
paid close heed, made up, as it were, a multifaceted gem reflecting many legitimate concerns and
honest questions. For this reason, I thought it
appropriate to prepare a post-synodal Apostolic
Exhortation to gather the contributions of the
two recent Synods on the family, while adding
other considerations as an aid to reflection, dialogue and pastoral practice, and as a help and
encouragement to families in their daily commitments and challenges.
5. This Exhortation is especially timely in this
Jubilee Year of Mercy. First, because it represents
an invitation to Christian families to value the gifts
of marriage and the family, and to persevere in
a love strengthened by the virtues of generosity,
commitment, fidelity and patience. Second, because it seeks to encourage everyone to be a sign
of mercy and closeness wherever family life remains imperfect or lacks peace and joy.
6. I will begin with an opening chapter inspired
by the Scriptures, to set a proper tone. I will then
examine the actual situation of families, in order
to keep firmly grounded in reality. I will go on
to recall some essential aspects of the Church’s
teaching on marriage and the family, thus paving

the way for two central chapters dedicated to love.
I will then highlight some pastoral approaches that
can guide us in building sound and fruitful homes
in accordance with God’s plan, with a full chapter devoted to the raising of children. Finally, I
will offer an invitation to mercy and the pastoral
discernment of those situations that fall short of
what the Lord demands of us, and conclude with
a brief discussion of family spirituality.
7. Given the rich fruits of the two-year Synod
process, this Exhortation will treat, in different
ways, a wide variety of questions. This explains
its inevitable length. Consequently, I do not
recommend a rushed reading of the text. The
greatest benefit, for families themselves and for
those engaged in the family apostolate, will come
if each part is read patiently and carefully, or if attention is paid to the parts dealing with their specific needs. It is likely, for example, that married
couples will be more concerned with Chapters
Four and Five, and pastoral ministers with Chapter Six, while everyone should feel challenged by
Chapter Eight. It is my hope that, in reading this
text, all will feel called to love and cherish family
life, for “families are not a problem; they are first
and foremost an opportunity”.4


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