Vatican City — Pope Francis has again strongly called on Catholic communities to have a welcoming and merciful attitude to Christians who have remarried outside the church after a divorce, saying that such people “are not by any means excommunicated” and should be made to feel a part of their communities.
In his first weekly general audience Wednesday after a month-long pause for the scorching Italian summer heat, the pontiff focused his remarks entirely on how the church should treat divorced and remarried persons. He said it does no good to try to keep them at a distance from the community.
“If then we look at these new bonds also with the eyes of small children ... with the eyes of children, we see again the urgency to grow in our communities a real welcoming towards people that live in such situations,” Francis told those gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for the audience.
“How can we recommend to these parents to do all [they can] to educate their children in the Christian life, giving them the example of a sure and practiced faith, if we put them at a distance from the life of the community, as if they might have been excommunicated?” the pope asked.
“These persons are not by any means excommunicated,” the pontiff said, repeating: “They are not excommunicated.”
“It absolutely does not work to treat them as such,” he said. “They are always [to be] made part of the Church.”
Francis has been speaking in his general audiences for the past months on different roles in the family and on situations facing families around the world, as a way of preparing for a global meeting of Catholic bishops on family life he has called for October.
That meeting, known as a Synod, is the second of two the pontiff called for 2014 and 2015. One of the issues known to be at discussion among the hundreds of prelates attending is how the church treats divorced and remarried persons, who are currently prohibited from taking communion if they do not obtain an annulment of their first marriages.
The pontiff opened his audience Wednesday by saying that while “the church knows well that such a situation contradicts the Christian sacrament,” it is always looking with the “heart of a mother” to seek out the good for people.
He also called on priests “to manifest openly and coherently the availability of the community” to welcome and encourage divorced and remarried persons.
Priests should be welcoming, Francis said, so that remarried persons “may live and grow always more in their belonging to Christ and to the Church with prayer, with listening to the Word of God, with attending the liturgy, with the Christian education of their children, with charity and service to the poor, with a commitment to justice and peace.”
The Gospel reading opening the audience Wednesday was taken from Gospel of John, when Jesus tells the story of the Good Shepherd who knows their sheep and would choose to lay down their life for them.
“The biblical symbol of the Good Shepherd summarizes the mission that Jesus received from the Father: that of giving his life for the sheep,” said the pope. “Such an attitude is a model also for the church, that welcomes her children as a mother that gives her life for them.”
Quoting from his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), the pontiff said: “The church is called to always be the open house of the father.”
“No closed doors,” he told the audience, repeating: “No closed doors!”