A message from Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.
Archbishop of Newark
24 July 2020
In a letter dated February 2, 2014, Pope Francis asked all the families in the world to pray for the Synod of Bishops which was subsequently held in Rome from October 5–19, 2014. The theme of this Extraordinary Synod was “pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelisation.” This Extraordinary Synod was followed a year later by the Ordinary Assembly, which also had the family as its theme. In addition, as you may recall, Pope Francis also participated in the World Meeting of Families which was held in Philadelphia in September 2015. So, the Holy Father’s request that the entire Church pray for, and reflect on, the importance of families was addressed in significant ways during the initial years of his pontificate.
In his letter, Pope Francis said: “Indeed, in our day the Church is called to proclaim the Gospel by confronting the new and urgent pastoral needs facing the family.” None of us imagined at the time that these “new and urgent pastoral needs” would include the devastating threat to family life posed by the worldwide crisis we call COVID-19. Six years ago, we had no idea that we would be facing the economic, social, and spiritual problems caused by this deadly virus and by the necessary shutdown of all but the most essential functions of daily life.
The Holy Father’s call for prayers six years ago involved a specific reference to the importance of our “praying intensely to the Holy Spirit” so that our eyes and ears and hearts would be open to the Spirit’s guidance as we seek to respond to the needs of today’s families. In light of the current pandemic, the Wisdom that can only come from Divine Providence is more important than ever.
We believe that the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, is the source of life and love, courage and hope, wisdom and fidelity to God’s loving plan for us. It is the Holy Spirit who unites men and women in marriage. It is the Spirit who guides families and helps them stay together during hard times.
Most of us have witnessed the presence and power of the Holy Spirit as families have come together to protect, comfort, and heal their members during these past months of “Stay home. Stay safe.” We’ve also seen the heroic efforts of healthcare professionals, first-responders, pastoral leaders, and even ordinary citizens who have placed themselves in harm’s way in order to care for those who are in need.
In his letter to families, Pope Francis said that by the power of the Holy Spirit, “Jesus is the one who brings together and unites generations! He is the inexhaustible font of that love which overcomes every occasion of self-absorption, solitude, and sadness. In your journey as a family, you share so many beautiful moments: meals, rest, housework, leisure, prayer, trips and pilgrimages, and times of mutual support. Nevertheless, if there is no love, then there is no joy, and authentic love comes to us from Jesus. He offers us his word, which illuminates our path; he gives us the Bread of life which sustains us on our journey.”
How true these words are today as we struggle to stay close to one another while maintaining all the necessary precautions of “social distancing” and safe, sanitary environments at home and everywhere we gather as families. On top of everything, we need the love—and joy—that comes to us from Jesus in Word, sacrament, and service to those who are most in need of God’s love.
It is the grace of the Holy Spirit that makes Jesus present to us, and who fills our hearts with the profound love and joy that alone can sustain us as families journeying together on the rough roads we often have to travel during our daily lives. The pope urges us to turn to the Holy Spirit for guidance, strength, and hope— especially in these challenging times.
With Pope Francis, I urge all families to pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us in our pastoral planning (“Forward in Faith Together”) and in our outreach to families throughout northern New Jersey and beyond. In the words of the Holy Father to families, “May the protection of the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph always accompany all of you and help you to walk united in love and in caring for one another.”
Sincerely yours in Christ the Redeemer,
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.
Archbishop of Newark
With thanks to the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, United States.