VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis directed the attention of the world's bishops to real-world crises Friday by denouncing the escalation of conflicts in Syria and Iraq and urging greater diplomacy to end the "humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions."
Francis issued the appeal at Friday's meeting of some 270 bishops, Mideast prelates and patriarchs among them, who are in Rome for three weeks to hash out better ways to provide pastoral care to Catholic families.
"War brings destruction and multiplies the suffering of people," Francis said. "Hope and progress only come from choices of peace."
The bishops' meeting is discussing how to better minister to families facing issues big and small: those torn by divorce, raising gay children, or forced to flee war or poverty. The Vatican is particularly concerned about the flight of Christians from the Mideast, given it is the land of Christ's birth.
On Friday, participants presented their first amendments to the draft final document that will be presented to Francis at the end of the month. The recommendations were as varied as the prelates, but a few trends bore out in 13 different language reports.
Nearly all found the draft document's introductory chapters woefully negative and in need of a new language to inspire families rather than depress them with all that ails them and society at large.
The English groups were the most frank and critical, with one saying the document was flawed, "chaotic (and) without inherent logic." The Italians were more respectful to the Italian-headed drafters, tending to focus on the minutiae of their proposals.
The French groups, which included African bishops, found the document too Western-centric and recommended that many issues could be better dealt with by local bishops' conferences.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, said a "serious proposal" at the synod had been to have episcopal conferences "address issues that are somewhat peculiar to them, but always in the light of the common faith."
"How that will be worked out has not been proposed yet," he said.
The issue is key, given that few observers believe consensus will be reached on some of the thorniest issues facing the synod, such as how gays and divorced and civilly remarried couples should be welcomed by the church. Letting local bishops' conferences work out the details would spare the synod from having to pronounce itself on behalf of the universal church.
The Vatican's chief doctrine czar, however, has insisted that local bishops' conferences cannot pronounce on matters of doctrine.
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