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A couple attend a prayer vigil for the Synod of Bishops on the family in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Oct. 3. Pope Francis attended part of the vigil.CNS/Paul Haring
A couple attend a prayer vigil for the Synod of Bishops on the family in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Oct. 3. Pope Francis attended part of the vigil.

Vatican City

Connect homilies to real life, synod observer says

By CAROL GLATZ, Catholic News Service | Published October 15, 2015

VATICAN CITY (CNS)—Families need to hear homilies that connect the Gospel to the troubles and joys they experience, said a synod participant.

Maria Gomes, the Family and Life director at St. Mary’s Church in Dubai, and an observer at the Synod of Bishops on the family, said the typical scenario is “the priest just talks about the Gospel, ‘Peter said this, John said this’ and then it’s finished and it’s done and over.”

But Catholics, she said, want their priest “to cover real facts of what’s happening in the family and how important the family is today.”

Gomes, who is one of a number of non-voting lay observers, said urging priests around the world to connect the Gospel to people’s real lives is the focus of her presentation to the synod.

Accompanying God’s word with a real example or story from someone’s life helps people know “the facts, that there are so many other people also having problems” and how Christ offers healing, Gomes told Catholic News Service Oct. 7.

While the quality of homilies is important, the pastor’s personality and the dedication of the community are also key, she said.

One priest they had in Dubai, she said, was very outgoing, always visiting the schools and talking with families. She said that closeness helped couples who were in irregular unions decide to get married in the church.

“Our secret is when they come for the children’s baptism,” she said.

The church community and the priest speak with the family and help guide them through what often can be a long process of discernment and discovering the importance of the sacrament of matrimony. Other married couples “start calling them, talking to them, getting to know them a little bit better, drawing them to the church.”

Sometimes they find out people were not getting married in the church not for a lack of faith, but because of economic restraints or because they didn’t want the hassle of getting the proper documents from their parish back in their home country, she said.

Programs need to respond to everyday issues in families

St. Mary’s Church in Dubai is “the largest pilgrim parish in the world,” she said, serving more than 100,000 Catholics who are foreign workers and non-citizen residents from the Philippines, India and other South Asian nations. Gomes, with her husband, moved from Bombay, India, 31 years ago and raised their three children in Dubai.

Gomes said many of the church programs and outreach they offer are based on concrete input and feedback from priests and counselors who work at the parish.

Without violating people’s privacy or breaking the seal of confession, counselors and priests take the recurring issues they hear and translate them into ideas about “what people are hungry for,” Gomes said.

For example, extramarital affairs and conflicts with in-laws are frequent problems threatening parishioners’ marriages, she said.

As a response, Gomes runs Marriage Encounter weekends and workshops to help couples better communicate, build more intimate and solid unions and deal with the many challenges they face.

Gomes said she wants to set up new programs to help couples facing infertility.

With Catholic teaching emphasizing the procreative value of marriage, some couples feel “the whole purpose of marriage is children,” she said. “They come to church, but there’s a deep sadness in them” because they don’t have kids like their peers and “what happens is they start drawing away.”

The individuals and families St. Mary’s serves “have problems, there are problems, it’s not a rosy picture. That’s why we need a lot of healing and that’s why we do a lot of workshops and seminars so there is healing as well.”

“My message is: Never stray from him, keep him close and you can fight any battle. I call him my bodyguard,” she said with a smile.