Filipino Catholics line up to kiss the cross in a Good Friday observance in the southern Philippines. (Photo by Joe Torres)
"Mercy cannot wait. Mercy should not wait," said the Philippine Catholic bishops in response to the papal exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), released by the Vatican on April 8.
In their pastoral letter issued April 10, the Philippine bishops said that even before they can come up with concrete guidelines on the implementation of the apostolic exhortation, everybody "must open welcoming arms to those who have kept themselves out of the church."
"When our brothers and sisters who, because of broken relations, broken families and broken lives, stand timidly at the doors of our churches — and of our lives — unsure whether they are welcome or not, let us go out to meet them," said the bishops.
Pope Francis' new document on love in the family is the conclusion of the 2014-2015 synod at the Vatican that discussed the beauty and challenges of family life.
The Philippine bishops warned about the "beguiling" treatment of the document by the secular media that tends to focus on "difficult situations" discussed by Amoris Laetitia, like divorce and irregular unions.
"It should be made clear that the Holy Father does not in any way depart from the teaching of the church as contained in the creeds, the conciliar documents and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church," read the bishops' letter.
"Understandably then, the exhortation is written with an awareness of the many challenges, difficulties, even threats to families, and the different reasons why they sometimes sadly are dysfunctional," it added.
The letter, which was signed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the bishops' conference, said the recent papal exhortation is a challenge to pastors and their communities "to work for the transformation of families into seats of mercy."
Archbishop Villegas reminded the clergy "to inspire the laity and to order the talents, capacities and gifts of the members of the community," adding that such endeavor "must be inclusive and dialogical."
"The members of the families themselves with none excluded should be agents of transformation, and a new evangelization for the domestic church," the prelate added.
The bishops said they will issue "concrete guidelines" on the implementation of Amoris Laetitia, but emphasized that "an openness of heart and of spirit that needs no law, awaits no guideline, nor bides on prompting."
"It can and should happen immediately," said the bishops. They also urged parishes and dioceses to be "schools of true Christian love" where all should be attended to "with care and with devotion."
"When families fail, we must all strike our breasts in contrition, for every Catholic community, every parish, for every diocese has a stake in the cohesion, love and constancy of a family," they added.