VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis opened the first working session of an extraordinary Synod of Bishops Oct. 6, urging participants to speak fearlessly and listen humbly during two weeks of discussion of the "pastoral challenges of the family."

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VATICAN CITY - The first two married couples beatified as couples and St. Therese of Lisieux were being honored during the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family.

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VATICAN CITY - The Greek root of the word "synod" means "to walk together," which is exactly what bishops and other members of the Synod of Bishops are called to do as they seek to apply the Gospel and church teaching to the challenges facing family life today, said the gathering's general secretary.

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VATICAN CITY - Opening a two-week Synod of Bishops on the family, Pope Francis warned participants against the temptations of hypocrisy, pride and greed, urging them instead to serve the church with "freedom, creativity and hard work."

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VATICAN CITY - Hours before opening a Synod of Bishops whose members have already started a public debate over Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality, Pope Francis prayed the bishops would express themselves and listen to each other openly, trusting in God to reconcile their differences.

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VATICAN CITY - The author of a controversial proposal to make it easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion says he believes Pope Francis backs the measure but would not apply it without support from bishops at two upcoming synods on the family.

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VATICAN CITY - The "freedom of expression" that characterized preparations for the Synod of Bishops on the family -- especially in responses to a Vatican questionnaire -- "will also characterize the synod assembly, which certainly will take place in a climate of respect for every position, mutual charity and an authentic sense of constructiveness," said the head of the synod.

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Leading up to a Vatican summit on family life that Pope Francis opens on Sunday (Oct. 5), high-ranking churchmen have fiercely debated church teaching — and criticized each other — in sharp exchanges that offer a ringside seat to the kind of battles that Rome used to keep under wraps.

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Public disagreements over whether the Roman Catholic Church can change its teachings on Communion for remarried Catholics are growing sharper on the eve of a major Vatican summit, with conservatives led by U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke making another push against loosening the rules.

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VATICAN CITY - As the family gets special focus in two upcoming synods and an international gathering in Philadelphia next year, Pope Francis is highlighting the beauty and value of the family in his message for World Communications Day.

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OTTAWA - Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet has joined several other prominent cardinals who have stated that the Church teaching on marriage and divorce cannot be changed. 

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Dr. Mona-Lee Feehan, author of the recently released marriage preparation book What God Has Joined: Preparing for Marriage in the Catholic Church, published by Novalis, is a faculty member at St. Stephen’s College in Edmonton. With marriage to be such an important topic at the Synod on the family, she was recently interviewed about her ministry and offered advice for new couples. 

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In advance of the Synod on the Family, four Canadian bishops spoke at the recent bishops’ plenary meeting in Beaupré, Que., about marriage and family challenges in their respective dioceses. Using the Synod’s working document Instrumentum Laboris as their guide, they provided an insightful look at how the issue takes many shapes in the Canadian Church. Below are snapshots of their comments.

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There’s not a lot of wiggle room in what Jesus had to say about divorce in the Gospel of Mark. 

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The Church is gathering many of the world’s bishops in October to start talking about how the Christian life is really lived. They will meet in the Vatican at an extraordinary Synod of Bishops convened by Pope Francis to start to address the pastoral challenges of family life.

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