By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published April 14, 2016
ATLANTA—With the April 8 release of the document, “‘Amoris Laetitia’ (The Joy of Love), from Pope Francis, The Georgia Bulletin asked Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory a few questions about this latest document from the pontiff. He shared his thoughts in this Q&A for Catholics in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Georgia Bulletin: What is an apostolic exhortation exactly? How does it align in importance with other documents and statements from the Vatican? For example, is it more important than an encyclical?
Archbishop Gregory: An apostolic exhortation is a form of papal communication that has now become the ordinary way that the Holy Father has summarized and confirmed the dialogues of Bishops’ Synods. Therefore it is in nature a summary form of communication that is less formal than an encyclical and yet more widely distributed than a letter to a particular community or nation.
GB: What was your reaction when you first read the document? Was this what you were expecting to come out of the two synods?
ABG: My first reaction was that it is long and needs careful reflective reading and attention. I had hoped that the Holy Father would issue another document that bears his trademark of being an accessible communication that spoke to the life situations of people—clergy and laity—in the complex world in which we now live. I was not disappointed but enthused to receive the text that acknowledges the tremendous importance of family life for the Church and society, the diversity of family situations, and the encouragement to bishops and priests to reach out to all families—traditional families, families facing great challenges of poverty, moral questions, and families that are just beginning as well as those who have experienced a long life of commitment and loving union.
GB: What do you think is the most important aspect or teaching of the exhortation?
ABG: It continues Pope Francis’ frequent admonitions to engage people where they are and to be sensitive to the real life situations that so many families of today face, no matter where they live or from what culture they originate. Once again, the Holy Father has asked the entire Church to encounter and to accompany people in their journey of faith and with their actual lived struggles.
GB: What challenges did the exhortation send to Catholics in the Atlanta Archdiocese? Is there a part of the message that is particularly meaningful to the ministries of the Catholics in Georgia?
ABG: The exhortation confirms the direction of our Pastoral Plan, which places such emphasis on the family as the place and the community where faith is shared and transmitted. It calls for us to see the centrality of family life as the very foundation for evangelization and outreach within the community.
GB: What message did the pope send to Catholics who are divorced and remarried?
ABG: Pope Francis tells Catholics who have experienced a divorce and remarriage that they still belong to the heart of the Church and it requires those of us in the clergy to reach out to them and to help them remain close to the Church using our pastoral sensitivity and compassion to draw them ever closer to our parishes and communities.
GB: This exhortation has been called lyrical. Was there a particular passage that you think is particularly beautiful?
ABG: It would be Chapter 4 wherein Pope Francis takes St. Paul’s famous passage on love and its qualities, and he reflects on and interprets those words that so many Catholic couples choose as a reading at their wedding ceremonies. He speaks as a pastor who has listened to the joys and challenges of many couples throughout his ministry. I think this chapter ought to be used in every prep class for couples preparing for marriage.