The Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC) who have been meeting at St John Vianney Seminary in Pretoria, on Monday released a Pastoral letter on marriage and family as their response and follow-up to the two Synods of Bishops on the Family that were held in the Vatican in 2014 and 2015. In the wake of the Synods, Pope Francis, in April 2016, released his Apostolic Exhortation, 'Amoris Laetitia' - On the Joy of Love in the family.

The  Pastoral letter signed by the Archbishop of Cape Town and President of the SACBC, Stephen Brislin, says the Bishops are preparing resources to equip and help priests, deacons and pastoral workers assist the faithful in heartbreaking and difficult situations that arise in many marriages.

The Bishops call on the faithful to read and reflect on Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia

“We encourage everyone to reflect upon the exhortation of the Pope, whether in its full version or with the use of the booklet “The Joy of Love Made Simple.”  The knowledge of what the Holy Father has said will help us find joy in family life,” said Archbishop Brislin.

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Below is the full pastoral letter:


The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church. (Pope Francis - The Joy of Love)


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,

We thank Pope Francis for the message on the family addressed to all of us in his Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of Love” (Amoris Laetitia).We look forward to exploring and deepening our appreciation of the joy of love at the heart of marriage and family life.

In introducing the presentation, Pope Francis himself wrote:

It is likely … that married couples will be more concerned with Chapters Four and Five, and pastoral ministers with Chapter Six, while everyone should feel challenged by Chapter Eight.  It is my hope that, in reading this text, all will feel called to love and cherish family life, for “families are not a problem; they are first and foremost an opportunity”. (The Joy of Love 7)

The Pope also gives attention to the need to assist the young in preparing for marriage and it is his desire that young couples be accompanied in their first years of marriage by dedicated and wise married people.

Chapter 8 gives indications of how those whose marriages are in difficulties and those who are divorced and remarried can be assisted.

The spiritual life and ways in which families can pray and worship together is given attention in Chapter 9.

Our acknowledgement

This apostolic exhortation arises out of the two Synods of Bishops that were held in Rome in 2014 and 2015. We in Southern Africa also made our contribution to the deliberations of the Synods by the input which was timeously supplied by many who responded to the questionnaires in the preparatory stages leading up to the Synods and by the married couples and bishops who were chosen to represent us at the Synods and to present our input.

We thank all who made use of the opportunity to respond to the questionnaires by electronic means or through the parish structures.

Way Forward

With the guidance of this Synodal document we are asked to give attention to our situation, viz.

  • More intense preparation for marriage
  • Accompaniment of newly married couples by family life ministry teams
  • Improved parenting skills
  • Situations where couples live together without any intention of marrying
  • Traditional marriages
  • Polygamy
  • The difficult situations in which number of the faithful live.

Where married people have divorced, and may have civilly remarried, and indeed in other special cases too, people “need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal” (The Joy of Love 299).  The Pope provides guidelines on how to go about discerning the work of the Holy Spirit in accompanying the divorced and remarried. (The Joy of Love 300ff.).

The Synod Fathers stated that, although the Church realizes that any breach of the marriage bond “is against the will of God”, she is also “conscious of the frailty of many of her children”.

(The Joy of Love 291)

As regards the youth, Pope Francis proposes a more intense personal and pastoral discernment which will help the young prepare themselves for the marital commitment. (The Joy of Love 298) Some need help with understanding and accepting the demands of a permanent commitment. Others put the stress on an extravagant wedding overlooking that marriage is for life whereas the wedding is for a day.

We encourage everyone to reflect upon the exhortation of the Pope, whether in its full version, or with the use of the booklet “The Joy of Love Made Simple.”  The knowledge of what the Holy Father has said will help us find joy in family life.

We are also preparing resources to equip and help our priests, deacons and pastoral workers to assist the faithful in heart breaking and difficult situations that arise in many marriages.

All of us are called to keep striving towards something greater than ourselves and our families, and every family must feel this constant impulse.  Let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together.  What we have been promised is greater than we can imagine.  May we never lose heart because of our limitations, or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us. (Conclusion of The Joy of Love 391)

+Stephen Brislin

Archbishop of Cape Town

President of the SACBC                                                                 

31st January 2017

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