SHAFAQNA – Couples who have been “living in sin” and women who had children out of wedlock will be married by Pope Francis at a ceremony at the Vatican on Sunday, in a further sign of his determination to make the Catholic Church more inclusive and compassionate. They will be among 20 couples from Rome who will tie the knot in St Peter’s Basilica, in the first such ceremony led by the Pope in his role as Bishop of Rome since he was elected in March last year. For the Vatican, it will be the first such event since Pope John Paul II joined eight couples in matrimony in 2000. The prospective brides and grooms had varying personal backgrounds, the diocese of Rome said in a statement.
“There are those who are already cohabiting, those who already have children, who got to know each other in Church,” the diocese said. One of the women getting married has a grown-up daughter from a previous relationship and will marry a man who was previously married but obtained an annulment. The woman, named only as Gabriella, said she never imagined that she would be married by the Pope in St Peter’s. “We didn’t feel worthy or able to meet the requirements of a good Catholic couple,” Gabriella told La Repubblica newspaper. “But the Church under the leadership of Pope Francis has welcomed and embraced us.” “This Pope is marvellous – he is renewing the Church. Not even non-believers can remain indifferent to his drive and his disarming simplicity.”
The couples to be wed also include unemployed people and some working on precarious short-term contracts. One woman has a part-time job in a fast food outlet. The ceremony comes just three weeks before the start of an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, which will discuss key social themes such as marriage, divorce and contraception. The bishops will discuss the results of a questionnaire sent out to Catholics around the world, canvassing the opinion of priests, nuns and ordinary people on those and other hot topics such as single parent families and gay marriage.
The questionnaire contained 39 questions on issues such as surrogate mothers, “hostile” forms of feminism, polygamy, interfaith marriages and the challenges posed by secularism. It touched on subjects previously considered virtually taboo by the Vatican, such as the spiritual welfare of children adopted by gay couples, birth control and same-sex marriages. In an interview last September, the Jesuit Pope said the Church must move away from its “obsession” with condemning homosexuality, abortion and contraception. It should become kinder and more merciful or risk collapsing “like a house of cards”.