TRENT, Italy, DEC. 15, 2008 (Zenit.org).- With families in Europe facing new and greater challenges, Catholic and Orthodox bishops are uniting to offer a common defense of the sacrament of marriage and the bases of the family.
Last week, at the first common forum between Catholic and Orthodox bishops on the theme of family, the prelates considered their common vision of family values, and aimed to offer a joint pastoral plan. During the working sessions, the bishops discussed their common understanding of the complementarity of man and woman, the sacramental character of indissoluble marriage, and theological understandings of the family.
The forum was sponsored by the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe. Among the participants were Monsignors Grzegorz Kaszak, Bernard Munono, and Jacques Suaudeau, members of the Pontifical Councils for the Family, and for Justice and Peace, and the Pontifical Academy for Life, respectively.
According to Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna and Austria, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II, who died Dec. 5, was an ardent supporter of the forum.
Both delegations affirmed their understanding of matrimony between a man and a woman as part of God's plan, and not a simple human institution.
To support this vision, Bosnian Orthodox theologian Vaclav Jezek urged an "authentic theology on the relationship between men and women, and between parents and children."
"The family is not the product of a coincidence," he said, "but rather the perfect image of communion."
The prelates further affirmed their common vision of marriage as an indissoluble union between man and woman, and human fertility as a gift of God.
They expressed concern about the situation of the family in the West, particularly low birth rates, the consequences of gender theories, and the imposition of the idea that homosexual unions are the same as marriage.
Bishop Alfeyev lamented the position of the Christian West, "which pressures the Third World and the Islamic world to accept contraception, abortion and sterilization."
Meanwhile, the secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Monsignor Kaszak, decried the imposition "on consciences" of ideologies contrary to the family. "These challenges are sufficient reason to motivate us to carry out common actions in defense of matrimony and the family against various attacks," he said, "and to bring to light more and more the beauty of the divine plan for Christian homes."