Pope Francis presided as 20 diverse couples exchanged vows Sunday. Francis chose to invite the brides and grooms to gather in Saint Peter’s Basilica for a public wedding during the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. The pairs, all from the Diocese of Rome, range in age from 25-56, Time Magazine reports. They do not, however, fit the profile of the typical Catholic couple.
Several couples had been cohabitating prior to their marriage, a sin under Catholic teaching. One marriage included a groom who had received an annulment and a bride with a daughter from a previous relationship. Finally, Gabriella and Guido already have children and had previously considered union within the Church an impossibility, Radio Vaticana said.
“The people getting married on Sunday are couples like many others. Some already live together, some already have children,” the diocese of Rome said in a statement, according to Reuters.”
No pope has presided over a wedding since 2000, when Pope John Paul II held a public wedding as a part of the Jubilee for Families, which emphasized the importance of family, BBC reports. Like John Paul II, Francis seems to have performed the wedding in conjunction with the upcoming Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The synod will address problems such as contraception, marriage, and divorce, as well as the importance of the family to Catholicism.
Media sources have been divided in their interpretation of the group wedding. Some outlets, such as Reuters, argue that the public wedding implied that the Catholic Church will become more accepting of cohabitation and contraceptive use. Others, like Huffington Post, assert the opposite — that, by asking the couples to be “faithful forever,” the Pontiff reinforced the stability of the Sacrament of matrimony and its necessity in today’s dynamic society.
Francis’ homily focused on marriage and the family as imperfect reflections of Christ’s love, Catholic News Agency reports.
“It is impossible to quantify the strength and depth of humanity contained in a family,” Francis said. “Families are the first place in which we are formed as persons and, at the same time, the ‘bricks’ for the building up of society.”
Francis did address the issues that affect marriages in modern society. He acknowledged that spouses “lose the flavor of matrimony and they cease to draw water from the well of the Sacrament,”
Ultimately, Francis encouraged couples, like those gathered to wed that day, to ask God for the strength to love and commit completely. He implored the community to treat struggling couples with love, BBC reports.
“It is a demanding journey, at times difficult, and at times turbulent,” Francis said according to Catholic News Agency, “but such is life!”