Sensing a need for increased understanding between clergy and families, Pope Francis released his papal exhortation Amoris Laetitia in April of 2016. The document, whose title means “Joyful Love,” enumerated several challenges facing the modern family. It was intended as a starting point for further conversation, and in a recent symposium, Boston College provided an environment in which to continue this discussion.
The conference took place on October 5-6 and was entitled “Amoris Laetitia: A New Momentum for Moral Formation and Pastoral Practice.” As the name suggests, the event was aimed towards clergy and their role in following the ideas of Francis’s papal exhortation.
Both days of the symposium began with a Mass at St. Mary’s chapel. Many church leaders were in attendance, including Blase Cardinal Cupich; a representative of Boston Archbishop Sean O’Malley, OFM; as well as many bishops from various dioceses. Several Boston College theology faculty were also present.
In fact, BC faculty took a leading role as the conference was directed by theology professor Fr. James Keenan, S.J. Fr. Keenan directs the Jesuit Institute, which organized the symposium, and he had several aims in orchestrating the event.
Keenan expressed a hope that the conference would encourage leaders to bring renewed enthusiasm to their communities. “The BC conference,” he said, “got all the bishops who were there to say, ‘I really need not only to read this apostolic exhortation, but I have to get the priests in my diocese to read it and understand it.’” The symposium provided an opportunity for clergy to hear different perspectives on the document, and to appreciate Pope Francis’s intention for a new evangelization.
The dialogue initiated by Amoris Laetitia requires the participation of all Catholics, meaning that both the clergy and the general populace must pay close attention to the document. Keenan remarked, “In the United States, we have a problem [where] many people are not really paying attention to what Pope Francis [and our bishops] do.” Through the BC conference, Keenan hopes clergy will be able to encourage their congregations to join the conversation.
“I think that many new ideas were heard,” said Keenan. “If the bishops are looking for a new evangelization, it’s Amoris Laetitia. I think that’s what they heard.”
The conference was the first of its kind in the United States, but Keenan believes this is only the beginning of the American dialogue on the papal exhortation. “There will be other conferences to help bishops around the country understand why they need to give attention to Amoris Laetitia,” he said. Though the BC symposium lasted only two days, Keenan views it as an important first step towards the acceptance and appreciation of Amoris Laetitia.
For all those who have not read the exhortation—lay and clergy alike—Keenan emphasizes the importance of a close reading. Much literature has been written on the document since its publication, but Keenan advises Catholics to read it with an open mind. His advice is simple: “Just read it.”