VATICAN CITY (CNS) — When a Catholic and a Muslim marry, each brings a strong commitment to family life and their union can be a seedbed for teaching respect for other religions, but fundamentalist currents often create serious challenges for the Catholic spouse, said members of the Synod of Bishops.

Jeannette Toure, a Catholic woman from the Ivory Coast, opened the synod’s session Oct. 8, which focused on “external pressures” facing families in the modern world; one of those challenges is situations where a Catholic marries someone of another Christian community or another religion.

Toure said she and her husband, a Muslim, have the experience of “52 years of living together in tolerance and mutual respect for our beliefs, in support of one another in the Christian education of our children — who are all baptized in the Catholic Church with the agreement of my husband — in welcoming the joys received from the Lord and keeping a lot of hope amid difficulties.”

“From this union,” she said, “were born five children and six grandchildren to whom we have taught our values of respect for others in their differences and to whom we have passed on faith.”

A Vatican summary of the session’s discussion said it focused heavily on the church in the Middle East and in North Africa where Christians often are a minority and where “political, economic and religious situations” have serious repercussions on families. The discussion came a day after Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, announced to the synod that Pope Francis had convoked a special meeting of the cardinals for Oct. 20 to discuss the challenges facing Christians in the Middle East.

On the synod’s discussion, the summary said, “Where there is religious fundamentalism and Christians do not enjoy equal rights with Muslim citizens, there are often difficult problems for families in mixed marriages.”

Nevertheless, synod members reported an increasing number of mixed marriages and they said the church is challenged to find ways to help the Catholic partner continue to practice his or her faith and educate the children in Christianity.

Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, told reporters Oct. 7 that in Lebanon there is no such thing as civil marriage or civil divorce; marriage is considered a religious question and each faith group has its own regulations and procedures for handling religious questions, including marriage and the dissolution of marriages.

“In that way,” he said, “the law protects marriage and the family. There are no laws contrary to natural or divine law. The state does not legislate anything having to do with marriage.”

“Our problems are different,” he said. One effect of each faith or denomination dealing with marriage matters is that if a Catholic couple wants to divorce, they can join another denomination like one of the Orthodox churches, which recognize divorce and permit a second marriage.

Another problem, he said, is that if a Christian marries a Muslim and remains Christian, he or she cannot inherit the property of the Muslim spouse.