The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the context of Evangelization (4)

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Part II

The Pastoral Program for the Family in Light of New Challenges


Chapter I: The Pastoral Program for the Family: Various Proposals Underway


The Responsibility of Bishops and the Clergy and the Charismatic Gifts in the Pastoral Care of the Family

50. At work in the pastoral programme for the family is a beneficial mutual exchange between the responsibility of the bishops and other members of the clergy and the various charisms and ministries of the ecclesial community. This synergy results in many positive experiences. The engagement of so many brothers and sisters in the pastoral care of the family can lead to new effective forms of service for the Church community, which, because of the presence of the Holy Spirit, is emboldened to “go out” of itself in mission. The richness in this field is revealed by considering various subjects and reviewing some initiatives and approaches found in the responses.


Marriage Preparation

51. The responses from the different continents display a great similarity when treating the subject of marriage preparation. Many refer to activities well underway, such as programmes in parishes, seminars and retreats for couples. In addition to priests, these are often led by married couples with extensive experience in family matters. These programmes have the following aims: strengthening the couple’s relationship and their mutual awareness that they are entering marriage by their own free choice; raising a consciousness of the human, civil and Christian implications of their commitment; re-catechizing the couple on the Sacraments of Christian Initiation with particular emphasis on the relation of these Sacraments to the Sacrament of Matrimony; and encouraging the couple to participate in the life of the parish community and society.

52. Some responses mention that, in many cases, couples give little attention to pre-marriage programmes. For this reason, many different approaches are being adopted in catechesis, namely, offering instruction on the subject to the following: young people, even before their engagement; the parents of engaged couples; couples already married; people who are separated; and those requesting Baptism for their children. Programmes are also being sponsored to heighten people’s awareness of the pastoral documents of bishops and the Church’s Magisterium. Some countries refer to true and proper schools of preparation for married life, especially intended for the education and advancement of women. The contrary is true in strongly secularized areas, where, in certain cultures, couples are distancing themselves more and more from Church teaching. Particularly long courses are not always welcome. Normally, pre-marriage courses inform engaged couples about the natural methods in the regulation of birth, as witnessed by “couples with experience using these methods.”

53. Some episcopal conferences express concern that couples, having already set a date for their wedding, often approach the Church too late, and, at times, require special attention in dealing with their situation, e.g., the case of disparity of cult (marriage between a baptized and non-baptized person) or a poor Christian formation. Other conferences mention how preparation programmes for the Sacrament of Matrimony have improved in recent decades, with greater attempts being made to transform a simple “course” into a more detailed “programme,” involving both the clergy and married couples. In recent years the content of these programmes has substantially changed from being merely a preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage to becoming an actual initial proclamation of the faith.

54. Many laudable initiatives in marriage preparation are taking place in various parts of the world, including: “new communities” which promote retreats; personal encounters; groups for prayer, reflection and discussion; pilgrimages; festivals; and national and international congresses on the family. At times, however, these initiatives are seen more as an obligation than a freely undertaken opportunity for growth. Undoubtedly, another important moment in marriage preparation is the meeting with the pastor or his delegate, a necessity for all engaged couples. The responses mention that often this meeting is not sufficiently used as an opportunity to engage the couple in a more detailed discussion on marriage but, instead, is a mere formality.

55. Several respondents report that attempts are being made to add new topics to marriage courses that are being offered, such as communication skills, the sexual aspects of conjugal life and conflict resolution. In some places characterized by a somewhat sexist cultural tradition, there exists a certain lack of respect towards women, which hinders the necessary mutual exchange in conjugal life between a man and woman who are equal in dignity. In other places, dominated in the past by atheistic regimes and often lacking in even a rudimentary knowledge of the faith, new forms in the preparation of engaged couples are being introduced, e.g., weekend retreats, small group activities with testimonies from married couples, events celebrating the family in dioceses, stations of the cross and retreats for entire families.

56. Some responses indicate that in some multi-religious and multi-confessional territories, certain factors need to be taken into consideration, e.g., the considerable number of mixed marriages (a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic) and marriages of mixed religions, both of which require a suitable preparation by the clergy in attending to the couples involved. The dioceses in Eastern Europe are exploring a dialogue with the Orthodox Churches in inter-marriage preparation. Interesting information exists on diocesan events celebrating the family with the bishop present and testimonies given by couples who are well experienced in the faith. Such days can create an opportunity for families to interact with each other and to dialogue with older couples, thus adding to the value of initiatives based on the Bible and moments of prayer for engaged couples. Older and more experienced couples act as “godparents” to younger couples who are preparing for marriage.


Popular Piety and a Familial Spirituality

57. The responses suggest a need to safeguard and promote the various forms of popular piety on the different continents in support of the family. Despite a break-down in family life, certain religious practices which bring families together still remain vibrant, e.g., Marian devotion, folk festivals and the celebration of local saints. In addition to the rosary, some people also pray the Angelus. Others see a value to the practice of the peregrinatio Mariae (“Mary’s Pilgrimage”), in which an icon or statue of the Virgin Mary passes from one home to another and from one family to another. Still others speak of the advantage of the “Gospel Pilgrimage,” which consists of a family’s displaying an icon and a Bible in their home with a commitment to regularly read the Bible and pray together for a certain period of time. Those families that foster such pious practices, like the “Pilgrimage of Families,” are found to have particularly strong bonds of friendship and communion. In this regard, many also insist on the importance of praying the liturgy of the hours in common, the reading of the Psalms and other texts from Sacred Scripture. Still others recommend spontaneous prayers of thanksgiving and requests for forgiveness. Some countries encourage celebrating different religious events in life, such as anniversaries of baptism, marriage and death. One response refers to family prayer, frequently practiced during travel, work and school, which, in some countries, utilizes radio and television. Furthermore, some note how families can benefit from nearby monasteries which can complement the vocation of marriage with that of the consecrated life. The same can be said for the fruitful relationship between couples and priests, in their respective roles.


Support for a Familial Spirituality

58. Many bishops' conferences recount how particular Churches render support to a familial spirituality in their pastoral activity. In our time, spiritual movements make a special contribution to promoting an authentic, effective pastoral programme for the family. Christian communities are characterized by a variety of ecclesial situations and approaches aimed at specific individuals. Clearly, local Churches should be able to find that this richness is a real resource for not only promoting various initiatives on behalf of couples intending marriage but devising ways to provide suitable pastoral care for families today. Some respondents recount that many dioceses foster specific endeavours and formation for couples who can then provide support to other couples and sustain a series of initiatives to promote a true familial spirituality. Some argue that sometimes local communities, movements, groups and religious associations can be exclusive and too restrictive in the life of a parish. This situation illustrates the importance of their being fully engaged with the whole Church in an authentic sense of mission so as to avoid the danger of excessively looking inward. Families belonging to these communities exercise a vibrant apostolate and, judging from the past, are instrumental in the evangelization of many families. Their members offer a credible witness with their lives of fidelity in marriage, mutual respect, unity and openness to life.


Testimony on Behalf of the Beauty of the Family

59. All the responses agree that a key point in fostering an authentic, incisive pastoral programme for the family seems ultimately to rest on a couple’s witness of life, a witness which is consistent with not only Christian teaching on the family but also the beauty and joy which permits the Gospel message to be embraced in marriage and lived as a family. Pastoral ministry for the family also needs to follow thevia pulchritudinis (“the way of beauty”), namely, by a witness which attracts others simply because the family lives the Gospel and is constantly in union with God. This entails “showing that to believe in and follow him [Christ] is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendour and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties” (EG, 167).

60. Although some episcopal conferences mention that, in many parts of the world, a successful outcome to marriage and family life can no longer be presumed, they equally observe that young people have a high esteem for couples who, even after many years of marriage, continue their life together in love and fidelity. As an acknowledgment, many dioceses celebrate, with the bishop present, wedding anniversaries and thanksgiving commemorations for married couples who have spent many years together. In this regard, special recognition needs to be given to those who faithfully remain with their spouses, despite problems and difficulties.


Chapter II: The Pastoral Challenges of the Family


61. This section deals with the responses and observations on the pastoral challenges of the family. It treats three fundamental questions: the crisis of faith and its relation to the family; the internal and external challenges affecting the family; and some difficult situations connected to a culture of individualism and a lack of trust in enduring relationships.


a) The Crisis of Faith and Family Life

Pastoral Action in the Crisis of Faith

62. Some responses show how, in cases where the faith of family members is either weak or non-existent, both the parish and the Church in general are not seen as supportive. This probably comes from a mistaken idea of the Church and her activity due to socio-cultural circumstances, especially where the institution of the family itself is in crisis. In these cases, the ideal of living as a family is viewed as unattainable and frustrating instead of as a possible means for learning how to respond to one’s vocation and mission. Often, when the lay faithful sense the great distance between the ideal of family living and the impossibility of achieving that goal, the couple’s crisis in marriage and the family gradually becomes a crisis in faith. Therefore, the question arises on how to act pastorally in these situations, namely, how to make sure that the Church, in her variety of pastoral activities, can demonstrate that she has the ability of caring for couples in difficulty and families.

63. Many respondents point out that a crisis in faith can either lead to failure or be taken as an opportunity for growth and an occasion to discover the deeper meaning of the marriage covenant. In this way, the loss of a sense of meaning, or even the breakdown within a family, can be the means of strengthening the marriage bond. Families, willing to offer support to a couple in this difficult situation, can help them overcome this crisis. In particular, the parish must draw near married couples and the family as the “family of families.”


b) Critical Situations within the Family

Difficulty in Relationships and Communication

64. Most responses indicate that one of the many critical issues facing the family is a difficulty in relationships and communication. Whether it be tensions and conflicts in a marriage due to a lack of mutual trust and intimacy or the domination of one marriage partner over the other or the inter-generational conflict between parents and children, all hinder the building of family relationships and can even make them entirely impossible. The dramatic aspect of these situations is that they lead to the gradual disappearance of the possibility of dialogue as well as the time and opportunity to work on relationships. For want of sharing and communication, each one is forced to face difficulties in isolation without an experience of being loved and, in turn, loving others. In some places in society, persons often don’t experience love, especially the love of a father, thereby making it particularly difficult to experience God’s love and him as Father. The lack of a father-figure in many families causes major imbalances in households and uncertainty in gender identification in children. People who do not witness, live and accept love on a daily basis find it particularly difficult to discover the person of Christ as the Son of God and the love of God the Father.


The Break-Up and Breakdown of Families

65. In various ways, the responses refer to many instances of the break-up and breakdown of families, the first and foremost being a couple’s divorce and separation which is sometimes caused by poverty. Other critical situations include many relationships which do not coincide with the idea of a traditional nuclear family, i.e., mother, father and children: single parenthood (a mother only or a teen mother), de facto unions and homosexual unions and parenting (specifically mentioned in Europe and North America). In some cultures, polygamy is insistently seen as one of the factors causing the breakdown of families, along with a mentality of parents which is not open to life. Many bishops' conferences are greatly concerned about the widespread practice of abortion. In many ways, today’s society seems to promote a culture of death regarding the unborn and to manifest a culture of indifference in approaching life in general. Some governments do not contribute adequately to protecting the family by enacting laws which encourage individualism, thereby influencing the people’s mentality and leading to superficiality on issues of critical importance. Many responses also stress that a contraceptive mentality has a negative impact on family relationships.


Violence and Abuse

66. The responses unanimously make reference to psychological, physical and sexual violence and abuse in families which has a particularly damaging effect on women and children, a phenomenon which, unfortunately, is neither occasional nor isolated, particularly in certain parts of the world. In this regard, the responses also mention the appalling phenomenon of the killing of women, often caused by deep emotional trouble in relationships. Arising from a false culture based on possessions, this is particularly disturbing and calls for action by everyone in society and by the Church in her ministry to the family. Sexual promiscuity and incest in the family are explicitly cited in certain parts of the world (Africa, Asia and Oceania), as well as pedophilia and child abuse. The responses also refer to authoritarianism by parents, expressed in the lack of care and attention given to their children, a situation often leading to their children’s abandonment, and, on the parents’s part, a want of a sense of responsible parenthood which causes them to refuse to not only care for their children but also educate them, thereby leaving them totally to their own devices.

67. Several episcopates worldwide raise the tragic question of the trafficking and exploitation of children. In this regard, particular attention needs to be given to the scourge of “sexual tourism” and the use of minors in prostitution, especially in developing countries, thereby creating disorder within the family. All of this illustrates the extensiveness of domestic violence and the abandonment and breakdown of families and how its many forms have a significant psychological impact on the the individual and, consequently, on the life of faith, negatively affecting a person’s vision, perception and experience of God and his love.


Dependence, the Media and the Social Network

68. When citing the various critical situations affecting the family, the responses constantly allude to not only addictions to alcohol and drugs but also pornography, at times used and shared within families, not to mention addictions to gambling and video games, the Internet and social networks. As for the media, the respondents repeatedly stressed, in one instance, their negative impact on the family, particularly when they convey and offer opposing models to the image of the family, which transmit mistaken and misleading values. On the other hand, the responses refer to problems in relationships which the media, together with the social networks and the Internet, are creating within the family. In fact, television, smart phones and computers can be a real impediment to dialogue among family members, leading to a breakdown and alienation in relationships within a family, where communication depends more and more on technology. In the end, the means of communication and access to the Internet replace real family relationships with virtual ones. This situation runs the risk of leading to not only the disunity and breakdown of the family but also the possibility that the virtual world will replace the real one (particularly a danger in Europe, North America and Asia). The responses consistently mention how even a family’s leisure time is hijacked by these instruments.

69. Furthermore, the responses allude to the growing phenomenon in the Internet age of aninformation overload, namely, the exponential increase of information on line, often not corresponding to an increase in quality, in addition to the inability always to check the reliability of the information available on the Internet. Technological progress is a global challenge which can cause rapid changes in family life regarding values, relationships and the internal equilibrium. This situation becomes critical, therefore, when a family lacks an adequate knowledge of the proper use of the media and new technologies.


c) External Pressures on the Family

The Impact of Work on the Family

70. All responses, treating the impact of work on the well-being of the family, make reference to the difficulty of coordinating the communal aspects of family living with the excessive demands of work, which require of the family a greater flexibility. The pace of work is fast and sometimes even exhausting, and work hours, often excessive, can sometimes include Sundays, all of which hinders the possibility of a family’s spending time together. An increasingly hectic life leaves little opportunity for moments of peace and family togetherness. Some parts of the world are showing signs of the price being paid by the family as a result of economic growth and development, not to mention the much broader effects produced by the economic crisis and the instability of the labor market. Increasing job insecurity, together with the growth of unemployment and the consequent need to travel greater distances to work, have taken their toll on family life, resulting in, among other things, a weakening of family relationships and the gradual isolation of persons, causing even greater anxiety.

71. In dialoguing with the State and the related public entities, the Church is called to offer real support for decent jobs, just wages and a fiscal policy favouring the family as well as programmes of assistance to families and children. In this regard, laws protecting the family in relation to work are frequently wanting, particularly those affecting working mothers. Moreover, civil support and involvement on behalf of the family provides the Church with an opportunity for working together. Networking in this area with organizations which pursue similar goals is equally wise and productive.


Migration and the Family

72. In treating the relation of work to the family, the responses also emphasize the impact of migration on the family. To support the family financially, fathers, and an increasing number of mothers, are being forced to abandon their families for work. The absence of a parent has serious consequences on both the well-being of the family and the upbringing of children. At the same time, the absent parent’s sending money to the family can cause a kind of dependence in other family members. This situation requires promoting appropriate policies that make it easier for families to be reunited.


Poverty and the Struggle for Subsistence

73. The responses and observations widely and insistently refer to the economic hardships endured by families as well as the lack of material resources, poverty and the struggle for subsistence. This widespread phenomenon is not limited to developing countries only, but is also mentioned in responses and observations from Europe and North America. In such cases of extreme and increasing poverty, the family has to struggle for subsistence, a struggle to which the family has to devote most of its energy. Some observations call for the Church to raise a strong prophetic voice concerning poverty which puts a strain on family life. A Church which is “poor and for the poor” must not fail to make her voice heard in this area.