By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Three weeks from now Pope Francis arrives in the United States for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and less than two weeks later convenes the World Synod of Bishops on the Family at the Vatican. Marriage and family matter to the Holy Father, as he demonstrates during his weekly general audiences in St. Peter’s Square and in his interactions as the father of a really big flock.
“The sacrament of marriage is a great act of faith and love: a witness to the courage to believe in the beauty of the creative act of God and to live that love that is always urging us to go on, beyond ourselves and even beyond our own family,” the Holy Father observed in his May 6 general audience.
Pope Francis also acknowledges that marriage and family require bolstering in a contemporary society focused on the here and now and with a seeming aversion to permanent relationships.
“It is a fact that progressively fewer people are getting married … young people don’t want to get married,” the Holy Father said during his April 29 general audience. “The difficulty of staying together — both as a couple and as a family — leads to bonds being broken with ever increasing frequency and swiftness, and the children themselves are the first to suffer the consequences.”
The pope sees the upcoming meetings as opportunities to reinforce the understanding of sacramental marriage and to address the real needs of families in today’s world. As a lead-in to the meetings and beyond, The Catholic Messenger is launching a series titled “Marriage and Family — Nurturing Our Domestic Church.” Vatican II described the family as a domestic church, a small cell of the universal church. This is the place where faith is first nurtured.
We will report on marriage and family issues relevant to people in the Diocese of Davenport and the broader church. These stories will draw on the lived experiences of Catholics in and outside the diocese. Topics include: dating; engagement; mixed marriages; long-distance marriages; Strong Catholic Families initiative; divorce and remarriage, single-parent families, adult children or spouses as caregivers; families living with physical or mental illness. We welcome other story ideas and may develop some additional proposals as we proceed with this project.
We’ll also tap into the expertise of Marianne Agnoli, the diocese’s coordinator of Marriage and Family Life, and others who provide a broader perspective of marriage and family issues. Agnoli has identified several areas of marriage and family life in need of attention. These findings are based on results of a diocesan-wide marriage and family life parish survey, responses from the Synod questions, conversations with parish leaders, and emails and phone calls.
Top concerns, she said, are continued development and resourcing of the diocese’s marriage preparation programming; increasing the promotion and availability of Natural Family Planning instructional opportunities; support for marriages and families experiencing difficulties — death, divorce, addictions, mental illness, special needs, etc.; support for individuals and families affected by same-sex attraction; parenting programs and resources for young families; and faith enrichment opportunities for senior citizens.
Agnoli plans to attend the World Meeting on Families in Philadelphia and to share her insights with The Catholic Messenger. “This international Congress will address topics on a wide range of concerns affecting our modern Catholic families and will provide many resourcing ideas for consideration in the development of future marriage and family diocesan programming.”