Faith Matters

Archbishop Eamon Martin: World Meeting is a chance to walk with all families

The World Meeting of Families is a chance for the Catholic Church to show a 'ministry of care', says Archbishop Eamon Martin ahead of the gathering in Dublin this August

More than 2,500 volunteers have signed up to help at the World Meeting of Families in August. Jinny Malazarte from Co Dublin was the 2,500th
Archbishop Eamon Martin

ANY strategy for communicating the family ought to begin with the conviction that it is primarily families who minister to other families, married couples who minister to other married couples.

Take, for example, the importance of prayer in, and for, the family.

In seeking to provide prayer guidance and support for families, the best place to look is to other families.

Family spirituality is best facilitated by family associations, groups and movements which have been established by and for families.

As a priest and bishop I have come to know and admire the wonderful work of new evangelisation that is carried out in Ireland by, for example, communities of families who are following the neo-catechumenal way of renewal and catechesis, the witness of the Syro-Malabar community to the importance of family catechesis of children and young people, the enthusiasm of the Catholic Grandparents Association, Retrouvaille, Accord, Marriage Encounter, Couples for Christ, and many others.

It is very helpful for the Church to consider what are her points of contact with the daily reality of family life, to consider where and when we connect with families - in addition, of course, to the many contacts we have with individuals as members of families.

I recently asked the priests and pastoral workers of my diocese to identify some of the points of contact or interaction between the Church and families.

Preparation and celebration of the Sacraments of baptism, First Holy Communion, First Confession and Confirmation were all mentioned as providing opportunities for contact with families and times to affirm, celebrate and teach the Church's vision about the family. Marriage preparation and the ceremony of marriage are other obvious examples.

In Ireland, customs and rituals surrounding death remain strong in most communities, including the traditional wake where the body of a loved one is brought home before the funeral.

These times, and the funeral Mass itself, are powerful opportunities for the Church to accompany families in grief, touching their lives with the love and mercy of God.

One of the most moving Church gatherings in Ireland is the annual blessing of the graves ceremony, where families gather at the grave of their loved ones for Mass or a blessing service - often with family members travelling long distances home for the occasion.

This is another grace-filled opportunity for the Church to teach and communicate the vision of love in family life.

The team working on World Meeting of Families has been preparing resources to support these moments of grace, including a specially composed prayer and hymn.

A menu of practical parish initiatives is offered for popular moments like New Year's Day, St Patrick's Day and even on St Valentine's Day to help communicate key messages from The Joy of Love.

These are supported by a range of online resources including animations, studio discussions and interviews.

Last Christmas tens of thousands of copies of the commissioned Icon of the Holy Family were distributed to all parishes for display in their homes and church buildings. The icon-card includes the official WMOF prayer.

A commemorative card is also available for each child baptised and each couple getting married in the year leading up to the World Meeting of Families 2018.

The Amoris cube is a flat-packed toy with the six sides of the foam cube displaying simple messages from The Joy of Love to provoke conversation and practice in families.

All our Confirmation candidates are being challenged this year to show acts of kindness to their family, friends and community.

Young people are encouraged to log their acts of kindness online as we are aiming to meet the target of 100,000 acts of kindness to present to the Holy Father when he visits in August.

We need to be mindful of those who have begun new relationships and unions, and find sincere and truthful ways of welcoming and including them in the life and worshipping community of the Church 

Our development agency, Trócaire, is calling upon parishes to take on the Romero Award as part of their preparations for the World Meeting of Families.

Inspired by Blessed Óscar Romero and his concern for the poor and oppressed, the Romero Award is awarded to those families and others who can show how they have highlighted some form of injustice in our world, thereby inspiring families and communities to live more justly.

We are also encouraging families to rekindle the practice of blessing their homes.

I remember well as a young boy bringing home the 'Easter water' from a big barrel outside our parish church.

This water, in which the Paschal Candle had been dipped at the Easter Vigil, was sprinkled by our parents and grandparents to ask God's protection and ward off evil, and so to bless family members and homes, outbuildings, cars and tractors and, of course, the graves of our loved ones.

We are promoting the age-old custom of the 'May Altar' to Our Lady in homes and schools and at Pentecost we are encouraging parishes to conduct an audit of how the parish is engaging with the diversity of family life in its midst.

It invites the parish to come up with ideas on how to be more welcoming, supportive and inclusive of families in different situations.

In Amoris Laetitia, 'the Joy of Love', Pope Francis expresses his hope that the faithful will study his exhortation carefully and patiently.

The 'Amoris: Let's Talk Family! Let's Be Family!' programme includes a six-session parish conversation exploring some of the key messages in the papal publications of Amoris Laetitia, Evangelii Gaudium, and Laudato Si in an accessible and practical way using computer, video and audio messages and testimonies.

Local volunteers have been trained to deliver the Amoris programme and all these resources are available online at www.amoris.ie or www.worldmeeting2018.ie.

At the Synod on the Family in 2015 it was moving for me to hear the bishops as shepherds of the Church describing the hopes and anxieties that face their flocks - the families of the world.

We heard passionate, first-hand accounts of forced migration, persecution and war; we were shocked by the extent of human trafficking and the exploitation and commodification of women and children.

We heard about 'wombs for hire', child soldiers, forced prostitution and the exploitation of street children in large cities.

We shuddered at the prevalence of abuse and domestic violence. We considered the challenges presented in some cultures by polygamy, arranged marriages, mixed and inter-faith marriages.

We spoke about the pressures on family life from individualism and isolation and the spread of abortion, euthanasia and gender ideology.

We faced the reality that in many countries the majority of marriages take place without any reference to faith or to God.

At the same time, however, we shared our tremendous admiration and gratitude for the many families who do their best in complex situations to persevere, to grow in love and to generously witness to commitment, forgiveness, and lifelong faithfulness.

The overwhelming sense among the bishops at the synods was a desire to be with all families, and especially with those whose homes are visited by tragedy or violence and those who, for whatever reason, have experienced breakdown in their relationships and may feel excluded from the Church.

The synods and Amoris Laetitia were clear that we need to be mindful of those who have begun new relationships and unions, and find sincere and truthful ways of welcoming and including them in the life and worshipping community of the Church.

What do we do in these situations? Do we sit outside and judge?

Or do we accompany all our people, presenting the truth and joy of the Gospel of the Family in a loving, charitable way?

The World Meeting of Families will provide another opportunity for us to propose forms of pastoral discernment and accompaniment in these and other difficult situations, and a ministry of care to those whose marriage relationships have broken down, conscious that the Christian message of truth and mercy converges in Christ.

  • Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. Taken from 'Communicating the Family - Towards the World Meeting of Families 2018 in Dublin, Ireland', an address delivered at the 'Dialogue, Respect and Freedom of Expression in the Public Arena' conference in the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.

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