Every three years, the universal Church hosts an important international event that focuses on the issues and challenges facing the family.
The first World Meeting of Families was called by Pope John Paul II and held in 1994 – almost 30 years ago – in Rome, and the tenth edition ends this Sunday in the same city. This year’s meeting, postponed by a year because of the pandemic, was a bit of a first as the majority of speakers, almost 95 per cent, were lay married couples and single persons.
On March 19, 2021, the Solemnity of St Joseph, Pope Francis declared ‘The Year of Amoris Laetitia Family’, Amoris Laetitia being the encyclical he issued on March 19, 2016, on the pastoral care of families. While clearly not an actual calendar year, this special period ends with this World Meeting.
Events like these do good for many reasons. Firstly, it serves as another reminder of the critical role of family life in the formation of society. Secondly, it helps raise the morale of those who labour for years in such ministries.
These events must not only be replicated at diocesan and parish level, but they must also offer hope by finding a way to feed the minds and hearts of every single Catholic family for the benefit of the community.
The family has been defined as a group of one or more parents and their children living together as a unit. While the secular understanding and configuration of the family has certainly changed with time, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2205), “The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit… The Christian family has an evangelizing and missionary task.”
Pope John Paul II once said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” If family life is the most critical of structures in society, we may be in the deep end, floundering to stay above the water as both the secular and the spiritual have taken note of the worrying decline in societal norms and morals.
On the occasion of the most recent Corpus Christi celebrations, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said in his message that while his government works to improve the national infrastructure of water, electricity, and roads, it was also paying attention to the levels of both school violence and the reported series of incidents of intra-family conflicts.
The Prime Minister stated the indisputable fact that, “what seems obvious is the family structure, as we know it, has been eroded. The family unit appears to be no longer sacred. ‘How do we fix this?’ is a question that some of our better minds, in the fields of sociology, psychology and social work will need to examine and provide strategies on how to rescue the traditional family unit.”
This erosion of the family structure did not take place overnight, so neither will the necessary accretion happen in the same speed. And those involved in the field of religion or spirituality must be part of any rescue attempt of the family unit.