Pope Francis sees a need to strengthen family life

    Pope Francis has called for a Synod of Bishops to be held in October 2014 around the theme of the family. Why do you think he has chosen to focus on the family?
    I think he saw in Argentina and has come to see from a world perspective the weakening of the family. He believes the church must reach out to families. Ever since he was elected pope, he has consistently talked about this as a concern of the church. His approach has been very interesting because he is looking at this through the lens of “pastoral care to families.” He’s asking what the church can do to care for and encourage families and to help them grow in faith and in a spirit of holiness.
    Is the reality of divorce and remarriage a huge concern of his?
    He’s obviously concerned about those who are divorced and remarried. He’s already expressed that one of his major concerns is for couples who are in second marriages outside of the church. He is committed to discussing how the church can care for and extend a loving heart to these couples. Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, who is the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said he expects the synod to “promote a great family celebration around Pope Francis. Rome wants to and must become the ‘capital’ of the family, both in Italy and worldwide. To be part of a family is good. To make a family is beautiful: We want to shout this out to the world, especially to families in difficulty. If it is not good for man to be alone, it is likewise not good for families to be alone.”
    Do you hear from priests about how challenging it is to pastorally care for couples who are divorced and remarried?
    All the time. Priests will tell me, and I also hear it from individual Catholics across the archdiocese or even when I’m at the airport or on a plane. Very often people will tell me how much they love the church and want to be in full communion with the church. I think Pope Francis wants to reach out to these people and provide pastoral care.
    Since the synod will be on the theme of the family, do you plan to extend the archdiocese’s yearlong focus on family and faith?
    Yes. We know the family is very much on the radar of the Holy Father. This is a continuing opportunity for us in the archdiocese to discuss extending our Year of Family and Faith to be in solidarity with him. In doing so, I’m not necessarily suggesting that we come up with new activities but simply give attention to the activities we are already doing. In particular, we need to remember members of our family in prayer and spend quality time with them. In the archdiocese, we have talked about reclaiming Sunday as a day for attending Mass together and spending quality time together, so this is in keeping with the Holy Father’s focus.
    There is so much economic and time pressure on families these days. What do you feel are some of the biggest pressures on families?
    Certainly, there are the basic ones where many people are trying to make ends meet, and that is bound to cause tension and anxiety. Our young people today are exposed to many things at school and in the community that are not in unison with what we believe as Christians, and that puts additional pressure on parents and families. Peer pressure is alive and well, and many young people receive a great deal of pressure to say and do things they would not ordinarily be inclined to say and do. Because of our rushed lives, people seem to communicate more often by text and email and “on the run,” and that leads to a lack of significant, in-depth, intimate conversations. There’s also a tendency to avoid conflict and disagreement instead of sitting down as a family and talking about the things that family members don’t agree on. If the issues aren’t dealt with, that can end up bringing about greater division. Because of these and many other things, it’s a real challenge for families to find time to pray together or to attend Mass together on Sunday.
    Have you seen some parishes do interesting things to celebrate and strengthen the family?
    Many of our parishes have very active Parents’ Clubs, Mothers’ Clubs and Men’s Clubs. Those are important dimensions. Sacramental preparation – for baptism, First Communion, First Confession and Confirmation – is also a very important moment. Beyond religious education and formation for children and teenagers, some parishes also invite parents at the same time into adult education. A couple of parishes use Sunday nights for what they call “intergenerational faith formation.” That’s where the entire family comes together and then breaks up according to age groups. The children of various age groups go into one area and the parents go into another. They have instruction and then they come back to celebrate a meal together. Those are the kinds of things that we as church can provide to encourage family life. I also know that the Willwoods Community offers marriage workshops, and parishes offer Supper and Substance meals for married couples. We also have many outreach programs for single parents and those who are separated or divorced. We must continue to do that. Sometimes when we say we are called to be a holy family, we have the perception that a holy family is supposed to be a perfect family. That is not the case. Being a holy family means everyone talking together, spending time together, seeing one another face-to-face, resolving difficulties and praying together. A holy family means being committed to one another and encouraging one another to grow and fostering a greater level of openness and love.
    Questions for Archbishop Aymond can be sent to clarionherald@clarionherald.org.

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