We kicked off the new year of Adult Faith Formation at Church of Our Lady of Lourdes with a program on Pope Francis. Our goal was to have some discussion both of the Pope’s visit to the U.S. and of the themes of the first two and a half years of his papacy.
Family was one of the themes that generated a lot of discussion in our gathering. The family has been a frequent theme in Pope Francis’ talks. He has repeatedly said that the family as an institution needs to be protected. Speaking in Bolivian he said,
“I would like to mention in particular the family, which is everywhere threatened by domestic violence, alcoholism, sexism, drug addiction, unemployment, urban unrest, the abandonment of the elderly, and children left to the streets.” In his address to Congress on Thursday morning, he said
It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and beauty of family life.
And in his talk during yesterday’s Celebration of Families, he called family “the most beautiful thing God has made”, calling it a “fundamental pillar of social life.
Pope Francis has resisted efforts by both the left and right to pigeonhole him into limiting family discussion to controversial topics like same-sex marriage, divorce, or contraception (and in his speech to Congress he did not mention any of those by name). Rather, he wants to focus on the range of challenges affecting the family, and he has called on the bishops to find concrete solutions to the difficult and significant challenges facing families. In his speech to Congress, the particular family issue he called attention to are (in his words) “those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young.” He said that while many of them look forward to a future of countless possibilities, “so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair.”
During our discussion, someone raised the question of what we, as Catholic parishes, are doing to support families, especially families with young children and single mothers. It is an important question. As our discussion of this question suggested, there are a range of issues, including young couples who don’t feel they have the wherewithal to start a family, to those who do not have an extended family to help support in times of difficulty.
There are a range of things we might do to support that family. A start is asking ourselves what we are doing now and what are the needs of our communities. These are questions all of our church communities should be asking themselves.