Communicating The Family - Towards The World Meeting Of Families 2018

Date: 19 Apr 2018





Irish eyes were smiling on the 26 September 2015 when Pope Francis
announced that Dublin would host the ninth World Meeting of the Families
in 2018.  They smiled all over again, last month, when it was confirmed
that Pope Francis himself will attend the event.  My brother Archbishop,
Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, tells us that it was Pope Francis himself who
chose to bring this great gathering of the universal church to Ireland.
Despite challenging times for the Church in Ireland in recent years,
family remains very important in the psyche of the Irish people.  Family
in Ireland is all about 'connection'- family connects us to a home, to
'ár muintir féin' (as we say in the Irish language) - to the people
who are our flesh and blood.  Family also links us to a community, a
parish, a county, to a history and culture, a language and tradition,
our past, present and future.  For many people in Ireland family also
connects them to faith and values, to baptism and the community of

The huge Irish diaspora across the world from the United States, to
Australia, Britain and beyond, has been sharing our joy at hosting
WMOF2018.  Irish connections, of course, extend also to other distant
continents where the Irish missionary movements carried the joy of the
Gospel.  The organising team of WMOF2018 is already delighted at the
many thousands of people from overseas who have registered to join us in
Dublin next August - we hope to offer you all, as we say in Ireland
'céad míle fáilte' - one hundred thousand welcomes.

The theme for the ninth World Meeting of the Families in Dublin is: The
Gospel of the Family - Joy for the World!  The communication of this
joy-filled message about family has its roots in Amoris Laetitia.  This
is the first World Meeting of the Families since the conclusion of the
2014-2015 Synodal process and the publication of Pope Francis'
exhortation on 'The Joy of Love'.  The World Meeting will therefore be
an invaluable opportunity for families of the world to come together to
reflect on key aspects of Amoris Laetitia.  They will do so with the
conviction that the Church's teaching on the family is not a 'problem to
be solved', but is a gift for the world - a message that is positive,
liberating, and humanising!


The 'Gospel of the Family'
The World Meeting will seek to communicate and distil for our times the
beautiful and prophetic vision of God's plan for marriage and the family
which was celebrated at the Synods and enunciated so positively in
Amoris Laetitia.  This so-called 'Gospel of the Family' has its origins
in 'the creation of humanity in the image of God who is love and who
calls man and woman to love according to his own likeness' (Relatio
Synodi, 35).

Amoris Laetitia traces the Gospel of the Family from Sacred Scripture to
Church tradition and the teachings of the magisterium.  I particularly
like the way Pope Francis reminds us how God chose to save us by sending
his Son into the world in a human family which was open to receive him
in love.

Facing Cultural Challenges
We believe that the Church's proclamation of the family - founded on a
faithful loving relationship between a man and a woman which is open to
the gift of children who are the fruit of that love - is Good News for
society and the world.  There is no getting away, however, from the fact
that communicating the family in this way can appear increasingly
counter-cultural in many parts of the world, including Ireland.  This
has been accelerated by the departure in public discourse from the
philosophical and anthropological underpinning of marriage and the
family in natural law and the erosion of social supports for traditional
marriage in the form of constitutional guarantee and positive

How difficult it must be for young people preparing for marriage to hear
the still, small voice of faith amidst all the contradictory messages
presented to them by the secular world.  They are easily drawn towards
an overly emotional and romantic concept of love and marriage that, 'can
be constructed and modified at will' (Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the
Gospel, 66).

There is also considerable pressure on young people to resist becoming
'tied down' by commitments, relationships or attachments - to delay or
avoid lifelong commitments, including marriage and having children for
as long as possible.  Employers will often expect them to be flexible,
movable, able to travel and work long, unsocial hours.  On the one hand
they are surrounded by a contraceptive, anti-birth mentality with its
increasing indifference to abortion, whilst on the other they are
offered a technocratic, commodification of child-bearing which, if
necessary, can be accessed independently of any sexual relationship.

Good News for Today
Into this 'soul-less world' we have the joy and challenge of
communicating a clear and positive vision of family and marriage: the
Good News that human life is sacred, that each human being comes from
God, who created us, male and female; that we are willed by God who
loves each and every one of us; that self-giving love and commitment in
the marriage of a man and a woman open to life is not only possible, but
is a beautiful and fulfilling gift with the power of God's grace; that
chastity is achievable, healthy and good for our young people; that the
giving of oneself to another in marriage for life is special, rewarding
and a wonderful symbol of Christ's forgiving, faithful love for his

For Catholics, the expression: 'What God joins together' rings out as an
exclamation of hope in the midst of a sometimes shallow and fickle
world.  We proclaim the Gospel of the Family because we believe in it,
and we also believe that, with the help of God, it is attainable.

Pope Francis put it powerfully when he said: 'The Church, with a renewed
sense of responsibility, continues to propose marriage in its essentials
- offspring, good of the couple, unity, indissolubility, sacramentality
- not as ideal only for a few - notwithstanding modern models centred on
the ephemeral and the transient - but as a reality that, in the grace of
Christ, can be experienced by all the baptized faithful' (to Roman Rota
Tribunal, 22 January 2016).


It is one thing to have a joyful message to proclaim and propose - it is
another to find effective ways of communicating this message.  If no one
is listening, it is difficult to communicate!  For a while I thought
that the task of proclaiming the Gospel of the Family in the Church was
primarily up to me as a bishop or as a priest, but I have become more
and more convinced that the Church's vision of the family is best
communicated by families, and in families, to families.

At the 2015 Synod on the Family; I learned that the family is not simply
the object of ministry and evangelisation, but it is a powerful agent of

As the 'school of humanity' and the 'domestic Church', it is in the
family that values are transmitted, the wisdom of generations is passed
on, the choices between right and wrong are evaluated, connections with
the past are made, links with other families are made and upheld. It is
in the family that we first are loved and where we first learn how to
love.  It is in the family that we discover who we are, where we have
come from, our inter-generational relationships, our links with a place,
with the land and a worshipping community, our rootedness in culture and

At the Synod we heard of movements, associations, basic Christian
communities and many other networks which guide and nourish the marriage
and family 'vocation'.  The World Meeting in Dublin will give us another
opportunity to celebrate, communicate and share these initiatives with
others.  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.

Points of Contact and Communication Resources
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 an especially
composed prayer and hymn which is being used extensively throughout the
parishes of Ireland and elsewhere.

A menu of practical parish initiatives is offered for popular moments
like New Year's Day, Saint Patrick's Day and even on Saint 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

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 one hundred thousand acts of kindness to present to
the Holy Father when he visits in August.

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

This Easter time we are 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.

During May we will be promoting the age-old custom of the 'May Altar' to
Our Lady in the homes and schools of Ireland and at Pentecost we are
encouraging parishes to conduct a parish 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 Laetia_ 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 ICT, 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 [2]<http://www.amoris.ie> or www.worldmeeting2018.ie
[3]<http://www.worldmeeting201 8.ie>.

Pastoral Challenges - Discernment and Accompaniment
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.

As the Bishops at the 2015 Synod concluded: "we have a responsibility to
help all God's people find God's plan for them, knowing that no one is
excluded from God's love and that all are included in the Church's
pastoral activity" (see _Relatio Synodi_, 34).


Almost forty years on from the last papal visit to Ireland in 1979, the
Church now seeks to communicate its vision of family in an entirely
different context.  The role of religion and faith in Irish society,
north and south, has been hugely impacted by secularisation and is
evidenced by a steady decline in Church attendance and in vocations to
the priesthood and religious life.  Like other parts of Europe and the
Western world, more people in Ireland are now living their lives without
reference to God or to religious belief.

We are steadily moving from a society in which it was virtually
impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith is considered by
many to be simply one human possibility among others.  There are ongoing
calls from some quarters for the removal of the Church's perceived
remaining influence in schools, healthcare and public policy making.

In the aftermath of child abuse scandals and other shameful episodes of
the past, we have to be aware, in communicating the family, that there
are those who feel they can no longer trust our message, because they
have been hurt and betrayed in their families by their experience of
Church.  The sins and crimes of sexual abuse in the Church have not only
had tragic consequences in the lives of victims and their families, but
have also, as Pope Benedict XVI put it in his _Pastoral Letter to the
Faithful of Ireland_ in 2010, 'obscured the light of the gospel'.

In this complex and often negative environment we are challenged to
learn new ways of communicating our sincerely held perspectives about
family and other matters.  We realise that we must do so now alongside
those of other faiths and none, and thereby continue to encourage
conversations at a national level on the challenges and opportunities in
family life.

The Report of the President of Ireland's 'Ethics Initiative', issued in
February 2016, identified that what Irish society needs is a debate on
what ethical values and principles we want to uphold and strengthen; we
need to have a conversation(s) on our understanding of what constitutes
a 'good life' or a 'flourishing life' not just for individuals but also
for communities (_On the Importance of Ethics, A Report on the President
of Ireland's Ethics Initiative_, Section 4, 'Broader Challenges for
Society', Aras an Uachtaráin, February 2016)

In entering this kind of dialogue, we in the Church must be cautious
about thinking that people who disagree with us are necessarily hostile.
 Bishop Donal Murray writes:  "Civilised discussion should begin from
the presumption that all concerned are honestly seeking the truth ... We
should remain open to recognising the elements of truth that are present
in the convictions of someone we disagree with ... Honest convictions
are the fruit of a search for truth and for God, the search in which
those on both sides of the argument are involved" (Donal Murray, _In a
Landscape Redrawn_ pp 65-66, Veritas 2017).

The French bishops recently raised similar points: "Many of our fellow
citizens, some out of confusion, wonder: who am I really?  What do I
believe in?  What are the values which made me and matter to me?  Where
do they come from?"  (Dans un monde qui change retrouver le sens
politique, Bishops Conference of France (CEF) October 2016, translation
international.la-croix.com [4]<http://international.la-cr oix.com).

What is interesting about the French bishops' statement is that they
speak not only as people of faith, but also as fellow French citizens,
pastorally accompanying their troubled people with empathy and concern.
The bishops caution against any aspiring to be a "Church of the pure, a
counterculture removed from society, posing as a judge from above".

The engagement of people of faith together with all people of goodwill
in conversations about family, marriage and other critical life matters
is to be encouraged and welcomed.  Drawing upon its rich tradition of
social teaching, the Catholic Church will sometimes bring uncomfortable
questions into such a dialogue.  However, in an atmosphere of respectful
encounter, it is possible for two-way, critical interaction and
conversations to take place between religious traditions and the broader
culture, including constructive critiques of social, political, legal,
and economic practices.

For example, taking inspiration from the powerful 1983 _Charter of the
Rights of the Family_, we might ask: To what extent does public policy
support Family and Life, freedom of education and conscience, a proper
work-life balance, which respects the role of mothers and fathers?  What
do our economic and social policies say to poorer families, particularly
those policies which impact directly on family: the needs of children
and the elderly; tackling the proliferation of drugs, alcohol, gambling
and other addictive behaviours which can destroy home and family life?
How do welfare policies and benefit programmes support families who are
most in need and who are so easily targeted and exploited by loan sharks
and other criminal elements?  How can we better assist young people who
wish to establish a family, mortgage a home, take out insurance, but who
may sometimes be convinced by economic policy to remain single?

Towards a Culture and Language of Engagement
I am convinced that a constructive culture of engagement, rather than a
pointless culture war, is the best way to ensure that the voice of
faith, communicating the Family, can be heard.  It begins with our
conviction that, among the many types of family that are out there, the
Catholic Church's vision of the uniqueness of a faithful and exclusive
union between a married man and a woman and their children, is not
simply for the privacy of our homes and churches.  The Gospel of the
Family is meant for mission.  It is not to be cloistered away from the
cut and thrust of public discourse.

Pope Francis has said, "The family deserves special attention by those
responsible for the common good, because it is the basic unit of
society, which brings strong links of union that underpin human
coexistence and, with the generation and education of children, ensure
the renewal and the future of society."  As the Synod final report put
it: "A society that neglects the family has lost its access to the

The World Meeting of the Families gives us a privileged opportunity to
communicate the Gospel of the Family _ad intra_, and _ad extra_, as good
for society and good for the Church; in short, a message of Joy for the

Thank you for listening.



 ·         Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate
of All Ireland.

 ·         This address was delivered yesterday at the 'Dialogue,
Respect & Freedom of Expression in the public arena' conference in the
Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome, which concludes tomorrow.

FOR MEDIA CONTACT: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long
00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Katie Crosby 00353 (0) 86 862 3298

[1] http://www.catholicbishops.ie
[2] http://www.amoris.ie
[3] http://www.worldmeeting2018.ie
[4] http://international.la-croix.com