19 March, the Solemnity of St Joseph, marks the beginning of the year that Pope Francis wanted to dedicate to Amoris laetitia, the Apostolic Exhortation published in 2016. That document has not yet been received everywhere in the world, Cardinal Kevin Joseph Farrell, president of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life and Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, explains to Famiglia Cristiana.
Why a whole year?
The individualistic culture in which we are immersed has weakened family ties, the legal institution of marriage has become extremely fragile, and the new generations are struggling not only to understand the substantial difference between marriage and cohabitation, which they often equate, but also to grasp the meaning of the nuptial sacrament.
In many ecclesial contexts, family ministry, faced with these challenges, has gone on for too long as if nothing were changing. But the two Synods on the family have aroused a new sensitivity, highlighting new needs and requirements of families, and enabling the Church to listen to all God's people: pastoral workers, families, priests and bishops. From these emerged the urgency of renewing pastoral action in the light of the challenges posed by reality. The "Amoris laetitia Family Year" is therefore intended to be a strong moment to push this pastoral renewal further throughout the world, with the aim of ensuring that the local Churches really get alongside families, walking with them through the difficulties that, especially now with the pandemic, are becoming unsustainable in some contexts. In this sense, it is necessary to reread and deepen the text of Amoris laetitia in order to grasp the strategies and concrete proposals it contains in relation to the value and meaning of marriage, the education of children, how to live love in the family, and closeness to situations of illness, poverty, discomfort, violence, dependency and loneliness. A year is far too short a time to try to set out this reflection in a decisive manner and reach out not only to the local Churches, but also to families, so that they can feel an active part of the Church.
Five years after its promulgation, how is the application of this text progressing? Are there differences between Europe and other continents?
It is a fact that Amoris laetitia has not yet been implemented everywhere in the world. And it is undeniable that this limited application was initially conditioned, especially in Europe and on the American continent, by the debate on chapter 8 (on fragility and rupture, ed.). In recent years, however, there has been growing attention from many quarters on aspects relating to preparation for marriage, the accompaniment of spouses, the education of children, intergenerational solidarity, the role of families in the Church, the falling birth rate and openness to life: issues that are gradually becoming priorities for a renewed family ministry. After all, these are the issues that concern the vast majority of families in the world: issues of daily life that have important implications for the life of families and in respect of which they require support in order to know how to better orient themselves and be able to discern.
What indications, including practical ones, does your Dicastery suggest in order to put this important document to good use?
Among the priorities that emerge most insistently, preparation for marriage and accompaniment of married couples are perhaps those that most challenge us as a Church. In order to respond adequately to these challenges, it is really necessary to envisage the active involvement of families and spouses who, alongside the pastors, become close to engaged couples and couples in their first years of marriage. Their example of life is needed to nurture the desire for family love in the youngest and to make tangible the immense horizons of growth and resilience that the family possesses, when it is rooted in Christ.
What is the teaching that this text proposes to civil society and also to non-believers?
Amoris laetitia, in number 52, reminds us that "no one can think that weakening the family as a natural society founded on marriage is something that benefits society". The fragility of bonds has serious consequences not only for the happiness of individuals, but also for society and the economy. The disintegration of families generates poverty, social isolation and loneliness. The family is the natural place for human generation, and this applies to believers and non-believers alike. Indeed, every person needs free love and lasting, reliable bonds in order to mature and contribute in turn to the common good. Marriage, not only as a sacrament but also as a legal institution, brings with it values that are fundamental to every man: stability, trust and fertility. Ties built on mutual commitment lead people to be generous and generate life around them, thus also giving hope for the future. On this aspect, one can also find some affinities between the Magisterium of the Church, secular thought and the teachings of other religions.
In Amoris laetitia, marriage is defined as a sacrament that has within it a transforming force for human love. Why is it that today, even among Catholics, the choice to marry is increasingly marginal?
The data on the number of marriages are not comforting, nor are those on births. The causes are to be found not only in economic and cultural obstacles, but also in the profound lack of hope and trust in the future on the part of the new generations. Another cause is that marriage is not perceived as the answer to a vocation, but as a choice that is often put on the same level as finding a job or obtaining a degree. In reality, marriage is a response to a call from God to the couple. It is a "yes" to a couple's vocation to live a life project in Christ forever. In youth ministry, this aspect must be included in a remote preparation for marriage of young people, and I would say also of children. The fact that children and young people today often do not have positive examples of married life around them does not exclude the fact that the Church can present to them the beauty of marriage as a vocation, by seeking help in youth ministry from the testimony of so many Christian spouses and fiancés who live and show others this beauty.
In this area, the Church faces an enormous challenge, which calls into question the responsibility of us pastors.
What does Amoris laetitia have to say to separates, remarried divorcees, singles and widowers?
The spirit of the document is one of tenderness and closeness, which become all the more important the more fragile the persons and their family ties are. In this willingness to listen and to be close lies the basic message: the Church is a home for all those who seek God, even, and I would say especially, for those who are alone and in difficulty.
Source: Famiglia Cristiana