Opening of credit to families

The family is an integral part of the Church and it too takes on the task of proclaiming the Gospel.

Andrea Ciucci, Director of International Relations of the Family International Monitor.

If there is one thing I have experienced over and over again during my years of service to the Pontifical Council for the Family, it is the articulate and superabundant vitality of family ministry in the world, profoundly revitalised by the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio of 1981. And if there is one feature of this vitality that has always struck me particularly, it is the fact that many of these realities, whether large international movements or small local associations, are frequently founded by families and led directly by them. We may be in a post-family world, as the title of the CISF 2020 Report states, but this does not mean that families (whether many or few, is not decisive) are particularly active today, in the Church and in the world, proactive, responsibly fertile with children and works.

For me, an Italian priest accustomed to an ecclesial form significantly marked by the commitment, absolutely praiseworthy, of many priests and religious, the discovery of the responsible subjectivity of families in the Church, not even studied too much in the course of my theological studies, has taken the form of a certain surprise that has comforted me (not everything depends on me and my initiatives) and that has asked me to take more than a few steps of conversion (not everything depends on me and my initiatives).

Basically, it is a question of taking note of what the CISF reports have highlighted over the many years of their publication: families are the genome of society. In them, thanks to the fruitful intertwining of genders and generations, the individual and his fundamental social structure are born, and we experience that care which opens us up to the world with a fundamental sense of trust. Even the pillars of faith (the love that gives and generates life, fatherhood, motherhood, brotherhood) are learned in the custom of family days.

This realisation, aided in no small measure by a look at the different realities of the world, imposes a fundamental ecclesiological passage that can significantly support fruitful family ministry: the Church and the family are not two separate subjects (where the former often has to deal with the latter and its failings): families are an integral part of the Church and assume, in the specific nature of their vocation, the task of proclaiming the Gospel. Amoris Laetitia is illuminating in this regard. Pope Francis writes: "The family is thus constituted as a subject of pastoral action through the explicit proclamation of the Gospel and the inheritance of multiple forms of witness: solidarity with the poor, openness to the diversity of persons, the care of creation, moral and material solidarity with other families, especially the neediest, commitment to the promotion of the common good also through the transformation of unjust social structures, starting from the territory in which it lives, practising the corporal and spiritual works of mercy". All this often happens outside the parish or associative meeting place, according to rhythms and languages that are different from the pastoral ones we are commonly used to. A courageous opening of credit towards families and a dutiful recognition of the good done by them are two fundamental steps towards a fruitful and evangelical family ministry, capable not only of supporting the families of the Christian community, but also of restoring a familiar face to the Church itself.

It is precisely the recognition of the generative force of the family experience that calls for a significant change in the way in which this issue is being taught today. For several years now, in the face of the cultural change that is marking our society, we have been running the risk of giving in to the temptation of constantly referring to the past and its progressively absolutized forms. Perhaps we need to regain a slightly more objective outlook. It would be enough, for example, to remember that in Italy, until the beginning of the twentieth century, quite a few women, especially from rural areas, married a man chosen by the family and just met: it happened, over the years, that some of them even fell in love with their husband. Or you only have to watch a few films (such as Olmi's great family fresco The Tree of Wooden Clogs) not to forget that in the past there was often a patriarchal model in which families slept together under the same roof, ate at the same table and prayed the rosary together in the evening.

The assumption of a certain realism and the historical dynamism that characterises it is a powerful medicine for a pastoral ministry that is too often blocked by a lamenting narrative that is as tragic as it is ultimately sterile. The problem is not whether or not we live in a post-family world or how we can defend the traditional family, but whether we are capable (as a society and as a Church) of redefining the meaning of the family genome in contemporary culture and of handing over the task to the younger generations, particularly marked by the experience of technology which the CISF report highlights so well. How do Christian families do this? How does the community as a whole, in its various forms and responsibilities, support them and complement their service?

At this point it is crucial to learn to use the plural, that is to say to recognise that, as Donati (350) rightly says, historical forms change and the intangible family code (the double interweaving of genders and generations already mentioned) is capable of generating (precisely!) different stories and forms. In this sense, family pastoral care should be seen not only as a simple indication of an ideal to which to strive (the family) by means of the gifts of grace, but as an accompaniment that continually enables discernment, that is to say, that spiritual attitude that enables families, caught up in the concreteness of their days and their relationships, to recognise God's will for them.

From this point of view, modernity and the contemporary culture it has generated may not necessarily constitute a mortal enemy for the pastoral action of Christian communities, on the contrary ... particularly fruitful are those pastoral realities that are not afraid to put at the centre, first of all, families, their experiences, their strengths, their limitations, their desires, even the sins of their members. This approach, typical of modernity, which always starts afresh from the human person, creates the conditions for the proclamation of the Gospel to truly resound as the Good News of existence and not as an abstract ideal. This is, after all, the movement offered by Pope Francis in chapter III of Amoris Laetitia, whose title is resoundingly modern: the biblical and theological framework on the family is reread in the light of the concrete reality of families (chapter II) called, as they are, to keep "their gaze fixed on Jesus".

Finally, this departure from the historically characterised human subject in constant search for the meaning of his or her relationships makes it possible to look at the growing demand for family-type recognition of other forms of interpersonal affection in a way that is not exclusively preoccupied. The metaphorical use of the idea of the family (Donati, 30) shows, admittedly in a problematic and provocative way, how much this fundamental social structure is still capable of interpreting each person's desire for love and the generative task connected with it. This is a good starting point for searching together for the truth of every existence.

(From Vita Pastorale)