Over the last decade or so, the Catholic Church in England and Wales has been developing an approach to its ministry that focuses in a particular way on family. Since 2004, a number of projects have taken place, including ‘Everybody’s Welcome’, ‘Home is a Holy Place’, ‘Passing on the Faith’ and ‘Celebrating Family’, which have resulted in networks of volunteers and family groups to support family life in many dioceses. Most recently, A Family Group Movement has been created to carry on this important work, and there is a blog about their activities on the web.
This work is vital in supporting the family, because it is true to say that ‘the future of evangelization depends in great part on the Church of the home.’ (Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 52) We traditionally speak of the family and the home as being a ‘domestic Church’ (Familiaris Consortio, 65), the first Christian community that we belong to in our lives and the place ‘we first learn how to communicate.’ (Pope Francis, ‘Communicating the Family: A Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love’, Message for the 49th World Communications Day, 2015) The coming together of families is a true gathering of the Church, whether that happens in the setting of a family movement or in a parish. After all, what is a parish but a gathering of families? Admittedly, not everyone in a parish has a family of their own, but the family, thought of as a domestic Church, is the smallest cell of the body of Christ, and the most typical one. Even those adult members of the Church who don’t have a family of their own still belong to a family, though it is often the case that they live quite a distance away from their relatives in our contemporary world.
The ‘Justice and Faith Family Action’ project seeks to make a contribution to this family mission, recognizing that the mission of the family is not only to build up the Church. It is that, of course, but it is more than that, too. As Pope St. John Paul II said, in his letter to families, everything that is done ‘to support the family is destined to have an effectiveness that goes beyond its own sphere and reaches other people too and has an effect on society.’ (Familiaris Consortio, 75) As well as being the smallest cell of the Church, Pope Francis points out that ‘the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to each other’. (Pope Francis, Evangelium Gaudium, 66) Because of this, supporting the family can have a positive effect on both Church and society, at all levels. As John Paul II put it: ‘The future of the world and of the Church passes through the family.’ (Familiaris Consortio, 75)
The area that this project concentrates on in order to fulfil this mission is that of justice, peace and care for creation. These are subjects that young people in particular often feel passionately about. It might be the toddler, who can’t walk past a butterfly without stopping, open mouthed, amazed at its beauty. Or it could be the teenager who sees that so much of the way that the world works simply isn’t fair and wants to change the world for the better. It might also be the grandmother or grandfather who knows the names of the stars, or remembers the end of apartheid and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and can share that wisdom with others. As Pope Francis points out, ‘the family comes alive as it reaches beyond itself’, and it is in openness and encounter, in ‘recognizing and creating closeness’ that we receive ‘the love that God bestows upon us and which we then offer to others.’ (‘Communicating the Family’)
This exchange of love, which makes us leap for joy in its presence, even in the womb (cf. Luke 1: 39-56), is the kind of interaction that this website, and the project it seeks to support, is aiming at. We want to help others to share and celebrate the joy we feel in ‘working to build a better future for the world in which we live.’ (Pope Francis, ‘Communicating the Family’) We want to help families to encourage, support and grow together in passionate commitment to a better world for all the inhabitants of our planet. As a ‘family of families’ (Pope Francis, ‘Communicating the Family’), we want to help the Church to grow and flourish in ways that are more authentically human, to help society to become a place where the love of God is more clearly visible. After all, as St Irenaeus said in the early Church, the glory of God is the human being who is fully alive.
Fr Martin Poulsom SDB
Head of Theology, Heythrop College