Comment & Analysis

Pope Francis’ visit – keeping the focus on the family
"Any crisis facing the family also becomes a crisis for the Church” writes Michael Kelly

This year will see preparations for the 2018 World Meeting of Families in Dublin intensify. Much focus around the event – so far – has centred on whether or not Pope Francis will attend the gathering. All of the signals are indicating that the Pontiff will indeed be in Dublin in August 2018. No doubt, Irish bishops will discuss it further with Francis when they meet him in Rome on January 20.

A papal visit to a country always arouses excitement – that’s understandable. Many Catholics are keen to hear what message Pope Francis will have for Ireland. But, it’ll be important for the fruitfulness of the World Meeting of Families that we prioritise the fact that the Pope is coming to Ireland precisely for the World Meeting of Families, and not allow the event to become a sideshow to a wider papal visit.

Priorities

‘The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World’ is the theme chosen by Pope Francis for the event. The theme is drawn from the two Apostolic Exhortations of Pope Francis: Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) published in November 2013 and Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) published in April 2016.

Since his election almost four years ago, Pope Francis has made the family one of his key priorities. He has correctly understood that the family, in many ways, is in a crisis and, crucially, when the family is in crisis, the world is in crisis since the family is the basic building block of society. 

The family has also been described as the ‘domestic Church’, so any crisis facing the family also becomes a crisis for the Church. It is in families where children hear the first murmurings about faith. It is also in the family where children learn the values that will guide their lives for decades to come.

Amoris Laetitia is the fruit of a process of reflection led by Pope Francis on the situation of families in today’s world. 

Two sessions of the Synod of Bishops were devoted to the issue, one on the situation of families across the world and the other on how to respond to the challenges facing family life today.

Some of the themes highlighted in Amoris Laetitia are:

  • The love and joy of family is a light to the Church and to the world;
  • the family is a living reflection of the communion of love of the Triune God;
  • Christ bestows on marriage and the family the grace to be a prophetic witness to hope;
  • through the Spirit, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things;
  • through marriage, love is fruitful in generating life and caring for others;
  • the Church is the family of families.

Organisers of the World Meeting of Families will be working hard between now and August 2018 to help guide reflection, thought and action about these issues in parishes and communities across Ireland. 

One of the remarkable things that everyone said after the 2012 International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin was how impressed they were with the thirst that there is for faith and catechetics amongst Irish Catholics. 

This is a hopeful sign that the World Meeting of Families can play a key role in the reform and renewal of the Church here.