As many of you may well remember, this Sunday’s celebration of the Holy Family at Nazareth is my nemesis? I have long found it difficult to be comfortable in preaching...
The Family Life Desk of the Department for Evangelization adds its voice of concern for the suffering undergone in families through recently reported incidents of abuse and violence. Family conflict is a reality in too many families. High levels of abuse and violence in particular against their most vulnerable members are a challenge to the Church and society.
A common call from Pope John Paul II was “families become what you are, the little church of the home.” In becoming such a domestic church all aspects of family living are borne in mind and the first task of a family is to build its own intimate community of life and love. Pope Benedict in Africae Munus, the Apostolic Exhortation of the 2nd African synod reinforced this call from the perspective of reconciliation, justice and peace when he stated that the “family is the first and indispensable teacher of peace.” It is there that the fundamental elements of justice and love, authority of the parents, concern for members who are weaker and readiness to accept and forgive one another are lived and taught. He states, “whenever these fundamental experiences are lacking, society as a whole suffers violence and becomes in turn the progenitor of more violence.” AM43
The Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference is conscious of the importance of strengthening family relationships and a number of initiatives exist. The SACBC Family Life Desk, diocesan family offices, movements and programmes are available resources. The 2006 Pastoral letter to Families and Pastoral Forums invited greater support for and celebration of family life too. One important and particularly relevant initiative is the approval by the bishops of the month of May for Family and Life.
The SA Government through the Department for Social Development too recognises the foundational role of families in society. At present the White Paper on Families (November 2012) is awaiting approval. It has identified three strategic priorities; the active promotion of healthy family life, strengthening families and family preservation as a perspective dealing holistically with families as units. An important concept “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” needs to be borne in mind in addressing the current crisis. Yes, the issue of men and the violence perpetrated by some is important. Yes, the issue of women and their need for empowerment and assertiveness matters. Yes, youth and children need value formation and nurturing. All these should be the norm in healthy families.
The Year of Faith and the month of May’s theme of FAMILY FIRST! can be used most profitably to promote and strengthen families at all stages of life. Every diocese and parish, every church department and structure should strengthen its family focus. Whether the particular focus is AIDS or education, development, justice or liturgy we are all relational people, members of a human family and the Family of God in Africa, all called to evangelise. Use the resources of the family apostolate, the movements supporting and promoting marriage and the programmes and publications for particular needs and family enrichment of many kinds that are available. FAMILY FIRST! Families are the first place to learn, teach, experience and pass on the Good News of the FAMILY OF GOD IN THE SERVICE OF RECONCILIATION, JUSTICE AND PEACE.
Bishop Jan de Groef
For more information on the resources for family life and for the FAMILY FIRST! May, Month for Family and Life campaign contact Toni Rowland at the SACBC Family Life Desk, firstname.lastname@example.org or 0825521275.