Accompanying change: Dublin meeting to focus on today's families

IMAGE: CNS photo/Robert Duncan

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The last time a pope visited Ireland,
the Constitution prohibited divorce, gay marriages were unthinkable, abortion
was illegal and physical and sexual abuse at the hands of nuns and priests was
a carefully hidden secret.

That has all changed in the almost four decades since St.
John Paul II visited the country in 1979.

Pope Francis will visit Dublin and Knock Aug. 25-26, mainly for the World
Meeting of Families. But he also will meet Irish government leaders and is
expected to meet with survivors of abuse.

“Ireland is a country that has suffered tremendously,
and suffered at the hands of the church, also — so many cases of abuse: sexual
abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse,” said Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, the Irish-born
prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, which helped organize
the World Meeting of Families.

Revelations of the extent of the abuse and the long-delayed
response of church officials have devastated Irish Catholics, sent church
attendance plummeting and contributed strongly to the waning influence of the
Irish hierarchy in public discourse.

“Ireland is certainly a different country today”
from what St. John Paul experienced in the late 1970s, Cardinal Farrell told
Catholic News Service. “The church was a powerful force in Ireland — for
good or for bad, it’s not my position to judge — but, certainly, that is not
the Ireland of today.”

The people of Ireland and the Catholic Church in Ireland
must find ways to work together and support each other in dealing with the new,
multicultural, pluralistic reality of the country, he said.

“Pope Francis has tried to teach us that over the last
five years,” he said. “You’ve got to remember: People aren’t the way
we would like them to be; they are the way they are. And we have to bring the
message of God and the word of God to people where they are, in this place, at
this particular moment.

The changes in society — not just in Ireland — and in the
church also have dictated changes in the World Meeting of Families and its “pastoral
congresses,” which since 1994 have gathered an international group of bishops,
theologians, members of Catholic movements and Catholic families to strengthen
their work and witness about the Catholic vision of marriage and family life.

The Dublin congress
Aug. 22-24 will continue that core mission but has been designed to be
more attractive to and welcoming of all families, including those who find some
of the church’s teachings challenging, he said. Participants can attend workshops ranging from
cooking demonstrations to discussions about outreach to migrant and refugee
families; and from fostering family prayer to welcoming LGBT people and their

“As Pope Francis says, we have to adjust to the reality
with which we find ourselves,” Cardinal Farrell said. “Catholics
today are not so expressive of their Catholic identity, of their married
identity, but I believe that they are seeking.”

For example, he said, more couples under the age of 40 have
registered for the Dublin gathering than for any of the previous world meetings,
and some 37,000 people have registered for the congress.

The entire World Meeting of Families 2018 is focused on Pope
Francis’ 2016 letter,
“Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), which offered
his reflections on modern family life.

Cardinal Farrell said he hoped the meeting and the pope’s
visit would help spark “a renewed consciousness of the beauty of marriage
and of the beauty of family” and, even more, that “people would
become enthused about helping each other.”

In societies where people are increasingly isolated from
each other and live far from the rest of their extended families, he said, the
traditional supports for a strong, healthy marriage and family are more
difficult to find.

Pope Francis made no changes to Catholic doctrine in
“Amoris Laetitia,” the cardinal said. But there is “a pastoral
change, a way of dealing with married couples” starting from the
“practical reality” of their own lives.

“It’s about the practicality of loving and caring and
living marriage according to the word of God,” he said. “People are
searching for this.”

“We understand that the world has changed,” the
cardinal said. “We don’t judge anybody, but we believe in what we believe
as Catholics” and want to help those seeking assistance.

Cardinal Farrell attracted some strong reaction in early
July after he said in an interview that priests are not the best people to
prepare and accompany couples for married life. “They have no credibility;
they have never lived the experience,” he was quoted as saying.

“Priests have an important role to play,
obviously,” he told CNS July 24. “That’s a foregone conclusion; we
are talking about a sacrament that people are preparing to receive.”

“Marriage preparation should be done under the
direction of a priest,” he said, but always with couples who are trained
and “can connect with young people today.”

“Young couples need support,” he said. And that
ministry belongs predominantly to other married couples because the challenges usually
are not theological or moral, but are questions related to “the practical,
everyday reality of living life with a person.”

“We have to accompany people where they are in their
lives, not where we would hope they were,” Cardinal Farrell said. And for that, “we
need couples. We need laypeople, people who are experienced, people who have
walked the walk.”

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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