The family calls Europe into question” “

The words of Card. Peter Erdö, speaker at the extraordinary Assembly planned for Oct 2014

The “new” broad consultation, the “expectations” on the Catholic and secular fronts, the agenda of the “hot” issues that need to be addressed: Cardinal Peter Erdo, archbishop of Budapest and General Rapporteur of the Extraordinary General Assembly scheduled for October of 2014, provided an overview of the next Synod of Bishops on the family, whose preparatory document he presented in the Vatican. The starting point is his vantage point on Europe, whose “family portrait” has contrasting yet stimulating features, like the common “difference” between theory and practice in the field of marriage, that is known in the history of the Church since ancient times. Here is the exclusive interview to the cardinal by M. Michela Nicolais for SIR Europe. Is the wide consultation the most dramatic change of the next Synod on the family?”Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that today we have multiple communication channels, including the Internet. No, because formal consultation is carried out by the bishops who intend to gather information on the ongoing pastoral experiences and problematic issues of the Catholic community at grassroots level. In other words, the wide consultation we intend to carry out through the questionnaire contained in the preparatory document is not a survey of international opinion, and not even a statistical survey on civil society, although certainly statistical data could help us draw an accurate picture of the overall situation”. The 38 questions on the “state” of the family have already prompted expectations, not only on the Catholic front but also on the secular side. Is there a risk that, as relates to the latter, expectations may be disappointed?”The risk is there. Expectations, in fact, may be motivated by groundless concerns, by socio-political pressures of various kinds originating from non-Catholic public opinion. The rumours about specific issues come from certain groups which are not part of the formal consultation: it is the responsibility of the Synod Secretariat to prepare a summary of the responses that will come from dioceses around the world on the basis of which will be compiled, probably in May, the Instrumentum Laboris of the Synod”. Could you give us a snapshot of the family in Europe? “There are processes in society that follow opposite directions. On the one hand, it is evident that the family is under great pressure even for reasons of emigration for economic reasons. In Eastern Europe, millions of families are in a state of emergency because one of its members has fled abroad to work and rarely returns back home, with rather serious consequences. On the other extreme we find the phenomenon of the new generations who leave their homeland with raising concerns in terms of the social and/or political developments in some EU countries. Significantly, attempts to change national laws in matters relating to the family, as in Central and Eastern Europe, along with the cultural pressures that come from the outside, are also part of the picture. But there are positive signs, such as the awareness of the importance of the family also in the civil realm, with the encouragement of measures to support and sustain the family. Within many Catholic communities there are smaller communities of families created at parish level: in Hungary the majority of parishes are coordinated by a community of families who mutually help each other in running most of parish life”. What about the younger families?”They are the most penalized by the difficulty linked to finding a job and a home, undermining their yearning to have a family. Today the presence of children is one of the causes of poverty in families. So many youths end up having smaller families that the ones they dreamt of. Indeed, situations vary according to the surrounding environment and the quality of services available. In Hungary, for example, the is an average of 1.3 children per woman, but in the Hungarian communities in Brussels there are many families with four children …”. De facto couples, gay marriages, divorced and remarried: these are just some of the “challenges” regarding the family addressed in the preparatory document of the Synod. Whence to start?”Before the question of divorced and remarried couples came to the fore, the major phenomenon regarded couples living together with a certain stability without having contracted civil nor religious marriage: in many European countries they constitute the absolute majority. The reason? They don’t want to commit themselves. 80% of the youths that wish to celebrate marriage have lived together for a few years. It is a sign that, perhaps unconsciously, their conception of marriage is very close to the Christian one … “. Can this be a new point of departure for the “re-evangelization” of marriage? “We mustn’t let ourselves be too impressed. In almost all historical epochs there has been a remarkable difference between the level of theoretical acceptance of marriage and acceptance in practical terms, which is rather different. Georges Duby had envisaged a multi-secular struggle to make Christian marriage accepted by the Franks in the Middle Ages, while parish baptism registers in the post-Tridentine Church in various villages show that children born out of wedlock were the majority”.

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