A pastoral that faces the challenges

Interview on the Instrumentum laboris with Elizabeth Davies, responsible for the family sector of the bishops' Conference of England and Wales

It’s a deep-rooted commitment of Catholic families of England and Wales. Elizabeth Davies, mother of four, now adult, a recent grandmother, is in charge of the family sector of the Bishops’ Conference. She has coordinated the project “My family, my Church”, launched in 2004, through which the bishops involved 15 thousand families in a series of diocesan conversations bringing together priests, mothers and fathers to reflect on how to place the family unit at the centre of the life of the Church. Silvia Guzzetti interviewed her for SIR Europe starting with the path leading to the next Synod. The recent Instrumentum Laboris speaks about young people’s fear of failure when considering the possibility of getting married and the major economic commitment that marriage entails. Do you consider this an accurate analysis of the reasons why Catholics in England and Wales marry less than in the past? “The Instrumentum laboris has hit the mark. It’s true that many young people feel discouraged at the idea of getting married because they have seen so many marriages fail, among their relatives and friends, not to mention their own parents. And it is also true that some marriages are very expensive. To this lack of trust the Church must respond with appropriate services to help couples make this important decision. In the diocese of Westminster we bring married couples in schools to talk about their experience so that young people will not idealise marriage imagining it as a purely romantic experience. We explain that it’s normal to have discussions and also to argue and try to prepare couples to get a grip on the first years, providing among other things a counselling service in case of difficulties and for when they need additional support that is absolutely normal to receive”. The document also mentions “the importance of developing an appropriate pastoral care towards families formed by conjugal unions with differences in worship, whose numbers are increasing not only in the lands of mission but also in Countries with a long Christian tradition. “Now 15% of our marriages, in England and Wales, are interfaith marriages, between Catholics and a follower of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or other religions, and this raises problems for their children’s education, rites of passage and at the time of death. Our interfaith couples do a huge work because they try to understand what it means to have faith in God. Ensuring their adequate pastoral care is an important and delicate job. I do not think that in the upcoming Synod in October there will be time to discuss this but I would like the issue to be on the to do list and that were given the guidelines by the Pontifical Council on Interreligious Dialogue to the various Bishops Conferences which could then work on the details of the pastoral care of these situations, also considering that the cultural contexts of these marriages are different in various parts of the world”. What has been the process of English Catholic families starting with the questionnaire presented on the eve of the Synod of past October? “That first questionnaire had truly caught the imagination of our people who took to heart the invitation of Pope Francis to express their opinion. We received as many as 16 thousand responses from all 22 dioceses of England and Wales. The council of the Synod decided, however, not to publish them and, therefore, when our bishops issued a second questionnaire the response was cooler. I understand the reasons for the decision not to make the outcomes of the questionnaire public, but I also think thatat local level the disappointment was great. I hope that at the next Synod of October, the Pope will tell bishops to publish those answers when they go back home so that they may be used as an element of comparison on the reality of the family. I also hope that more lay people, especially those with pastoral experience with families, will be invited to Synod”.

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