The XIV Ordinary General Assembly Synod of Bishops on the Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World will be held October 4 – 25, 2015. The responses gathered from Catholics around the world will form the platform for discussions.
This brief summary of the responses from the people of the Diocese of Camden is intended to provide an overview. The full 24 page response is available upon request.
Response from the Diocese of Camden
Recently the people of the Diocese of Camden, along with all Catholics of the world, were invited to take part in gathering input for the upcoming XIV Ordinary Synod on The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World. After a thorough and prayerful reading of the survey questions, a process was decided upon which would make the questions available to as many of the faithful in our diocese as possible. This process was developed in conjunction with the Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Metuchen with participation by the office of Renew International and the Archdiocese of New York. Some questions were given directly to specific ministry groups within the Camden diocese: Priests, Deacons, Diocesan Staff including Tribunal staff, Catholic Charities staff, Seminarians and those in Lay Ministry formation along with parish marriage preparation teams including Engaged Encounter and mentor couples, and the Marriage Encounter team.
Questions deemed best addressed by the laity were divided into 3 categories:
Marriage & Parenting
Answers were gathered on these 3 themes in 2 ways – with all materials available in English and Spanish:
- Pastoral Conversations were held in a number of parishes throughout the Diocese.
- On-line surveys were available to everyone.
The questions relating to each theme were reshaped in order to best gather the information in the two formats used. The responses from both formats have been provided to the respondents’ parishes and to those parishes where Pastoral Conversations were held. Parishes indicated a desire for further discussion in the parish or for use in planning efforts.
Findings from the efforts outlined were used in formulating the Diocesan response which, after approval by our bishop, was sent to the U.S. Bishops’ Conference for inclusion in their response to the Vatican.
The survey was addressed to the Catholic Church throughout the world. Responses indicated that some issues considered to be of vital importance to Catholics in the U.S. are not necessarily as important to Catholics in other parts of the world. Answers to this question “What missing aspects should be included?” will help the Vatican gain a deeper understanding of the situations of Catholics today in the various settings around the world. Local answers listed support for the ‘sandwich generation’ (those caring for children and aging parents simultaneously), pastoral care for those suffering from addictions, and support for blended families as aspects of family life today which were not covered by the survey questions.
Part 1: Listening: The Context and Challenges of the Family
On Parish Support for family life
Respondents named many different ways in which their local parishes help families today. Small Christian Communities for faith-sharing; Stephen Ministry for companioning and supporting people in a variety of circumstances; parish-based support for the bereaved, homebound, unemployed, divorced and those struggling with addictions were among things named. Many also mentioned parish food pantries, St. Vincent de Paul Society efforts, and involvement with local outreach to the homeless. Plans to establish and/or increase the parish community’s awareness of justice concerns and social action needs in the wider community were named by many as things to do next.
On Reaching out to those not connected
All responses indicated a sincere desire to reach out; at the same time, of universal concern was connecting to those ‘of the community, but not in the community’. These are often people in our families, who are not involved in the local parish community life. Many respondents expressed frustration as to how to go about re-connecting with inactive Catholics. The strong faith and joy they experience as Catholics is very much something they want to share.
Part 2: Looking at Christ: The Gospel of the Family
On the Sacrament of Marriage
Concerning the Church’s teaching on the gift of indissolubility in marriage, responses indicated that this is a subject which needs to be talked about more by the Church. People need to hear, learn, and come to know that the vocation of a lifelong marriage is possible. This stands in direct contrast to society’s understanding and needs to be stressed.
Speaking of the grace of the sacrament of marriage, one person called it “a light that shines forth, impossible to hide”. Married couples witness this grace to the community as a couple and as a family.
On Marriage Preparation
Responses indicate the great need for more intentional marriage preparation processes which give time for the couples to reflect on all aspects of married life, thus giving them the time needed to understand the sacrament of marriage. “People need to be brought to a personal encounter with Jesus, finding personal dignity, healing and restoration of the person and enlightenment about human love.” It was suggested that the Church could better understand couples today, along with the development of their relationships, by studying the various influences on them, e.g. social, religious, cultural, economic, and technological factors. Also mentioned was a need for parishes to reach out to the newly married in the community, providing much needed connection with the Church through activities and support, especially during the early years of married life. Mentoring of the engaged couple was cited as an opportunity for couples to experience the wisdom and example of living out the reality of the sacrament.
On Domestic Church
On the subject of the family as “domestic Church,” most responses indicate the awareness of families’ responsibility to evangelize the world, to take the Gospel to the marketplace. Families report witnessing by their volunteer activities not only in the parish but also in the local community. The parish can help to focus this love outward by sharing information about —and encouraging awareness of — the needs in the local community. “Sometimes encouragement to step out and reach out to others is needed.”
Through the survey responses, the many ways which families experience God throughout the diocese came to light. Along with Church-related activities such as attending Mass together, teaching children to pray and praying together at home, people enumerated the many joys of family life where God is truly present. “God is present when a family listens to one another with open hearts and open minds.” God is present in shared laughter, stories, love, and concerns that are part of family life every day.
Some of those responding mentioned finding the tone of some questions to be somewhat off-putting as they presumed a lack of knowledge or understanding on the part of the faithful. For example, the question “How can people be helped to understand that no one is beyond the mercy of God?” presumes those answering don’t understand this. This question was rephrased for use in the Pastoral Conversations and the on-line survey. Fully 100% of those participating stated that they do believe that no one is beyond God’s mercy. The consensus was that the Church could express this truth herself by adopting a more merciful, less judgmental and less defensive stance.
Part 3: Confronting the Situation: Pastoral Perspectives
On the Formation of Priests and Pastoral Workers
Some stated the belief that emphasis on the family as the basic unit of society and the Church is lacking in the formation of priests and lay ministers. Recommendations for change included a greater emphasis on the teachings of Pope St. John Paul II and specific training in family dynamics.
On the Relationship between the Church and Civil Systems
Addressing the relationship between the family, society and civil life, the idea of Catholic Charities serving as a bridge between these entities was put forth. The organization has an ability to educate families on navigating civil systems, while providing civil institutions with information about the realities of families’ lives so as to influence policy and procedures. Catholic Charities can be instrumental in helping the State to define what pro-family laws and programs would mean for the families they serve.
Some parishes are making deliberate attempts to reach out to those couples either civilly married or living together to help them to the fullness of the sacrament of marriage.
On the subject of Annulments
The questions on the process of annulments and annulment accessibility were handled by the staff of the Tribunal Office. Conversation also took place in Pastoral Encounter Sessions which engaged people from the diocese who had been through the process of seeking an annulment. The discussions provided much needed information on the process from the point of view of the laity and afforded many suggestions for additional discussion for staff about the local process.
On Ministry with Catholics who are Homosexual
Almost one-half of people who used the on-line surveys or joined in Pastoral Conversation at the parish said they have family members who are homosexual. Everyone commented on the question’s use of the phrase ‘homosexual tendencies’ as being inaccurate. The most common remark was “it is not a tendency”. Respondents called strongly for pastoral approaches to show love and acceptance, be non-judgmental and preach and act with respect toward all. A theme common to many responses was that God’s love is for all and a welcoming attitude was named as the best pastoral approach for the People of God to embrace when ministering with the marginalized among the community.
On Parents Passing on the Faith
Parents acknowledged their awareness of the responsibility they have to transmit the faith to their children. Many referenced the promises they made to God, the Church community, and their child at Baptism. Parents also expressed belief that exercising their faith, living it, is a critical element in passing it on to their children.
See below for comments made by Catholics of the Diocese of Camden who provided input for the upcoming XIV Ordinary Synod on The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World.
Following are some of the comments made by Catholics of the Diocese of Camden who provided input for the upcoming XIV Ordinary Synod on The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World.
- We attend church together. We attend Catholic school. We participate in parish family events and youth group. We talk regularly about God and our faith in our home. We try to live our faith outside of church day to day.
- Our parish is always reaching out to others.
- Frankly, I wish homilies were more kid friendly and related to serious issues we face in living in this very media saturated world. No matter the church, homilies tend to be adult focused and often do not connect to stresses in our lives. Priests need to learn how to write and deliver sermons that are engaging and vital.
- My children are older but would like to see the parish do more activities to involve parents of young children.
- I honestly feel my parish does a fabulous job in supporting its members whether it be individual, families or children.
- God has blessed us with everything we need — not always what we want, but we’ve been through some hard times and have always had a roof over our heads, food to eat and clothes to wear. Praise God!
- It is a conscious decision to look for God’s grace in all family situations, even unpleasant ones. When there is sadness, disappointment or stress, we thank God for preventing it from becoming worse than it is.
- The very existence of my family reminds me of God’s grace, but I feel closest to God when I hear my children’s perception of Him. My 5 year old asked my husband and I “How big is Jesus?” It stimulated a whole conversation.
- I raised my son in the Catholic tradition, in a Catholic family. He went to 12 years of Catholic school and we (my husband, son and self) always went to church together as a family. My son, now 21, no longer attends Mass. I know we are not the only family experiencing this. I pray for him and invite him to Mass every week.
- We work together, daily, to keep our marriage strong by talking with each other, caring for each other, and being concerned about the stresses that each other faces.
- We live joyously as Christians and try to love everyone as God wants us to.
- I think many people … see the church as a “members only” club. They see all of the restrictions and they don’t realize that we are about God’s love. My boyfriend just returned to the church because he learned this. He has many gay friends and he couldn’t follow a church that rejects them. Now that he knows what we are about, he embraces the church. I think that this message simply needs to be advertised more. No matter who you are, what you have done, what you are going through, God loves you.
- We are all born sinners. It does not mean that God doesn’t love us. Isn’t that the reason Christ entered in? People need to fully understand that redemption. Too many think that people who attend church fancy themselves to be sin free. I think it is quite the opposite.