Translated by Charles Connolly
The 10th World Meeting of Families, which took place in Rome (June 22-26), was an oasis of hope for the family and a glimpse of optimism for the future. About two thousand delegates chosen by the Bishops’ Conferences, the Synods of the Oriental Churches and international ecclesial entities traveled to Rome to participate in the meeting.
Formation and accompaniment seem to be the key words of this year’s meeting. Pope Francis wanted it to serve as the culmination of the Amoris Lætitia Year of the Family proclaimed by him just one year ago.
We have been hearing for some time that preparation for marriage is essential, with special insistence on the importance of remote preparation. At the same time, being born into a Christian family and having more or less established family values does not guarantee marital success. Marriages that experience difficulties and often end up breaking up are not only those of non-believers, but of people who could be said to belong to the Church.
Gabriella Gambino is the undersecretary at the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life and main organizer of the event. She explains to Omnes some of the key ideas present in this World Meeting of Families.
Isn’t it enough to know the theory about marriage and the couple’s relationship for a marriage to last? Do you think we need to make young people more aware of the need to prepare themselves for this new adventure?
I think that an essential point in preparing for marriage is to be able to listen to the witness of other married couples who are already living married life. They know the difficulties involved and they’ve also learned strategies to take advantage of the grace of the sacrament of matrimony. The Christian sacrament marks the difference between a civil marriage and a canonical one: only in one is the presence of Christ found between the spouses. Before marriage, no one experiences this presence. It’s something beautiful, a gift, that can only be experienced in marriage itself.
But you have to form oneself for it as engaged couples, placing Christ at the center of your lives. We must know how to listen and learn to grasp with precision the signs of his presence in our concrete daily life, in the simplest things. If you don’t learn to do this from an early age, with a remote preparation for marriage and then a gradual preparation to lead you gradually to the sacrament, it’s hard to learn to do it later on and all at once. Remote preparation makes it possible for young people to find faith and to learn to recognize Christ already during courtship.
For this, the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life has recently published Catechumenal Itineraries for Married Life. These pastoral guidelines for the particular Churches are intended as a kind of preparation for marriage; even though many journalists have labeled the document as a ‘memorandum of sexual morality.’
Itineraries is a fundamental tool for rethinking the entire pastoral care of vocations in the Church. It is essential to accompany children in understanding the beauty of marriage and the family, for they are a gift within the Church. And parents must be helped to accompany their children in this discovery because they can’t do it alone. Today the family faces many challenges: smartphones, fast and unlimited access to the Internet and so on. Often models of life are being put forward that are completely different from what parents expect for their children, starting with the vision of affectivity and sexuality.
The purpose of Itineraries is to put parents on a path early on, to really help them cultivate values such as chastity, because such values serve to protect children in their ability to prepare themselves for total love, lasting a lifetime. And today it’s very important not to leave families to tread this path alone.
Another of the topics discussed at the congress was that of the education of young people in affectivity and sexuality. There are many parents who still view these topics as taboo subjects, very superficially. Do you think there has been a change in outlook? Are the new generations less afraid to discuss these topics with their children or with their friends?
The subject of sexuality is a complex one within the family. Certainly, today, young people are being tried and challenged by the many messages they’re receiving from a complex world. Parents need to be well trained in these areas. They have to keep up with the times by developing greater relational or empathic skills, and by dialoguing with their children on these issues, right from childhood and adolescence into adulthood.
The way we talk to our younger children about affectivity and sexuality won’t be the same as when they’re sixteen or seventeen years old. But when that time comes, it will be very important to have begun a dialogue with them from a young age, and to keep that dialogue open. This will allow us to address these issues and the questions they come up with later on: otherwise they can become a source of interior anxieties. Because nowadays, young people are forced to undergo very intense experiences early on, that mark their later human and spiritual life.
What difference does it make to learn these things at home, in the family, from watching their parents’ example, rather than to learn them outside, perhaps through cell phones or other devices in general?
They need to receive values at home if they are to know how to make better use of what they read on the Internet or what they find around them, in their own environment. From experience, we know that, if children have reading tools—critical tools to be able to observe the reality around them, and also to evaluate it intelligently—they are able to dialogue with this reality calmly.
In a certain sense, we’ve lost the certainty that God blesses marriage and gives spouses the grace to face all the difficulties they will encounter along the way. How can the sacramental value of marriage be revitalized?
First of all, with the witness of other spouses who live this grace and who can attest to its presence. Young people need to see, they need real testimonies: nothing is more convincing than a testimony. Secondly, we must accompany engaged couples and spouses, so that they learn to pray together. It’s only praying together that really makes the presence of Christ alive among them. It’s different from praying separately; and it has a very different effect on the couple, on the unitive dimension of their marriage. This is an aspect we have to work on a lot so that, especially in communities, in parishes, spouses are really accompanied when they pray together.