Adopting a Family Perspective

This article looks at the family and its relationship to the Catholic Church.

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“Every parochial community must become more vividly aware of the grace and responsibility that it receives from the Lord in order that it may promote the pastoral care of the family.  No plan for organised pastoral work at any level, must ever fail to take into consideration the pastoral care of the family.”  Familiaris Consortio, 70

The impact of Familiaris Consortio is perhaps more easily traced from a historical perspective. It had a clear impact on the Papacy of Blessed Pope John Paul II. A review of the documents published under his Pontificate illustrates that his concern for marriage and family never wavered and that he followed his own recommendation by incorporating a family perspective throughout his writings.

Across the world, dioceses, parishes and Bishops’ Conferences looked to Familiaris Consortio for guidance on how best to serve families, what initiatives to put in place to enable that “mutual exchange of presence and help among all the families” which is noted in paragraph 69 as the most effective and most accessible form of pastoral care of family life.

The United States Bishops declared a decade for the family in 1980 and the next ten years saw a series of publications and initiatives aimed at incorporating a family perspective into existing church ministries and services. The principles of a family perspective have been incorporated into pastoral plans around the world.

In England and Wales, the development of family ministry within dioceses can clearly be traced back to before the Synod. In more recent times, the United Nations Year of the Family in 1994 provided an impetus for further diocesan initiatives with the Bishops’ Conference Committee for Marriage and Family Life coordinating and supporting these.

What is Family Ministry?

“Family ministry is of very special interest to the Church. By this we mean efforts made by the whole People of God through local communities, especially through the help of pastors and lay people devoted to pastoral work for families. They work with individuals, couples, and families to help them live out their conjugal vocation as fully as possible. This ministry includes preparation for marriage; help given to married couples at all stages of married life; catechetical and liturgical programmes directed to the family; help given to childless couples, single-parent families, the widowed, the separated and divorced, and, in particular, to families and couples labouring under burdens like poverty, emotional and psychological tensions, physical and mental handicaps, alcohol and drug abuse, and the problems associated with migration and other circumstances which strain family stability.”   
Message to Families from the World Synod of Bishops, 1980


Dr David Thomas
Dr Thomas attended the Synod as a theological adviser, or peritus, to the American bishops. He reflects on the relationship between parish life and family life.


Letter to Families
A letter from Pope John Paul II at the start of the 1994 “Year of the Family”

A Family Perspective in Church and Society
The 10th Anniversary edition of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Report

20th Anniversary of Familiaris Consortio
Pope John Paul II’s letter to the Pontifical Council for the Family on the 20th anniversary of the publication of Familiaris Consortio

Christian Families, Signs of the Credibility of the Gospel
A press release from the Holy See Press Office on the Pontifical Council of the Family, dated 25 November 2011