The APC holds a key function to provide reflection and input to the Cardinal from the perspective of Catholics throughout the archdiocese. The APC consists of representatives from parishes throughout Cook and Lake Counties. APC members are active in their parishes and deaneries. They contribute input received from local discussions as well as their own perspectives. Further, input is provided by standing committees of the APC that meet prior to the APC General meeting.
The Cardinal met with the APC on January 19, 2013 to discuss and reflect upon the second question he submitted to the APC (“The family is the basic unit of society according to Catholic social teaching. What can parishes do to prevent further breakdown of the family unit?”). APC members first presented to the Cardinal their individual responses then Cardinal George offered his reaction to these APC ideas and recommendations.
PARISH LEVEL ACTIONS for BUILDING FAMILY TEACHING AND SUPPORT
A myriad of direct family-centric faith activities and thoughts were presented. These items included Pre-Cana teaching sessions to dealing with economic issues and even handling end-of-life aspects when it challenges a family. A prominent call was made for more family life teaching in Pre-Cana sessions and new outreach efforts to new parents as they grow their families. It was felt that early family life is a critical point of need to establish a foundation of a faith aligned family. Also, it was highlighted that parishes need to put forth faith-sharing activities for families that are structured beyond and “outside the box” of traditional family church actions. Parishes should work to accomplish extended interface with families by bolstering Family Mass with family missions, family faith groups, and family relationship building programs where the individual roles of family members are reviewed: mother-daughter, siblings, and father-son relationship roles within families. Further extension of church into family may slow the erosion of a family unit by bringing in family unity and examples with active faith practice via “street” level family actions. Invite families to participate in charitable deeds for less fortune families: clothing drives, home maintenance and other outbound help and health support actions.
ATMOSPHERE OF OPENNESS from the CHURCH
A climate of open arms and support should be fostered and exhibited to parents at the parish level through broader diocesan programs of understanding and teaching. Parents need awareness and the comfort of knowing they can call upon church for help when they are struggling to keep their family together. Such parental need for support must be open to traditional family structure or single parent families. From pastor to assistant clergy to staff to teachers and coaches all should put forth a welcoming outreach pillar for parents. Maintaining and expanding the church’s accessibility to all families is a good relationship for any family. Collectively families as well as individual family members need to see a means of personal contact with parish/church activities being both a gathering point and resource. Therefore, they will feel and see family focused examples of fundamental understanding by the church and the rewards of family living.
Cardinal George responded with great respect to all for the thoughts and efforts that comprise such a wide range of response to his second question. He commented that family is both a gift from God and a social creation and not just a biological act. Family is a true blessing from God that must be nurtured and respected. Christ held his position in the Holy Family before his public ministry and so showed us the importance of family life. Church has been driven to find ways to help the family and has also shown sensitivity to family units outside the historical perception of two parents being the only family in society.
He commented that today there are many active programs available for family support and especially for assistance in being Catholic parents. He did say the responses indicated a need for open and increased communication of these programs. While there are many fine programs, the communication and full awareness of these resources have yet to reach a wide awareness. It is clear that communication of current family programs is a big challenge for the archdiocese and each parish. He referred to the archdiocesan website where family resources and contacts are already available. Reaching families with new communication vehicles is also vital. Letting people know where to find help is perhaps as critical as the program structure.
He sincerely thanked all for the great depth of commitment they gave to the question. He felt it demonstrated that families are loved and do hold a great role in our society. Family is and must always be a defining example and practice of Catholic faith.