50 participants from 28 European Bishops’ Conferences met online for the meeting of National Directors for Family and Life, organised by the CCEE’s Family and Life Commission. The meeting, which was due to take place in Vilnius in May 2020, but was cancelled due to the pandemic, was opened by greetings from H.E. Msgr Arūnas Poniškaitis, Vice President of the Family and Life Commission and Fr Martin Michalíček, CCEE General Secretary.
The first address, entitled “Influence of the Pandemic on the Family: Pastoral Care in the Style of Family Communion”, was provided by Prof. Gabriella Gambino, Undersecretary of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. Starting from an in-depth analysis of the current social situation and the impact that the pandemic has had, and is still having, on families and the Church, Professor Gambino stressed the importance of the vocation of families and their reciprocal relationship with the Church, presenting them as two institutions that build on each other and are called to be models of communion. She then reiterated the missionary vocation of the family that should be encouraged by the Church so that families are able to fully embrace this vocation and are helped to move from being passive users of the services provided by the Church to being a sacramental presence of Christ in the world, a concrete missionary conversion, as indicated by Amoris Laetitia, that considers families not just as recipients, but as protagonists of pastoral action.
Lastly, she advocated for communal work to overcome the difficulties of involving the laity in family pastoral care and help build an ecclesial ‘we’: “To this end, the first step to be taken is to dedicate oneself to the formation of the laity, and in particular of spouses and young people, so that they understand the importance of their ecclesial mission. Groups and all those organisations, including parish ones, which help to form families on an ongoing basis on the importance of dedicating their time to the mission and life of the Church, can be of great help.”
Only then can we “imagine a Church-Communion in action: a pastoral care with families which, starting from spousal communion, can be translated into a shared and unitive pastoral style, with complementarity and communion between vocations. The Church on the move can find a new pastoral vitality. The Pope has reminded us several times that especially “in these times no one is saved alone.” Not even the Church: she needs her people, families, their model of life and love, who know how to make themselves close to those in difficulty.”
In his address, entitled “Secularism: What does it mean to be human?”, H.E. Msgr Philip Egan, Bishop of Portsmouth, England, confronted the issue of secularism and its implications for anthropology: it “is based on a flawed anthropology that cannot lead to authentic human flourishing”.
After an historical excursus on the concept of secularism, seen more as an attitude than a system of thought which consists in living life horizontally without God and without the vertical dimension of religion, relegating the latter to the private sphere, the prelate shows how it is “flawed, unsustainable and ultimately destructive of human flourishing. It is founded on a theological error, the denial of God and living as if God does not exist. By removing religion from everyday life, secularism deprives people of the spiritual resources they need”.
Secularism, then, “erroneously disconnects morality from religion. Religion grounds ethics and so a loss of religion dissolves the foundations of morality. Without religion and the natural law, novel concepts of right and wrong, of sexuality and family-life, of the dignity and value of human life, emerge”.
And again, “the disconnection of morality and religion in turn undermines the social, leading to individualism and the ‘dictatorship of relativism.’ Relativism is the view that truth is relative: what is true for you is not true for me. Because truth has no basis in religion or the natural law, it depends on what I think or feel”.
The effects of such an ideology are many, including the shift towards individualism and relativism, as well as the adoption of scientism and the belief that all human needs can be met by matter.
The COVID pandemic has helped to highlight the limits of secularism and the complexity and depth of human needs beyond the material. It “made people review their priorities and values, the meaning of life and death, the role of religion. Care of the poor, concern for the sick and the elderly, and the future for the young, have become central.”
“The Church’s most effective response to secularism – concluded Msgr Egan – is surely the new evangelisation Pope John Paul II called for, an evangelisation, “new in its ardour, new in its methods, and new in its expression.” Believers themselves need a renewed ardour, a new passion for Christ, so that they will naturally reach out in service and mission to others. This includes new methods, new ways of communicating the Gospel, the use of new media, new art and new approaches. New evangelisation is not a programme or a form of catechesis; it is about enabling others to have a transforming encounter with the Person of Jesus Christ within His Body the Church, above all, in the Holy Eucharist”.
After discussion with both speakers, the meeting ended with concluding remarks from H.E. Msgr Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Scotland, and President of the CCEE Family and Life Commission, who also led the participants in a moment of prayer.