What is a family? Our understanding of this question is shaped by what we see on TV, read in the newspaper and experience in our own homes. But these realties might have nothing to do with the reality that God desires for the family. The teachings of the Catholic Church are based upon how God defines family and the family’s crucial role in society.
There is a renewed focus on the family in light of the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) Sept 22-27 in Philadelphia. This is the first time the U.S. will be hosting the event and it will feature an appearance by Pope Francis. Organizers are hoping that Catholics everywhere will be inspired to renew their focus on the family, the “domestic church” what it means, why it’s important, how it fits in with God’s plan for us, and how we can become who God created us to be.
While most local Catholics will not be traveling to Philadelphia for the WMOF, there is a local event that will offer some of the same benefits. The purpose of WMOF is to strengthen the sacred bonds of family and the Diocese of Orlando Faith Formation Day Ministry Conference to be held on Sept. 19 has a similar goal.
The event includes more than 120 workshops on various topics pertinent to catechists and lay ministry volunteers. Topics include “Accompanying Families in the Joy of the Gospel,” “Family Faith Sharing with Adolescents,” and “Faith, Family & Forgiveness: Living, Teaching, and Praying Reconciliation.”
“Every year we try to offer workshops that will help catechists and lay ministers be more effective in their ministry,” explains Dennis Johnson, Jr., Secretary for Evangelization and Family Life. “The learning sessions for this year’s conference include numerous topics aimed at helping those involved with ministry to be more cognizant and supportive of the family. Family is the first place where the seeds of faith are planted, nourished, and grown; it is the domestic church. Our hope is to enkindle a deeper faith among families and households through our ministry efforts and the impact they have.”
Another topic to be addressed at Faith Formation Day is “Challenges of the Christian Family Today.” Deacon Felix Montañez and wife Digna will be co-presenters. The couple has experienced challenges in their own marriage as they were separated more than 20 years ago, long before he was ordained a deacon in 2007.
After the separation Deacon Felix started to feel disappointed, sad and lonely. He then started to become more engaged at Mass and involved with church ministries. He also started to pray more and read Scripture. One day his wife noticed the changes in him.
“She said ‘for the first time in my life, I see Christ in you. I like how that looks,’” said Deacon Felix recalling how Digna began to open her heart to him once again.
Digna said the Church “saved our marriage and now we dedicate ourselves to helping other families.” They are both active in Renovación Conyugal, a retreat experience to strengthen marriages. They have spent the last 14 years mentoring couples with troubled marriages.
“There are many challenges facing families today,” said Digna, who is a clinical social worker, counselor and therapist. She said the biggest ones are a preoccupation with technology, materialism and walking away from God.
“We have forgotten the values we grew up with, such as eating together, praying together, spending time together. If we don’t wake up and get back to basics we will become lost,” said Digna, warning of spiritual divorce that leads to drug use and pornography.
They hope that people who attend their workshop will realize that all people – even Christians – experience struggles and challenges. But God is with them through the challenges and by accepting the difficulties and realizing that even a challenge can be a blessing, they can overcome the situation and be even more faith filled.
When it comes to families and their challenges, Pope Francis is calling each person to acknowledge how beautiful, true and good it is to start a family, to be a family today. He said, “We are called to make known God’s magnificent plan for the family…as we accompany them amidst so many difficulties.”