Conclusions of Theological-Pastoral Congress

Author: PCF


Pontifical Council for the Family

Here are the final suggestions of the Theological and Pastoral Congresson the theme: "Twenty Years since ‘Familiaris Consortio’: The Anthropological and Pastoral Dimension". Our excerpt begins with a brief overview of the Family as Domestic Church. The representatives of the various Pro-Life and Family Movements met, from 21 to 24 November 2001, in the Old Synod Hall to discuss the lights and shadows of the twenty-year period since the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio was published. Here are the final directions of the Symposium.

The Family: "domestic Church"

The Exhortation has strengthened our conviction that the Christian family is "a Church in miniature", a "domestic Church" (Ecclesia domestica) (cf. Familiaris consortio, n. 49).

The Gospel of the Family is proclaimed in the Church. It is here that the family has received it. This proclamation means growth in the faith, enrichment in catechesis and encouragement to live a life under the banner of self-giving and a common life of solidarity.

But there is also an announcement of the Gospel to non-Christians, to non-believers, and here too the Christian family is called to have a strong missionary commitment. It all passes through the life witness that Christian homes radiate around them: a joyful, warm, welcoming and open witness of the spirit of the Gospel. This is the important message of Familiaris consortio, its mission is the outreach of the family apostolate.

Pastoral Care of the Family

The pastoral care of the family has been greatly improved. As John Paul II said to our Congress, "after the publication of Familiaris consortio, the Church's interest in the family increased, and the pastoral care of families has become the priority in countless dioceses and parishes" (Message to the Congress of the Pontifical Council for the Family on the 20th anniversary of Familiaris consortio 23 November 2001, n. 4; ORE, 9 January 2002, p. 6). We could see pastoral care of the family at work in the experiences presented at our Congress. These experiences, that came from all the continents, show us how many Christian homes are motivated by the love of the truth about the family. They witnessed enthusiastically to the Good News that inspires them. They show the true features of the family to those around them. As the Holy Father says, "in its humility and simplicity, its witness of domestic life can become a most effective vehicle of evangelization" (ibid.).

Pastoral care of the family has made its primary task that of helping young couples, who can be assailed by doubts about their ability to live life-long conjugal fidelity. Those in pastoral care are also aware now of how to provide care for divorced and remarried couples. The criteria provided in Familiaris consortio are clear and have been respected. The Church is not empowered to modify what is based on the teaching of the Lord. But divorced couples who have remarried at a civil ceremony must not feel that they have been put outside the Church. As the Holy Father says: "The Church, which was set up to lead to salvation all people and especially the baptized, cannot abandon to their own devices those who have been previously bound by sacramental marriage and who have attempted a second marriage. The Church will therefore make untiring efforts to put at their disposal her means of salvation" .… "I earnestly call upon (everyone) to help the divorced, and with solicitous care to make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the Church, for as baptized persons they can, and indeed must, share in her life" (Familiaris consortio, n. 84).

This Good News of the family has already beensplendidly illustrated on three occasions at the Holy Father's World Meetings with Families: in Rome in 1994, in Rio de Janeiro in 1997, during the International Year of the Family and then again in the Year 2000 in Rome with the Jubilee of Families. We invite families across the world to the next World Meeting, that will take place in Manila, the Philippines, in January 2003,


At the end of our reflection on the current situation of families and the pastoral care of families, 20 years after the publication of the Post-Synodal Exhortation Familiaris consortio, we wish to formulate several conclusions.

Preparation for Marriage

1. The family community must be considered in the unity of its different members when we consider its reality as the basic good for society and for the Church (Pontifical Council for the Family, Family and Human Rights, 1999, n. 16). We warmly invite those who are preparing for marriage to reflect on their future as they envision it, with the help of the pastors and lay persons who are guiding them. It is a good thing to encourage future spouses to discover how rich their love should be so that they may understand the dimensions of totality, fidelity and conjugal chastity. This understanding must lead them to understand the definitive character of their own obligation to each other.

2. We encourage pastors to present to the faithful preparing for marriage the teaching of the Church on conjugal morality as it is expounded in the Encyclical Humanae vitae and re-presented in the Letter to Families. The pastors have to teach the future spouses. The main goal of the preparation is to bring future couples to accept a basic openness to life as part of their married life.

Christian and catechetical formation

3. We urge Christian parents to take their mission as educators of their children seriously, making sure that they will be well formed. They should be aware that through catechetical formation they pass on to their children their own human and spiritual inheritance. They should be concerned to preserve a Christian atmosphere of freedom, of mutual respect and of moral responsibility in their home. With daily prayer in the family and the first simple explanations that parents must give their children, they will be able to initiate them gradually to the truths of faith.

Responsibility for sexual education

4. Parents must know and feel that it is they themselves who are responsible for the sexual education of their children (Pontifical Council for the Family, Sessualità umana: verità e significato. Orientamenti educativi in famiglia, 8 December 1995). This responsibility remains, even when education for sexuality is provided by other educational communities. It is first and foremost through the witness of their conjugal love and mutual respect that they will be able to invite their children to discover the beauty of responsible love, in the framework of the truth and formation in genuine freedom. Parents will soon be concerned to teach their children the human values of generosity, of self-giving, of respect for others, of self-control and temperance (Familaris consortio, n. 37; Evangelium vitae, n. 92). They will know how to respond without evasion to their children's questions on sexuality. Their answers must be clear, simple, and adapted to what the child can understand and assimilate. Always prepared to listen, parents will be able to enjoy their children's trust, and in this area of formation parents will keep their own special role.

Family rights to be recognized at the institutional level

5. We address politicians and legislators, to urge them to defend the values of the family in the local and regional institutions and in the parliaments (cf. Charter of the Rights of the Family that was presented by the Holy See to all persons, institutions and authorities concerned with the mission of the family in the world today, 22 October 1983). May the voice of the families of the world be heard as a guarantee of the future of nations. May the rights of families be clearly proclaimed and recognized. May families know how to organize themselves at the political level to bring their full weight to bear in the face of militant minorities that are opposed to the family and to life. Real dialogue has to be established in all nations on the fundamental issues of the rights of families, of family education and of the contribution that the State should offer to family education.

Integral vision of the human person and of his vocation

6. It is necessary to situate the contemporary situation of the family and of family life in "an integral vision of man and of his vocation" (Humanae vitae, n. 7; Familiaris consortio, n. 32), in an authentic anthropology. The complex problems connected with the ethics of human life feel the effects of the obscuring of the close connection between the family and procreation as God desires it. This is due to a positivist and scientistic prejudice which breaks the unity on the level of the persons between the family and the service to life, as though procreation were a problem that concerns scientists in their laboratories. Procreation is broken up into a complex of difficult cases, with the risk of losing an integral understanding of the person, the family and of life. We ask the Pontifical Council for the Family to make this matter the object of a special study and to give greater emphasis to the fact that the family founded on marriage, is the subject of procreation in the plan of God the Creator.

Openness to life

7. The openness of conjugal love to life is an urgent aspect to be rediscovered. The contraceptive mentality that Familiaris consortio denounced 20 years ago, unfortunately still infects many of our communities. We need to increase the efforts of pro-family and pro-life presence and action: in society (laws and family policies), in culture (thought, literature, the media), and in Christian communities (renewal of the spirit of openness to life).

8. One of the most important fruits of Familiaris consortio is the renewal of the pastoral care of the family in the Bishops' Conferences, dioceses, parishes, and apostolic movements throughout the Church. In this area considerable progress has taken place in the past 20 years.

Pastoral care of marriage preparation

9. Despite all that has been achieved, there is still much to be done. There are still many dioceses in which the pastoral care of families lacks adequate structures. Pastors frequently express the urgent need for the formation of pastoral workers. Here, the work of the Institutes for the Study of Marriage and the Family, and the Centres for Responsible Procreation are proving extraordinarily fruitful. We ask that they receive greater attention, so that in union with the Magisterium of the Church and integrated into the intellectual, scientific, social, political and juridical reality of our countries, their role in forming effective agents of family ministry may develop ever more.

Refugee families

10. Today, more than ever, refugee families are a serious problem. They receive asylum in temporary shelters, or in refugee camps, but often lack what is strictly necessary and are not protected by the authorities who accept them. They can be subject to pressures in the area of reproductive health, thatincludes their being forced to fall back on abortion, sterilization or "emergency" contraception. A document (Pontifical Councils for Health Pastoral Care, for Migrants and Itinerant People and for the Family: TheReproductive Health of Refugees. A Note for the Bishops' Conferences,Vatican City, 14 September 2001) was recently published by the Holy See to invite the local Churches to show concern for these families, to see that their rights are respected and to offer them the defence they might need.

Parishes principal places for pastoral care of families

11. Parishes must be the principal place for family ministry within the global exercise of the Church's pastoral care. The courses of preparation for marriage and forms of family catechesis that are an important educational means are not usually developed. It is important to ensure the collaboration of prepared couples and individuals who come from the parishes and apostolic movements. In this area, we recommend to bishops, parish priests and the leaders of Catholic organizations to confirm the spirit of solidarity and complementarity, that will contribute to an effective family apostolate.

12. Centres of Family Guidance are turning out to be effective sources of support for the pastoral care of families. They are intended to be local units that support families in the social, juridical, ethical, pastoral, responsible procreation sectors where they are very helpful for families.

Let us look to the future with determination and hope

Let us look to the future with determination because, as members of Christ's Church, committed in different capacities to the family apostolate of this Church, we feel responsible before God and before men, for the health of families, for their vitality, their balance, their future. This responsibility cannot be limited merely to private, domestic or spiritual aspects of the family, but must extend to the social and political areas. Those who defend the family, its values, its vital role in society, must make their voice heard at local and regional meetings, in national parliaments, in international organizations, wherever the future of families is decided. For this activity, the Charter of the Rights of the Family is a fine tool to use for reference and dialogue. The pastoral care of families in faithfulness to its goals has to promote commitment in the political arena, to make the rights of the family accepted in society. This is a service to humanity.

Let us look to the future with hope, because the Lord of the family and of life is always at work. He gives life to families of the whole world, and gives them the necessary energy to remain faithful to their vocation and mission. The families of all nations, witnesses to love and fidelity, are the light that brightens a world that is beset with perplexities, doubts and dangers. We pray the Lord that he will help families to be faithful to what they are for the common good of all men and women and for the future of humanity.

Vatican City, 20 December 2001.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
27 March 2002, page 9

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