I think I can quite honestly say that the WMOF is an important part of my family ministry journey.   It is certainly important in the story of MARFAM – the Marriage and Family Life Renewal Ministry that was formally established at the end of the 1994 MARRIAGE AND FAMILY ENRICHMENT CONVENTION held on 4 September 1994 at Bosco Diocesan Centre in Daleside, as a matter of interest, the same venue where the 2022 AMOF is being held on 25 June.  Shortly after that convention my husband Chris and I and Fr Francois Dufour with our daughter Desiree travelled to Rome for the 1st World Meeting of Families.  From there we continued on to the US for the annual Catholic Engaged Encounter convention. 

family and pastor together

Although there were a number of family initiatives worldwide and in the local SA church at that time e.g. Marriage Encounter, Engaged Encounter, Equipes de Nossa Senhora, Schoenstatt Family Movement, Focolare New Families, Mina Nawe, they were operating more or less independently.  This is still the case, and extra movements, Retrouvaille and Couples for Christ have been added too.  It is my view that this reality, with each organization doing their own thing, has probably not been greatly beneficial to the general support for family life by the hierarchical Church.

Be that as it may,  there was at that time a definite growing interest in society and church circles for supporting family life.  1994 was the year when the United Nations instituted and commemorated the  INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF THE FAMILY.  Different countries started to take it up and there were conferences and workshops at government and NGO level and we, partly as an outreach from Catholic Engaged Encounter at the time, together with the local family life movements put together the Bosco conference in the Johannesburg diocese.  Rome also took  the IYF up and Pope St John Paul II wrote a beautiful letter to the universal Church on the occasion.  Now, in 2022, we see how that message is so similar to what is written by Pope Francis for the AMORIS LAETITIA YEAR and the WORLD MEETING OF FAMILIES 2022, with its theme “Family love: vocation and a path to holiness.” Similar, except for the specific mention of the word “man.”  Inclusive language had not yet arrived.  

1. The celebration of the Year of the Family (1994) gives me a welcome opportunity to knock at the door of your home, eager to greet you with deep affection and to spend time with you. I do so by this Letter, taking as my point of departure the words of the Encyclical Redemptor Hominis, that man is the way of the Church. With these words I wanted first of all to evoke the many paths along which man walks, and at the same time to emphasize how deeply the Church desires to stand at his side as he follows the paths of his earthly life. The Church shares in the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of people’s daily pilgrimage, firmly convinced that it was Christ himself who set her on all these paths. Christ entrusted man to the Church; he entrusted man to her as the “way” of her mission and her ministry.

The family – way of the Church

2. Among these many paths, the family is the first and the most important. It is a path common to all, yet one which is particular, unique and unrepeatable, just as every individual is unrepeatable; it is a path from which man cannot withdraw. Indeed, a person normally comes into the world within a family, and can be said to owe to the family the very fact of his existing as an individual.”

SA delegates at the 2018 WMOF

The theme of the 1st World Meeting of Families in Rome in 1994 was FAMILY, HEART OF THE CIVILISATION OF LOVE.”  At the meeting it was proposed by the delegates that such a meeting and celebration be held every three years, optimally on that same weekend of the 27th Sunday of Year B, although that was changed as not always convenient.  Future meetings were held around the world. 1997 in Rio de Janeiro, Rome in 2000 as part of the celebration of the Jubilee Year, 2003 Manila, the Philippines, 2006 Valencia in Spain, 2009 in Mexico City,  2012 in Milan in Italy, 2015 in Philadelphia in the US and 2018 in Ireland.  Each meeting was hosted by the local Church and incorporated some local traditions and culture, but also involved theological conferences and networking of delegations and family associations.  The Vatican and the Pope were also closely involved and the Holy Father was present at the closing ceremonies if possible, an important draw-card for lay family people. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic the 2021 WMOF meeting was postponed for a year. Instead of a large international conference with wide participation from around the world the 2022 WMOF has invited only episcopal conference representative teams. This is reasonable in the circumstances and does allow the delegates to meet and interact more closely.  Most importantly, however, each diocese has been encouraged to host their own event and many resources have been prepared for that. Various local dioceses have responded in different ways but no large SACBC/interdiocesan events are being held in our region..  

Toni in Mexico 2009

Having attended a number of these meetings as a MARFAM/Radio Veritas/SACBC representative, or part of a  delegation, it has certainly been a valuable experience to interact with the Church in action. It has been informative and at times challenging even frustrating when it seemed there were times that the reality of family life experiences was not sufficiently recognized, e.g. even widowhood and grandparenthood as my own experience, did not feature on some earlier programmes. The 2022 programme promises a wider appreciation and its format is presented as being part of the synodal process.  Pope Francis was asked a while ago if he was witnessing the death of the Church. At such an event one would say, definitely not. All of us should commend what is happening in Rome this week and pray that this type of event will receive the support it deserves, for all the phases of marriage and parenthood, for healing the broken and strengthening the good. In this era there is a strong focus on problem areas,  in Pope Francis’  Laudato Si  as the “cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” and climate change and loss of all members of some families of creation.  At the same time the words of Pope Francis in AMORIS LAETITIA should also resound in our ears and touch our hearts. The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church. AL1.       TR    .  FAMILY WEEKLY 22 JUNE 2022