Happy 30th Anniversary International Year of the Family and MARFAM.  

What does the year 1994 mean to you and me or any of our families?    In South Africa the major event was the 1st fully democratic election and the start of a new dispensation which is now, after 30 years  being examined and by  many found wanting in a variety of ways and places. The upcoming elections are an opportunity to vote, for change and hopefully another new dispensation.   

In my looking back over time I ask myself, “Can it be 30 years ago that we participated in a celebration of the 1st World Meeting of Families in Rome in 1994? This was associated with the 1st United Nations International Year of the Family also occurring during that busy year.   We were fortunate to be in Rome for that occasion as we, Chris and Toni Rowland and Fr Francois Dufour, were en route to the US to the annual International Catholic Engaged Encounter Board meeting and, with the blessing of the SACBC, made a stopover in Rome to be able to participate in WMF1.  Incidentally Fr Jerry Foley, at the time during the ICEE meeting, gave us the 1st copies of his book FAMILY-CENTRED CHURCH, A NEW PARISH MODEL which became an important resource for us. We three at the time were also involved in holding a Johannesburg Family Conference at Bosco centre  at which it was agreed that  MARFAM could be set up as a Marriage and Family Life Renewal Ministry, that could in fact promote the concept of a new parish model.  Fr Barney McAleer was head of the Department for Evangelisation in Johannesburg at the time and Family Life fell into this department. Over the years he was a strong Marfam supporter.  Fr Francois throughout the 30 years, has been a constant friend and supporter in MARFAM and other initiatives in which Chris and I, and later I alone, were involved, such as CEE and Retrouvaille.  

But how was Rome in 1994 and the 1st WMF?  I seem to remember it being fairly chaotic, but we, accompanied by our teenage daughter,  enjoyed the opportunity to share with a good number of couples and priests from different countries and regions of the world all committed to their mission. Speakers were enlightening and Mother Theresa too paid us a visit.  There was definite enthusiasm for this initiative, led by Pope John Paul II, and it was a good start to a movement in the Church that this year, 2024, should already be holding its 11th World Meeting of Families.  The theme for 1994 was “The  Family, Heart of the Civilization of Love,” while the 1st UN IYF theme was “The Family, the Smallest Democracy.”  

Our dearest wish then, way back in 1994, was that both of those themes would come to be a mainstream focus in the Church and society.  Has it happened?   I don’t believe so in any big way, even though the Church in Africa, ironically also in 1994 at the 1st African Synod,  did choose the image of CHURCH AS FAMILY OF GOD.  In reality, women and children have taken the stage, in the Church and the world, and have achieved greater prominence.  I do wonder if there is something deeply problematic about a family focus, or considering families as units, as this surely includes women and children as well as men, but within a context rather than as separate or individuals.    

1994 was, for us, a good year,  in the words of a song of the time, even a very good year, a hope-filled year.  Pope Francis, walking in many ways in the footsteps of the late Pope  John Paul II, clearly loves the virtue of hope which he is using in his weekly catechesis.  The recently announced 2025 Jubilee year theme is “Hope does not disappoint!” and he also refers to Pilgrims of Hope.   ttps://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2024-05/pope-proclaims-jubilee-may-hope-fill-our-days.html#

So reflecting on the IYF+f30, every year since 1994 the UN has chosen a topical theme for the 15th May as  International Day of Families. They have been wide ranging, dealing with poverty, parenting,  intergenerational solidarity, work-family balance, migration,  urbanization, new technologies and more. Thirty years after the events of 1994 the UN is commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the International Year of the Family and has taken up the current topical theme of FAMILIES AND CLIMATE CHANGE which affects families and needs them to take action. Families have changed dramatically with new forms and changing behaviour patterns. The issues facing the world as a whole have changed too clearly noticeable in the ravages of climate change, which Pope Francis claims are strongly rooted in  human behaviour.  This of course means that families have to take responsibility for the impact it is having and for making required changes to address the problems.  At the UN Conference today, 15th May, this will be the focus and a series of specially prepared documents will be issued.

MARFAM after 30 years has grown and then shrunk, but has focused on many areas of the lived experience of marriage and family life. Most recently a chosen focus is related to the Laudato Si , the week and the LS Action Platform promotion of BECOMING ECO-FRIENDLY FAMILIES.   All this as we have tried and hope , in a small way, to live out the 1994 mission of being the “heart of the civilization of love” or “living in the Church in the home,”  the “smallest democracy.”    TR  FAMILY WEEKLY 15 MAY 2024      

THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY. Christian Unity Day 4. “May we never turn away from those in need.”

When he saw him, he passed by on the other side (Lk 10:31)

Reflection. Whose responsibility is it to care for Our World as a Family of Families?   Parents have a responsibility to educate their children about the urgent need to protect our environment but families as a whole have a obligation to act in accordance with all the needs observed and understood.  The climate across the world has changed in many ways, droughts, floods and extreme weather patterns are more common than before as a result of our actions in society. As human families we use and abuse the resources of the natural order of creation, through lack of awareness or refusal to take action and looking away.  in our homes we have to take responsibility for the harm we have done through selfishness and greed, and do our best to preserve our world and save its resources. We in our world outside, the workplace, industry, government and the economy have made decisions that deliberately avoided taking the necessary action.  Together as world citizens, believers in God who is our creator and sustainer we can halt the destruction, rebuild and change our unsustainable lifestyles.   Climate is a blessing, we are its beneficiaries but also its protectors.    The gospel parable of the Good Samaritan is a powerful lesson to us.  Our world is like the man who was attacked by robbers.   The priest and the Levite who passed on the other side of the road are all those who ignore or refuse to recognize the problem and who take no action.   As good citizens and believers in a God of creation let us be the merciful and compassionate carer who stops, binds up the wounds and takes the injured man to be cared for, using his own resources.    Will our family be that man?     

Prayer for Unity, Families and Life.

Loving God,   As we and our families, as parents and children,  journey with you and our fellow creatures towards unity, may our eyes not look away but be wide open, and our ears be listening for the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth.   As we travel through life, may we stop and reach out and bind up the wounded and as neighbours to all in so doing experience your presence in every person, every plant and animal You who created us all, out of love, for love.   Amen