To be a family and belong to two different churches

Liliana is Catholic while Hani is Coptic-Orthodox. The challenge of a mixed marriage – as recounted in a recent ecumenical meeting held by the Focolare Movement in Rome – was instrumental in bringing their respective churches together.

20170616-01When we started seeing each other, Hani and I were very much aware of the differences that existed between us, especially with regards to doctrine. But we felt that our love was stronger than any difference; this gave us the courage to believe that there was a special plan of God for our marriage that went beyond us.

Through the spirituality of the Focolare Movement, which we had both got to know in our youth, we learnt that in order to reach unity we had to aim at what unites us – which is considerable – rather than looking at what divides us.

Of course, when we go our separate ways for Sunday Service, it’s always a suffering, as when unintentionally we might refer to “us” and “you” in our discussions, or when our human reasoning wants to criticise the Church of the other. When this happens, we realise that unity isn’t built once and for all, but that each day God asks us to choose to love the church of the other as our own. Furthermore, we have learnt that each time we experience disunity, it’s an opportunity for us to offer this pain to God for the complete unity among Christians. There are times, however, in order to live unity more fully among us and in our family, when we might attend either one Church or the other all together, and to take part in some of the spiritual practices, such as fasting for example.

An important moment for us was the baptism of our first child. We discussed the issue at length, but we could not decide which was the right thing: whether to have a Catholic or Orthodox baptism. While the Sacrament was the same for both Churches, the consequences would have been profoundly different. Hani, in fact, is a deacon and he was temporarily removed from his Church because of his mixed marriage. A Catholic baptism for our child would have put him in a difficult situation. We found it hard to make a decision, but then I realized that I should consult my bishop about it. I went to him and told him the whole situation. I felt welcomed by him and listened to in depth. The bishop was grateful that I had sought his advice and he assured me that he would understand and support any decision that Hani and I took, following our conscience. At that point, it was clear to me that, for the sake of Hani and his Church, it was best to have an Orthodox baptism. On this occasion, as in many others, it was not a question of making compromises, but to discern God’s will in that circumstance. Naturally this entails making an extra effort, which sometimes costs blood, sweat and tears, also with the children who, when still little, could not understand why they could receive Communion in the Orthodox Church, but not in the Catholic Church. In fact, in the Orthodox Church, the sacraments of communion and confirmation are administered simultaneously during baptism.

We went through a rather difficult time last year with our eldest daughter, who was then 15 years old. She started demanding to be more independent and was being aggressive about it. We were unprepared for this sudden change. There were daily quarrels, often quite heated. We wanted to protect her from situations which we considered precarious, but the more we checked up on her, the more she rebelled. I spent so many nights crying for this daughter I felt I no longer knew. It was not easy between us either, because I thought the way Hani handled the situation was not optimum and so we argued a lot. But in all this confusion, we always tried to be faithful to some practices that seemed important to us, such as praying all together, or having the humility to ask pardon when necessary, even with the youngest ones.

At a certain point, we realised how important it was to maintain unity between us. We decided to show complete trust in her. The situation improved significantly at home, which confirms that even in a mixed marriage it’s possible for the married couple to “be one in God” and to give this witness to the children and the world around us.