Seven years ago, we moved to the Castelli Romani, with two of our five children, the youngest ones; in answer to a request to serve as a couple in the international secretariat of the New Families Movement of the Focolare Movement. As you can easily imagine, this move meant a significant change and required real discernment to understand if and how it could be realized …. it was necessary to organize our work commitments (Gianni left his and Maria was able to transfer to another school), discuss it with the children and listen to their opinions; of those who would remain in Milan and those who would come with us. We had the blessing of Maria’s brothers who promised to stay close and to support their elderly father…. Everything indicated that we could give our assent to what seemed like a call from God to put ourselves at the service of all the families in the world! In the meantime, we have also become grandparents twice over!
The experience of these years has been and is, very significant: together with other couples who form the Central Secretariat, we have a special opportunity to be close to many families who live in various parts of the globe. We are fortunate to have a vantage point of view of the worldwide family situation. On the one hand we see the challenges that all families have in common and on the other some that are very related to the nation or geographical area in which they live. There are currently many countries that suffer from situations of war, or political situations that have brought the economy to its knees: daily worries take precedence over everything, guaranteeing a future for their children is not always taken for granted! Then there are the challenges related to the many difficulties in keeping the couple’s relationship alive over time, with crises of various types that require targeted interventions and sometimes even professional help. Children`s education is an important point for young couples: there is a great emotional investment, and we would like to have the recipe so as to “not make mistakes”. We have found that it is very useful to “empower” parental capacity, which can be achieved by addressing issues with other couples, sometimes with the help of experts, within the couple itself, in the exchange and in the search for unity, they discover the way forward. At times you can experience a feeling of helplessness regarding our children, e.g., in relation to their use of the mass media: it is difficult to fully understand what they experience, especially in adolescence, as the experiences of children have completely changed compared to those of their parents. But we understand that it is very important to get involved and not be afraid to “enter” their world, especially by listening and giving testimony to the values we want to propose.
The New Families Movement, since its foundation in 1967 by Chiara Lubich, has been committed to living and facing the various realities of the family at every latitude, highlighting how Gospel values are a response to every situation and in every age, and how the spirituality of unity is particularly suited to family life.
In this last year, the Amoris Laetitia Year promoted by the Dicastery for the Family in preparation for the tenth world meeting that will take place from 22 to 26 June, we have been able to ascertain, through contact with the various families in the world, that the pastoral renewal requested by the Pope in the apostolic exhortation is a process that has definitely begun, even if still somewhat patchy, and will certainly develop gradually with greater intensity and capillarity.
This year, as NF we have carried out many events and activities to present and deepen AL; we would like to mention a few of them. The “Latin American Rosary” which asks for the end of the pandemic and encourages praying together, has been carried out every day online, for more than a year and a half, with the progressively increasing participation of many people from countries throughout Latin America and Brazil.
An online course for those who wish to accompany couples in difficulty, separated people, and those who are in a new relationship: it took place over 3 weekends (one per month) last autumn and saw a large participation (600 people) from 47 nations, a sign of a deep and widespread need, but also proof of the generosity of families who wish to make themselves available to other families.
The catechesis of Pope Francis, through the videos published on the Dicastery`s website, have been valuable and followed with great interest.
In Italy there was a continuous online meeting entitled “The thread of life” with an in-depth discussion of issues arising in couples and exchange of experiences. Similar initiative “Zoom Your Relationship”, in French-speaking countries. Both were particularly appreciated by young families.
A residential week entitled “Paths of light” has been running for some years for couples in difficulty; the next one will take place in August at Loppiano, a Focolare Citadel near Florence. The program includes talks by experts and couples who have experienced and overcome crisis. Underlying it is the support of the spirituality of unity.
The Up2Me program is continuing to offer varied courses, lasting several months, for the new generations and for parents on affectivity and sexuality: this year a course for tutors was held for the first time in online mode for 4 weekends.
There is no shortage of initiatives to accompany engaged couples and young couples (courses, congresses… both at the International Centre and in the territories).
“No one alone” is a course that started a couple of years ago following encounters with families who live the reality of having a homosexual or transsexual child. In everyone’s stories we realized that the greatest pain was to feel alone; that is why we felt called upon as New Families to share their situation in a more focused way. We proposed meeting together and we realized that through these moments, in addition to having a space for communion, we could seek answers to give to others who live the same reality in their family and, drawing on these experiences lived as parents, enumerate what we can give: which virtuous behavior or mistakes to avoid and above all what the Gospel and the spirituality of unity teaches us, applying it to the concrete situations that are lived. We also felt the need to improve our knowledge of this issue by deepening the pastoral journey that the Church is making in this field.
Of course we cannot deny that there is still a mix of difficulties AL`s implementation: anchoring to old schemes that are no longer current, for example “classic” courses for engaged couples, various meetings for families that should be innovated in terms of methods and themes; difficulty in “unleashing” the imagination to invent new approaches with people, to meet new needs, such as the limited time available, the need of families to be with their children and to combine moments of training with rest and recreation, the desire to talk about issues of interest …,.
Sometimes there is a fear of change: there is a fear that it may be dangerous to open up to dialogue with everyone who could perhaps have different ideas on challenging issues.
Another possible “brake” on the acceptance of AL good practices is the lack of adequate training, and it is on this front that we, NF, feel we must invest more in the formation of couples.
Despite all these critical issues, we can testify to the fact that AL has indeed started a path that has all the potential to strengthen and spread.
In short, we strongly feel that our mission is really to “welcome everyone” and accompany every family. In no.308 of AL the Pope tells us “without diminishing the value of the evangelical ideal, we must accompany with mercy and patience the possible stages of growth of persons that are being built day by day, leaving room for the Mercy of the Lord that stimulates us to do as much good as possible” and continues: “I understand those who prefer a more rigid pastoral care that does not give rise to any confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the good that the Spirit scatters in the midst of fragility: a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, does not renounce the good that is possible, even though she runs the risk of getting muddy along the way….”
We would now like to emphasize how AL is indeed already happening in the lives of families; proof of this can be found in the book “Families in action – a mosaic of life”, which we have edited, and which presents the testimonies of families from all over the planet, collected according to the themes of the 9 chapters. This text is intended to be a small contribution that New Families brings to the World Meeting, to highlight what is already being lived and to spur us all to go ahead on this path of implementation of the Pope`s exhortation to make visible the title of the World Meeting, namely that family love is indeed a vocation and a way to holiness!
Maria Caporale and Gianni Salerno
(Source: with kind courtesy of the newspaper Avvenire 19.06.2022)