Deepening family love in the ‘Year of the Family’

March 23, 2021

File photo by James Ramos/Herald

HOUSTON — On March 19, Pope Francis declared the start of the Year of the Family. It marks the fifth anniversary of the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”).

“I consider this document the modern manual of the parent and the family life minister,” said Ricardo Medina, director of the Family Life Ministry of the Archdiocese. “It brings us an opportunity to deepen our understanding and exercise our daily family love.”

Medina said the pandemic made evident that family spirituality plays a crucial role in life and faith. Through parental leadership, families continued to attend Mass remotely and kept education afloat.

“Parents provide reassurance and hope to afraid and affected family members,” he said. “Families assisted other families when supplies were limited, or some of us were homebound.”

Serving all needs

The Family Life Ministry has more than 40 different active ministries and dozen more in development for families across the family life cycle. Deacon Ly Nguyen is working on such a project at Our Lady of Lourdes parish, which is preparing to launch a St. Joseph series.

Deacon Nguyen said that as the pandemic shut everything down, people lost their normal means of receiving “spiritual food” on an ongoing basis through in-person Masses, retreats, youth events or community service activities.

“It became pretty evident that their whole world and universe went ‘online,’” Deacon Nguyen said. “That’s where they encounter the world, get all of their information — both good and bad — and basically live. And if we are trying to provide any spiritual food for them, it will also have to be made available online as well.”

He said the Year of the Family in connection with the Year of St. Joseph inspired the idea of him creating a three- to five-minute video series. Each segment will highlight a particular virtue or character of St. Joseph.

“We just wanted to pool together all our insights, gifts and talents to build up this project in the footsteps of St. Joseph,” he said. “We want the series to be organic and relatable and inspiring, and not theological or controversial or demeaning. The hope is to inspire every young man to take on the virtues of St. Joseph and to walk in his footsteps, thereby becoming the best version of himself and a great gift to his family and community.”

Helping others find hope

Olga L. Najar, director of social services at St. Martha Catholic Church in Kingwood, said she is always looking for alternatives and programs that can help the church’s Hispanic community to grow spiritually and provide spiritual companionship, especially to those who are suffering and grieving after losing a love one or going through tough times such as divorce or losing their job.

“With too many families experiencing any type of loss, we decided to implement a bereavement program in our parish in the fall of 2019 and continue it in 2020 for many families who suffered loss during the pandemic,” she said. “However, given how fast this ministry grew and the lack of volunteers prepared to support and accompany these families, we came to the realization that we needed to create a program to prepare volunteers. That turned into the idea of developing a network of facilitators for the ministry.”

Along with the Family Life Ministry, Najar said they will be able to start preparing the first group of facilitators this May.

Vanessa Johnson and her husband, Casey, are volunteers implementing the Marquette Natural Family Planning (NFP) model for the Archdiocese. The Marquette model uses a fertility monitor to measure hormones indicating ovulation along with the method’s protocols and algorithm.

“Through conversations with clergy and parish staff about Marquette, I have hoped to make the method more accessible. I have spoken with priests who had never heard of Marquette and were excited to share with the couples they were preparing for marriage,” she said. “If couples are shown the beauty of Theology of the Body, educated on NFP and encouraged to find a method that is a good fit, they may be more open to following the Church’s teaching.”

Strengthening marriages

Fernando and Rita Colina lead English Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekends (WWME) in the southern part of the Archdiocese.

Over a weekend or in seven three-hour sessions, the Marriage Encounter experience gives couples the tools to remain strong as a couple and “be a united force to provide a stable and loving environment for their children,” they said. “In every WWME experience, couples are reminded that they are indeed a domestic Church and that their love is contagious, and a gift to the Church and society. They are encouraged to be open and apostolic and spread the good news of their sacramental union.”

Father Kingsley Nwoko, parochial vicar at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in The Woodlands, is the author of “Before the Vows,” a new marriage preparation program. He said the program is an effective premarital preparation for the Sacrament of marriage.

“Adequate and engaging marriage preparation is more pertinent for today’s emerging adults,” he said. “’Before the Vows’ is a response to this emergent pastoral need. It is an expedient program that assists engaged couples in evaluating their readiness prior to the celebration of their vows and as well providing them with skills to improve their relationships.”

Medina said it is precisely through these foundational communities of love that the Church has faced and overcome numerous adversities across time.

“For when we recognize that Christ is family and let His light shine at our dinner tables, bedrooms, home studios and garages, our hope, joy and mercy will flourish too,” he said. “We have an exciting year ahead of us to strengthen and consolidate our habits of love.” †