Family Life Ministry Conference logs into values for ‘New Media Age’

April 12, 2011

HOUSTON — "We are all sons and daughters of our parents and descendents of our grandparents," said Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, who shared those words as something of an addendum to his own biographical introduction during the Archdiocesan Family Life Conference at St. Dominic Center, April 1 to 2. 

Despite his notable educational background and service to the Catholic Church, including a tenure as professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas and formation director and vice rector at St. Mary Seminary in Houston, the bishop said one's background is incomplete without family.

"That would be the most important detail of my life," said Bishop Flores, a Corpus Christi native. "Our family life is what fundamentally directs our orientation in life … it aims us in a certain direction."

In his April 1 keynote address, "Facing the Challenges of Family in the Modern Technological Age," Bishop Flores explored the challenges of living out the Christian mission in the midst of the informational tidal wave faced in modern society. The theme of the conference was "Family and Values in the New Media Age."

In his presentation, Bishop Flores discussed relational values, particularly between parents and youth, who are constantly in danger of falling into the abyss of losing trust in the world around them.

"Life and hope is at risk with young people," Bishop Flores said. "Young people develop cynicism and think hope is a trick word for adults to get them to do what they don't want to do."

He also stressed the importance of communicating "face-to-face" with family, friends and acquaintances. While technologies such as Facebook can be used as a way to "maintain" relationships at times, Bishop Flores said it shouldn't be seen as the primary means of making connection, particularly first contact, with others. 

The bond between parent and child is often tested and can be most vulnerable to a lack of real communication, Bishop Flores said. He said children between the ages of 6 and 14 are learning about the "wider world" and developing self-confidence. For youth older than that — generally in the high school age range — "it can be too late" to offer guidance or advice.

"It is about how we love one another, and deal with people in front of [us]," Bishop Flores said. "Nobody has time to sit and visit anymore [and that] has an effect, especially on children."

As an aside, the bishop said he read (and enjoyed) the series of Percy Jackson books so he and his niece would have something to talk about in person … or even by text and e-mail.

The title of Bishop Flores' April 2 keynote was "Upload to Facebook: the State of Family, Values and the Church in our World Today." Other presenters at the conference included Bishop Kevin Vann of Fort Worth, whose presentation was titled "Sacrament of Marriage: A Great Untapped Life Spring;" and Dr. James Healy from the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois, who lectured on "Cohabitation: What Do We Know? What Do We Do?"

Among the exhibitors present were publishing groups, new media organizations and Archdiocesan ministries such as the Respect Life Office, the Hispanic Ministry Office, the Office of the Tribunal and the Catholic Schools Office.

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo was present to welcome the participants on April 1. While the first day was programmed specifically for professionals in family life, the second day's schedule was open to families and other interested parties. The conference included a Spanish and Vietnamese track.

Ingrid Singleton, a Continuing Christian Education teacher at St. Francis Xavier Church, attended the conference to gather insight into family life and to be with peers from other parishes.

"It always helps to get a different perspective on how we should do things," she said.

As a teacher of early teen children, Singleton could relate to Bishop Flores' message about that age range being among the most susceptible to influence. "[Teenagers] can definitely have their own ideas about everything and it can be hard to convince them of what is right. There are times when it is important to redirect them through what we teach in CCE." 

Sue Hofmeister, the director of community life at Prince of Peace Church, appreciated the opportunity to be with others in similar ministries from around the Archdiocese.

"We are so spread out and it is always good to connect with other people, see what they are doing and share ideas," she said.

"Connect" is the operative word in this media age we currently live.

"It is very important to stay connected with each other," Hofmeister said. "Learning how to deal with the media aspect in our lives is a challenge that can be used in a positive way." 

Photo by Jonah Dycus/Herald