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The COVID-19 Pandemic as a Time of Grace for Family Pastoral Ministry

Zagreb (IKA)

Meetings of the Council for Life and the Family of the Croatian Conference of Bishops and the Arch/diocesan Commissioners for Family Pastoral Ministry

A meeting of the Council for Life and the Family of the Croatian Conference of Bishops was held on Wednesday, October 7, and on Thursday, October 8, there was a meeting of the Arch/diocesan commissioners for family pastoral ministry, as reported by the Press Office of the CCB.

The meetings were held at the CCB headquarters in Zagreb and chaired by the President of the Council for Life and the Family, Bishop Mate Uzinić of Dubrovnik. Although it is customary for the members of the council and the commissioners to meet together, due to the pandemic they met separately on this occasion.

The council members and commissioners were updated on the implementation of the conclusions from the previous meeting and the current situation in the Church and society with regard to life, marriage and the family, with particular emphasis on the initiatives and directives of Pope Francis and the Vatican Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life. The most recent Church documents were briefly presented in the context of their importance for marriage and family ministry: Samaritanus bonus, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the encyclical Fratelli tutti, issued by Pope Francis.

They also addressed the current situation concerning the foster care and adoption of children, as well as the foster care of the elderly. Starting from the example of Jesus Christ and the Church Magisterium, as well as international conventions, the council members and commissioners expressed regret that the well-being of children and the elderly is not the absolute priority of everyone involved in these processes, particularly those who make fateful decisions about their future. They believe that such decisions should be exclusively in the best interests of children and the elderly, and by no means conditional upon other interests or ideologies. It was concluded that a culture of fostering children and the elderly should be promoted in the Church and society, especially among Catholic families, because this would be a genuine indicator of authentic Christian solidarity and love. They commended existing examples of good practices and projects aimed at empowering and supporting providers of foster care and their families. They also cautioned that that the institution of foster care should not be abused in any way.

The main reason for convening both meetings was to discuss the challenges and opportunities for marriage and family pastoral ministry in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was concluded that this period could be understood as a time of grace, since the role of the family as the “house of the Church” is being rediscovered. However, it was also noted that families are facing numerous challenges, owing, for example, to a lack of communication with God and each other. This has led to various problems, including an increased incidence of domestic violence. In response, Church-operated marriage and family counselling centers in Croatia provide assistance to families in overcoming these challenges and problems. It was pointed out that the entire situation has stimulated pastoral creativity, as manifested in various ways, often with the help of modern technology and media. Although they cannot replace personal encounters, they provide temporary assistance and support. Possible contents that could be offered to families in following and living the liturgical year, particularly during the most intense periods such as Advent and Lent, were also considered.

In light of the epidemiological limitations, the current cycle of family pastoral ministry to the elderly, intergenerational solidarity and the mission of grandparents were discussed. Recognizing the many positive results from the council’s initiative, Let Us Embrace the Elderly with Song, it was concluded that this initiative should be continued, promoted and spread. A draft of the catechetic material Meaningful Old Age was presented. It was concluded that this would be an inspiring and highly useful tool for the development of pastoral ministry to the elderly as an integral part of family pastoral ministry. This effect would certainly be additionally reinforced by radio programs with the same title on Croatian Catholic Radio and Radio Maria, which would reach a broader Catholic population, who otherwise would not be able to participate in meetings organized for and with elderly persons, owing to the uncertain epidemiological situation.

Joint activities for the pastoral year 2020/2021 were agreed upon, also taking into account alternative possibilities, such as online meetings and webinars for the Day for Life 2021. It was also agreed that the great novena Croatia Prays for Life would continue in 2021.