An online Vatican meeting on Amoris laetitia brought together hundreds of people this week to discuss how to better support sacramental marriages and families in the Catholic Church.
Organized by the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, the four-day webinar centered on the question: "Where do we stand with the application of Amoris laetitia?"
Amoris laetitia is Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation on love in the family, written following the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family.
The closed-door meeting June 9 to 12 was attended by more than 300 delegates from 30 international movements and the family offices of over 60 bishops’ conferences.
In his introduction on the first day of the forum, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the laity, family and life dicastery, recalled a 2017 visit by Pope Francis to the offices of the Vatican department.
During that visit, Pope Francis said “Amoris laetitia must be read together, from the first to the last chapter, without ‘cherrypicking’ those sections which we consider easier to implement from those that are more challenging,” Farrell stated.
Farrell quoted the pope's words that the apostolic exhortation should "be read as an integral whole."
"The webinar should be seen within the Synodal process as a sign of the Church coming together to ensure that the family is given a central place within the missionary outreach of every institution or Parish community within the Church," the cardinal said. "The Church is at the service of the family, to work with it, to hope in its great potential, in the certainty that 'the Church is good for the family and the family is good for the Church.'"
Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández of La Plata, Argentina, a friend and known ghostwriter of Pope Francis, gave a presentation on “accompanying, discerning, and integrating fragility,” on the last day of the forum.
According to a brief summary from the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, Fernández's address began with an analysis of the controversial chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia.
Fernández said in that chapter, Pope Francis "refers to 'situations which do not yet or no longer correspond to [the Church's] teaching on marriage,' the so-called 'irregular situations.' He proposes a path of discernment for greater integration. In any case, for Pope Francis, this is a secondary issue. What interests him more are 'the two central chapters, dedicated to love.'"
Fernández also said that "the pope says that it is essential to take care of love in marriages by encouraging its growth. This is because 'Marital love is not defended primarily by presenting indissolubility as a duty, or by repeating doctrine, but by helping it to grow ever stronger under the impulse of grace.'"
The archbishop said chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia seeks to "integrate the good that is possible" and to accompany people in hard situations.
Some of the central points of the week's meetings, as summed up by Cardinal Farrell, included the need for awareness among families of the mission they have been given by the sacrament of marriage, and how that mission is shared by pastors; that the parish is a family of families; the need for more effective training for priests, deacons, religious, catechists, and lay people involved in preparing engaged couples for marriage; that Catholics must reach out to families who are estranged from the Church; that families in crisis or other difficulties need special attention; and that family pastoral ministry must be missionary.
The four days had sessions on the marriage catechumenate, the formation of those who accompany, the education of children, the spirituality of spouses, the missionary spirit of the family, and the fragility of the family.
Catholic married couples from around the world presented testimonies about their marriage and family related ministries.
One of these couples was Mary-Rose and Ryan Verret, who connected to the webinar from the United States. The Verrets are the founders of the ministry, Witness to Love: How to Help the Next Generation Build Marriages that Survive and Thrive.
In a June 11 interview with EWTN News Nightly, Ryan Verret said "we were specifically invited by the Vatican to present on the use, in Witness to Love, of mentors, or what Amoris laetitia [and] Pope Francis has referred to as 'evangelizing spouses.'"
For engaged couples, mentors "really help to fill a space of rebuilding trust, not only in the Church, but also in the Lord, and trust that marriage is a still an ongoing great gift," he said.
Mary-Rose said "Witness to Love is really a marriage movement trying to help every couple, every sacramentally married couple, to see their home as a missionary outpost of the local Church, and to really form couples to understand that and to live that, to embrace it."
"What we've found," she continued, "is there are so many great programs, there are so many great resources in the Church today, but there isn't really an infrastructure for evangelization. So Witness to Love is all about getting the materials, the witness, the tools, into couples' hands, into parishes' hands, into pastors' hands, so that that evangelization can happen."
"Because the family really is the future of our Church," she added. "Churches without families are churches that will close."
The forum was organized as part of the ongoing Amoris Laetitia Family Year.
In a video message sent on the first day of the online forum June 9, Pope Francis “the family is ‘a domestic Church,’ the place in which the sacramental presence of Christ acts between spouses and between parents and children.”
“In this sense,” he continued, “‘the experience of love in families is a perennial source of strength for the life of the Church,’ constantly enriched by the life of all the domestic Churches. Therefore, by virtue of the Sacrament of Marriage, every family becomes to full effect a good for the Church.”
“Co-responsibility for the mission therefore calls upon married couples and ordained ministers, especially bishops, to cooperate in a fruitful manner in the care and custody of the domestic Churches,” the pope said.