International Family Encounter
I suppose many are becoming increasingly familiar by now with Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Amoris Laetitia ‘On Love in the Family’ issued in April 2016. However, even before this much-awaited encyclical was released, and before the two Synods on marriage and family life took place, the world CLC assembly had already gathered in Lebanon in 2013. It was at this world assembly that, through sharing, listening, praying, and discerning together about the future for CLC’s mission work, the Family was adopted as one of four apostolic frontiers identified by the members. It was also in Lebanon that the dream of an International Conference on the Family was born.
And so, in July 2017, in Madrid, the World Executive Council, in partnership with Comillas Pontifical University of Madrid and CLC Spain Executive council, the national community held the very first CLC ‘International Family Encounter’. This assembly saw around 80 CLC members from around the world such as Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, and North America amongst others.
These CLC members, who are already involved, in many ways, in the pastoral care of the family, were invited to gathered together to continue the conversation and to deepen their understanding of the call to reach out to families of all shapes and sizes. Amongst them were myself, Michelle Ellison, and Jackie Carr-Jones, both from Bournemouth, representing CLC England and Wales. We are very grateful to CLC Spain Executive Council and the national community for their generosity in making us feel very welcome. We were also blessed with the full participation of Rev. Father Guillermo Gutierrez from the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, The Holy See, Rome, who immersed himself amongst the laity engaging in conversations and joining in the laughter, prayer and discernment.
The theme of the week was: “See how they love one another.” A lay Ignatian look at Family, in response to the call of Pope Francis for a new pastoral approach towards families in Amoris Laetitia. As preparations for this event were on the way, it was a deep consolation for the members involved to note that the discernment for the frontier of the family was in alignment with the movement of the wider Church. In fact, the publication of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the Family Amoris Laetitia affirmed their common mission in the Church and became a source of inspiration and wisdom as they moved forward.
During the IFE week we had various inputs from CLC members, amongst them some couples who shared their experiences about both their personal family lives as well as their pastoral work. Some shared their resources such as Families Turning from USA, Duopolis from Chilli and The Family CLOCK from Spain, which are already in use in their countries and proving successful. These inputs were inspirational and gave a good grounding for the smaller group sharing which took place in the afternoons. My first thoughts were that they spoke a very familiar language and this became even clearer when we broke off into the smaller groups. Familiarity grew deeper as we naturally entered into an initial silence followed by a deep sharing from each member of the group. This was repeated twice and the final round was to thank God and beg for grace, insight and aid in discerning what to put forward from the groups’ insights, questions and summary to the whole gathering at the plenary.
All the feedback was pulled together, very creatively, on a huge white board which developed over the first three days. These sessions were led by Professor Fernando Vidal alongside Fr. Herminio Rico SJ, who guided the process of group discernment by listening attentively to the movements of the Holy Spirit within the group.
During this very special encounter the group recognised that CLC is being called to deepen the link between Ignatian Spirituality and the family. CLC recognises that they have a very special gift; the tools left to us by St. Ignatius, which teach us to listen attentively to one another, sharing, discerning and deepening our lived-out realities and becoming even more sensitive to the movements of the Holy Spirit within our CLC communities and our everyday lives. This is the gift we are being called to share with all families ‘in all their complexities’ around the world, to accompany them and encourage them and to help them lovingly and gently to ‘grow in appreciation to the demands of the Gospel’ (AL 32,38). One of the aims for this conference was to strengthen the commitment of service to families as an Ignatian Apostolic Body and this was certainly achieved.
As a result of the conference a group was set up to form the European network of family links which we, as England and Wales, are a part of. This network has been set up so that we can share amongst all involved, reporting the situation of family mission within our own individual countries and sharing ideas and Ignatian resources already in use. France has already posted theirs and have expressed an interest in working alongside us in the coming year, so that with prayer and discernment we continue to look forward to growing our apostolic mission in the family frontier.