By Cian Molloy - 25 June, 2017
As part of the build-up to the World Meeting of Families in Dublin next year, a major conference on the family will be held next month in Mary Immaculate College (MIC), Limerick, where the keynote speaker will be Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna.
The Cardinal is widely seen as being close to Pope Francis in seeking “balanced reform” of the Church, and last year the Austrian-born prelate was given responsibility for presenting and commenting on the Papal exhortation Amoris Laetitia (‘The Joy of Love’), which Pope Francis published following the Synods on the Family held in Rome in 2014 and 2015.
Already, the Cardinal has said that the contents of Amoris Laetitia are “binding doctrine”, and that the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family can only be fully understood in its light.
The MIC conference on Thursday 13 July is on the theme ‘Let’s talk family; Let’s be family’, and is being organised by the college’s Institute for Pastoral Studies.
The Institute’s director Fr Éamonn Fitzgibbon said the Cardinal will give two separate addresses, one specifically on Amoris Laetitia, which will be followed that afternoon by an academic discussion about how the exhortation has been received over the last year. In the evening he will give a public lecture on ‘The Parish – Family of Families’.
“There has been quite an amount of controversy about Amoris Laetitia,” said Fr Fitzgibbon. Some hardliners in the Church argue it has gone too far. Others say it hasn’t gone far enough. Some say it is ambiguous. Cardinal Schönborn will be able to give clarity to us in a way that no one else can other than Pope Francis. We’re very much looking forward to his visit.
“The Pope’s letter on the family is enlightened. It repositions the Church, a more compassionate, embracing and understanding Church, to meet the challenges that family faces. It does not try to set out an ideal family but rather understand the complexity of family as we know it today. Above all, it seeks to discover how the ‘joy of love’, the translation of Amoris Laetitia, can flourish in family today.
“There’s deep understanding in it as it reaches out to divorced people, to marriages of different faiths; it respects people in families with homosexual tendencies. It speaks to our own failures as priests; as Pope Francis stated, ‘I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy.’”
The World Meeting of Families next year will be “the biggest single event in the life of the Church on this island since the Pope’s visit in 1979,” said Fr Fitzgibbon. “Amoris Laetitia and the World Meeting of Families could not be better timed. It’s undeniable that the family, as we have known it, is changing in many respects and is challenged like never before.
“The build-up to the World Meeting is of huge importance also, as it will effectively provide for an ongoing conversation about the family and how we see it and value it in Ireland. Our conference on July 13th will be one of the biggest platforms to date for that conversation, not least because of Cardinal Schönborn. He’s as close to Pope Francis as we can get when it comes to Amoris Laetitia.”
Other conference speakers include Martin Kennedy, who is Pastoral Programme Coordinator for the World Meeting of Families, and Jessie Rogers, a lecturer in Sacred Scripture at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, who is also a trainer in Godly Play, a discipline that uses Montessori principals to help children learn about God for themselves.
To book a place at the conference, visit www.irishinstituteforpastoralstudies.com, or call 061 204507. The full day’s programme, which starts at 2 pm, costs €20, with a €10 fee for those wishing to only attend the Cardinal’s public lecture at 7 pm.