By Susan Gately - 02 June, 2017
Marriage preparation begins at a young age, when children learn how to love each other. So said Cardinal Kevin Farrell yesterday as he addressed international delegates at the start of a three-day international conference on the family in Dublin’s Helix as part of the ongoing preparation for the World Meeting of Families in 2018.
The Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life told representatives of up to 50 bishops’ conferences from around the world working in the area of marriage that marriage preparation was not something that should take place six months before the couple walk down the aisle. “That is not marriage preparation. That is perhaps the fulfilment of an obligation or a law of the Church.”
He continued: “Preparation for marriage must begin at a very young age. Small children need to learn how to love each other. We must teach them that in the hardships, in the moments of difficulty, we also develop love. We also must accept as part of life the suffering that comes with every day in life. Children, depending on their age, must learn, in a gradual way, that life always has its challenges.”
His keynote address to delegates on ‘Marriage Preparation and Support’, which was streamed live on the WMOF2018 Facebook page, emphasised the role played by couples in “accompanying” other couples. Marriage preparation or care programmes should always bring couples “to the realisation that married life is a process of growth,” he said.
Pope Francis insists that parishes should have couples who can be trained as counsellors and promoters of marriage. “Therefore it is important for us to understand that marriage preparation must be the first and foremost project in every parish.”
It cannot be relegated to just a group of lecturers, said Cardinal Farrell. “It is ongoing and it is essential that we prepare for the future and we prepare couples who undertake this vision of preparing others for marriage.”
Quoting the Pope again, Cardinal Farrell said priests and clergy were not the ideal people to speak about marriage. “In the first place, clergy do not necessarily have the credibility”, and therefore it is important to have lay people and couples – who have been prepared for the role – involved in marriage preparation.
These lay couples must have the ability to be with people and to “open their hearts to these couples and to accompany them and to love them in their struggle”.
They should not be judgemental in the way they educate, but rather “understand and accept their human limitations and walk with them [the couple] in their difficulties”.
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin told the gathering that the World Meeting of Families was part of a process which Pope Francis began through the Synod of Bishops, “prepared by a worldwide consultation, about the role of the family in modern day society around the world and how the Church should respond”. The fruits of this process were contained in Amoris Laetitia.
“Today in public debate about the family, we so often speak in terms of crisis. Pope Francis looks to the family with a tone of confidence. He does not idealise the family. He is very realistic.”
Archbishop Martin said the WMOF2018 would be a moment when the Church would speak both of confidence and realism, stressing both the challenges and the joys of family life. “That is the reality of the life of every family: the ideal family does not exist. Great families do exist. They need the support of the Church.”