The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales are marking the 10th anniversary of the UN International Year of the Family by encouraging all church communities to hold "conversations" about the reality of family life. These will take place at home, parish and diocese level, culminating in the preparation of a report at the end of the year. Bishop John Hine, auxiliary Bishop of Southwark, who chairs the Bishops' committee for Marriage and family Life, will lead the programme and will be present at each meeting held in England and Wales along with the local diocesan bishop. Speaking at the launch in Victoria yesterday, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor said: "As the years go by I realise more and more how fortunate I was to be brought up all those years ago in a loving family home. Alongside our shared Catholic faith it is what one of my uncles used to refer to as 'the rock from which we are hewn.' "Naturally human relationships are very complex, and every home has its tensions, but our family is perhaps the most important influence in our lives. If we are taught, and can learn, to hold relationships in balance in the home, that is a crucial lesson we take with us into the rest of our lives. There can be no more crucial lesson in life than recognising that healthy, happy human beings are the product of loving homes and caring stable relationships." When he was bishop in Arundel and Brighton, Cardinal Cormac said he used to ask sixth formers what they most wanted in life. Most often, he said, they would tell him what they most hoped for was a stable family. The Cardinal said he felt schools should concentrate "much more" on providing preparation for mature and stable relationships within marriage. "They should concentrate much more on positive formation to enable stable marriage to take place rather than just give information about sexual activity." The Cardinal said: "concern for the health and happiness of our families is for me a top priority. Across the whole of society and particularly in our Catholic homes we must work to sustain, and where necessary renew, our confidence in the vital importance of family life. We believe that the best way to begin is by listening to our families and to our married people." Bishop John Hyne said the initiative was not a research project. "We are not looking to end up with a lot of statistics leading to nice neat conclusions." Rather, he said, he hoped the discussion would "open doors to new ways of supporting each other." He said: "In the Church we don't live in a time warp, a sort of holy vacuum protected from contamination from our surroundings. Our families are just as much affected by the values of society as any others, whether it is consumerism or individualism or the economic freedom to make choices previous generations were denied. If you look at history you find every generation of the Church had different pressure points where the challenge of the Gospel is most acutely felt. Some might say that in our generation this pressure point is on marriage and family life. "If we as the Church, and I don't mean the hierarchy, the bishops, I mean all the church, the people of God, are going to minister to each other we need to understand what are the real needs of the family today." Elizabeth Davies, Marriage and Family Life project officer, explained that each diocese was planning to set aside a special day to listen to families. As well as all the different kinds of families, those taking part would include priests, teachers, religious, catechists, marriage preparation providers, counsellors, adult educators and members of all the agencies and groups that support family life. "As a result of Listening 204 an overall picture of Catholic family life, created from actual experience will be drawn up to that it can be shared with the whole community. "From all that emerges, it will be possible to know families better to identify what truly helps them and to ascertain the many practical things which individuals, parishes, organisations and groups can do to encourage, celebrate and support family life." A questionnaire for all families is being distributed throughout parishes. Listening 2004 material and feedback will be available at: www.listening2004.org.uk Dates of Diocesan Family Listening Days will be in our Listings Pages later this year.
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