Westminster: bishops launch initiative to support family life

 The Bishops of England and Wales have launched a major grassroots scheme this week to support Catholics in their family life. Celebrating Family comprises three separate, parish-based initiatives are based on local needs identified by 15,000 families from every diocese in the country who responded to the Listening 2004 survey. A dedicated website will provide information packs, leaflets, tips and courses to support families from cradle to grave. Diocesan co-ordinators will be able to help local parishes in using these resources while also developing ways of supporting families. The first stage, which will provide the focus for 2006, is entitled Everybody's Welcome. This addresses the need for welcoming, family sensitive, friendly parishes. The aim is to offer understanding, friendship and support to all, to be a source of help in times of need, to help everyone in the parish feel that they belong there and to encourage and celebrate all family life whether married, widowed, single, divorced, separated, with or without children. In addition to the central resources available on the website there are a series of events this year, starting with a conference for families between 20 and 22 January at High Leigh in Hertfordshire. "This initiative is based upon what families have told us through Listening 2004," said Bishop John Hine, chair of the Bishops committee for Marriage and Family Life. "Families talked about how important the parish was to them. It is a community in which they want to feel known, accepted and loved for who they are. They want to experience their parish as a place where they can find friendship and to experience their parish as a wider family to whom they can turn in times of joy and sorrow. They would love their parish to be a place where their values are shared and reinforced and a place where they find spiritual nourishment. They also expressed a desire for practical help, including information and skills to help them become better family people. "Sadly we heard from families who did not experience any of these things in their parish communities. Some felt quite isolated and alone. "A great deal of work has been done already on these issues in so many parishes across the country, and in our programme 'Everybody's Welcome' we aim to share the ways that have been discovered and tried out. These are ways of being sensitive to family needs, ways of being welcoming, ways of being family friendly and we hope that local parishes are able to benefit from this work so identified needs are addressed and parishes become the focus for the family." The three year initiative will continue next year and following an international symposium at St Cuthbert's College, Ushaw in October, Celebrating Family will focus on marital and family spirituality in 2007, under the banner Home is a Holy Place. The final part of Celebrating Family in 2008 will focus on helping parents and grandparents pass on faith in God. On Sunday, the Archbishop of Birmingham, the Rt Rev Vincent Nichols, wrote in a pastoral letter that the Christian family is a true representation of the Church and the smallest unit building up the great universal Church, the family of God. "Being a welcoming, family-friendly parish means more than ensuring that there is a kindly face to greet people as they arrive for Sunday Mass, important though that is. It means discovering the needs of those around us and finding ways that those needs can be met. It calls everyone to review their deepest attitudes towards other people, especially those who, in some way, may be different to them," said Archbishop Nichols. "In this family of God, as lived in each parish, there are many diverse needs and many different talents. The invitation of the Lord is to ensure that we use the gifts he has given us as best as we can, thereby ensuring that the different needs are met. Being a truly welcoming and family-friendly parish means just that." For more information see: www.everybodyswelcome.org.uk

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