22/11/2011 12:00 pm
“We recognise our families as the Church in miniature, the home of faith and love. We recognise the difficulties they face in the world we live in, but we recognise too the great potential their members have to bring Christ to each other and to others as well.” Cardinal Basil Hume, Closing Declaration, National Pastoral Congress, 1980
On 16 December 1978, Pope John Paul II agreed on ‘The Role of the Christian Family’ as the theme for the next World Synod of Bishops in 1980. In May 1979 the preparatory document or Lineamenta was published and distributed to the Church around the world. Responses were invited by 1 December 1979.
Here in England and Wales, the bishops decided to consult widely before producing their response and on 27 September 1979 issued their own document: Marriage and the Family, "to help the bishops of England and Wales learn what people with personal and expert knowledge of marriage have to tell them".
What is apparent from the archives is that even before the impetus of a Synod a great deal of energy was already being dedicated to considering pastoral care of marriage and family life. In Liverpool, for example, in February 1979, an Inter-Deanery meeting looking at important questions facing the Church highlighted marriage and family life as an area of concern. Archbishop Derek Worlock commissioned Father Vincent Nichols to report to the next Inter-Deanery meeting with identified priorities and proposals for possible responses. His Report on Marriage and Family Life , dated 14 July, sets out the Church’s vision, as well as the reality, of marriage and family life and practical steps towards creating a sustainable pastoral ministry.
Of greater significance however were the preparations leading up to the National Pastoral Congress which took place in Liverpool in early May 1980. One of the Congress sectors was dedicated to the consideration of marriage and family life and the care of those with special needs. The resulting message from the Bishops, The Easter People, published in August 1980, reflects on the way we are called to live in relationship through marriage and family life.
Dr David Thomas
Dr Thomas attended the Synod as a theological adviser, or peritus , to the American bishops. He reflects on the work leading up to the 1980 Synod on the Family.
Read What is a Synod? on the Vatican website.