Synod members focus on primacy of family

VATICAN CITY - Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, said any evangelization he's done has always and only been a matter of building on the evangelization already begun within the family.

"My pastoral work is simply an addition to what the family has already built," he said Oct. 10 during a speech to the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization.

Credit for the flowering of new vocations also lies with the family because it is "the first school of faith and truly encourages a personal encounter with Christ."

Cardinal Puljic said that in his own life, as well as in his ministry as a bishop, he also recognizes the family as "the first seminary."

"The family transmits the faith with its heart, life and practice," the cardinal told the synod.

During the war in the Balkans in the 1990s, he said, half the Catholic families of Bosnia-Herzegovina were forced to flee, and "thanks to the games of local and international politicians," many still have been unable to return.

After the breakup of the communist Yugoslavia, he said, the newly independent countries adopted democracy, but that brought with it relativism and a weakened appreciation for the traditional family.

"The new evangelization will succeed if it manages to restore the sanctity of marriage," on which the family is founded and graced to become a "domestic church." Strong Catholic families become "the strong drivers" of parishes that are alive and active in evangelization, he said.

Archbishop Gerald Cyprien Lacroix of Quebec was even more personal than Cardinal Puljic in his Oct. 11 speech to the synod. The archbishop told the story of "Raymond and Bridget" who, 45 years ago, were involved in an "Encounter" celebration with thousands of other Catholics from Canada and the United States; the movement helped them become familiar with Scripture and deepen their prayer life.

"They brought those things home, and their personal encounter with Jesus really changed their lives," the archbishop said. "If I'm here today, it's because that couple was my mother and father, who have just celebrated 56 years of marriage."

Like his parents, he said, Catholics can be effective evangelizers only when they've first had an encounter with Jesus.

Vietnamese Bishop Joseph Vu Duy Thong of Phan Thiet told the synod Oct. 11 that priests and other pastoral workers must be particularly aware of the evangelization opportunities presented when families and friends gather at church. Particularly on the occasions of a wedding or a funeral, he said, Catholics who no longer practice their faith and people who may never even have been baptized will attend and could hear the Gospel.

Father Robert F. Prevost, prior general of the Augustinians, told the synod that portrayals of the modern family on television and in films present a huge challenge to the Catholic Church.

"Note, for example, how alternative families comprised of homosexual partners and their adopted children are so benignly and sympathetically portrayed on television programs and in cinema," he told synod members.

"The sympathy for anti-Christian lifestyle choices that the mass media fosters is so brilliantly and artfully engrained in the viewing public that when people hear the Christian message, it often inevitably seems ideological and emotionally cruel by contrast to the ostensible humaneness of the anti-Christian perspective," he said.

If the new evangelization is going to counter those notions, he said, Christian "pastors, preachers, teachers and catechists are going to have to become far more informed about the challenge of evangelizing in a world dominated by the mass media."

Father Prevost said the task is not impossible; even St. Augustine and the other fathers of the church were used to preaching a message that went against contemporary cultural mores. They succeeded, he said, "because they were masters of the art of rhetoric."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970