Faithful to Each Other for an Ideal Task
Traces measured the pulse of the family during a forum at the CL International Assembly in La Thuile, inquiring into the conditions of the family with the help of testimonies from four different parts of the world
by Marco Bardazzi
In Europe, the family is being attacked by a dominant culture for which freedom increasingly means the absence of bonds. In Africa, the deep roots tied to the clan are being threatened by a mentality that attempts to introduce a ruthless individualism. In Latin America, the family must confront value criteria increasingly saturated by spreading consumerism. The U.S. is shaken by a divorce rate approaching 50% and by projects for legislation on gay marriage.
In every corner of the world, the family in these first few years of the twenty-first century does not seem to enjoy good health, nor does it even garner much goodwill. “The greatest woe of families is the solitude they live in, the nihilism that surrounds them,” says Mario Dupuis, who lives in Padova, Italy, in a large extended family, the Ca’Edimar Center, a place that embraces many young people from broken families.
And yet there are stories of families, at latitudes and longitudes extremely far from each other, who experience a different reality, where acknowledging Christ makes “the impossible marital faithfulness” possible, and where the embrace of the community helps them to bear with serenity even the heaviest burdens.
HIV and economic difficulty
In Africa, says Pippo Ciantia, who has lived and worked for AVSI in Uganda for twenty-five years, the family “clashes with the modern mentality that tends to break all bonds, and with an education that is against the idea of family relationships.” At the same time, however, the family remains “the last level of resistance to and assistance for poverty and such scourges as AIDS. I am always struck and amazed by the capacity of the big extended African families to welcome children. Nephews, nieces, and grandchildren left parentless find open doors with their uncles, aunts, grandparents, or various relatives. In Africa, unfortunately, the family is being devastated not only by modernity, but also by diseases like HIV.”
Instead, in Latin America, and Argentina in particular, the family clashes with the slavery to economic status. The frenzy of consumerism has corroded the Argentinean family, explains Alejandro Bonet, who lives in Rafaela, in the Santa Fe province, where he works as a lawyer, the legal representative of a school, and is the father of seven children. “In addition,” he continues, “Argentina is greatly weighed down by the concept of an omnipresent government; a certain political tradition, traceable to Peronism, conditions the person and the family to expect that solutions to their basic problems (like education and healthcare) should come from the State alone. The result is that they mortgage their happiness to a situation of political patronage with the political power structure and the State.”
Bonds as impediments
The institution of the family, on the whole, is still honored in the United States, where “you can still have a lot of children without losing the respect of others,” reflects Fr. Jerry Mahon, a parish priest in Rochester, Minnesota. The U.S. also seems to have overcome fears linked to the ever increasing number of family units in which both parents work. “Forty years ago,” says Fr. Jerry, “we would have said that it’s impossible to have a functioning family in these conditions. Instead, in my experience, I’ve seen that it can be done; this isn’t the obstacle.”
The true obstacles, in the U.S. and elsewhere, are marriages that often surrender to the toil and end up in divorce, and social proposals that attempt to introduce new models, such as the bond between people of the same sex. (“I don’t think that gay marriage will ever pass in the United States,” Fr. Jerry predicts. “It will never be accepted, perhaps because of the current of moralism in our society.”)
“In Italy,” Mario says, “young people are educated by the schools to feel that family bonds are an impediment, and so the bond, which is the foundation of family life, is increasingly substituted with a temporary contract. ‘We’ll stay together as long as it’s convenient.’ Also, an education is lacking. The family is no longer recognized as part of a tradition, the history of a people; it’s uprooted from the past. The innocent victims of this disintegration of the family are the kids; without an experience of true love for their freedom, of passion for their destiny, and of education, they end up, as early as the age of 10 or 11, as bewildered stragglers, alone and vulnerable, as I’ve seen in our work of hospitality. The dominant mentality has destroyed the family as the place of freedom in relationships and of joy in living a belonging to each another.”
But there are experiences that open up new horizons. Pippo still remembers how a Christian education attentive to the aspect of poverty was the foundation of his and his wife’s decision to be missionaries. In such a difficult situation as that of raising children in Africa, “you discover that faithfulness to the experience of the Movement enables you to live, in a particular way, your relationship with them as well. The friendship of the Movement has enabled our children to leave, be it for studies in Italy or in America. Fr. Giussani used to tell us repeatedly that the family is not enough; we need a community that embraces us, that takes us by the hand, and makes our children grow more than we could have expected. In this way, we also learn that they are not ours; at the most, we are interested guardians.”
For Alejandro, a difficult family context, ten jobs, numerous moves to different cities in a few short years, and seven children could have been an impossible challenge. “It would have been impossible to conceive of a family adventure like my twenty years of marriage, if my wife and I had not had the grace of encountering the Movement at the beginning of our walk together. Every time I come face to face with the drama of daily life, I see how the experience that has been given to us shows us how to live within reality. This does not mean that it solves all our problems, but we live them with a meaning, and they become an occasion of fullness and fulfillment.”
Fr. Jerry relates how the impact with the charism of Fr. Giussani “truly, radically changed how I look at marriage. Today, when people come to me with the idea of divorcing, I face this decision truly seriously, with the awareness that Fr. Giussani gave me, that the ‘yes’ is for eternity. In marriage preparation as well, I delve the depths of the question because I believe that there is the real possibility of helping the young people approach the sacrament.” “When I got married,” concludes Mario, “I said ‘yes’ forever to my wife not because I was certain of my tenacity, but because I was sure that if I continued to acknowledge Christ in my life, He would not fail to give me the possibility of living this otherwise impossible faithfulness. Our faithfulness is a response to the faithfulness of Christ. I have experienced it in the dramatic circumstance that changed the life of my family. The illness and then the death of our daughter Anna taught us not to stop at the appearances of things, but to look at reality to the point of recognizing the Mystery of which it is made. This has begun to change the way I look at my wife and children, everything. It’s as if through the sacrifice of Anna, that ‘yes’ to my wife has found a point of greater faithfulness.”