A family prays during a March 4 Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. During the Mass, Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl announced the release of

Officials welcome pastoral plan’s call ‘to strengthen, heal families’

A family prays during a March 4 Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. During the Mass, Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl  announced the release of "Sharing in the Joy of Love in Marriage and Family," a pastoral plan to implement Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love").(CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Jem Sullivan, the Archdiocese of Washington’s secretary for education, said it is an important time for Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl to issue a pastoral plan for marriage and family life based on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”).

“The church offers a beautiful vision for marriage and family that is a life-giving source of joy and hope in the midst of all the joys and challenges that all families face today,” she said.

“This vision that originates in the love of God is often misunderstood, dismissed or reviled,” Sullivan said, calling it “a blessing” to receive the pastoral plan, because “‘Amoris Laetitia’ unfolds once again the wealth of the church’s vision for marriage and family with pastoral resources to accompany couples, parents and families as they strive to live the Gospel of the family today.”

Sullivan and other archdiocesan officials were interviewed via email by the Catholic Standard, the archdiocesan newspaper, about the pastoral plan Cardinal Wuerl has issued for parishes to implement the apostolic exhortation. They gave their insights on how the document can make a difference in the lives of people in the church’s family of faith.

Cardinal Wuerl’s broad and detailed 58-page pastoral plan is titled “Sharing in the Joy of Love in Marriage and Family,” released late March 3. He celebrated a special Mass March 4 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle to officially introduce the document.

The congregation included families from across the Archdiocese of Washington, representing the 139 parishes in the District of Columbia and five surrounding Maryland counties.

The cardinal’s initiative calls on all parishes — and all Catholics in the archdiocese — to work to expand and strengthen outreach to married couples and families.

Susan Timoney, secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns, said: “I hope one impact of the plan will be that people who feel that there is not a place for them in the church because of a personal or family situation realize that there is a place for them, that there is always a way to grow closer to Jesus in the Catholic community.”

The plan, she added, “is primarily for pastors (and) parish ministers, but all Catholics are called to accompany each other, and so the section on accompaniment is important for every Catholic to read and think about who in their circle of friends could use some accompaniment.”

Timoney told the Catholic Standard she hopes people make use of pastoral’s pages with various resources to “see all the ways in which the church serves youth, young adults, married couples and families,” so they or people they know can get in touch with programs or offices that can help them when they need it.

Father Rick Kramer, director of the archdiocese’s Office for Family Life, noted: “Cardinal Wuerl in his pastoral plan is saying that everyone is involved, with the help of grace through the presence of the Holy Spirit, in building a culture of marriage and family life with missionary zeal.

“He is asking clergy and the faithful to examine the privileged role of the parish as a family of families in giving an example of holy family life.”

He, too, said the timing of the plan is important.

“Precisely at the time in our culture when marriage and family life is being dismantled, the church in Washington is being challenged to form, strengthen and heal families,” he said. “Parishes are being asked to re-emphasize the gift and reality of the indissolubility of marriage as integral to a vibrant Christian witness.”

Father Kramer added, “Clergy and laity are being challenged to reach out to those who have experienced difficulties in marriage and family life and invite them to a life changing and healing encounter with the Lord in the church.”

The season of Lent, he said, offers a special time for family members “to stretch out our arms in love to those who do not know the love of the Lord Jesus.”

“This renewed emphasis on family life,” the priest said, “means that all of us must examine our consciences according to the truth and ask what in our own lives needs to be put right concerning our thinking and behaviors regarding marriage and family life. The Ten Commandments are explicitly family oriented and can provide a good examination of conscience.

Jonathan Lewis, the archdiocese’s executive director of evangelization, young adult ministry and chaplaincies, said the pastoral plan really deals with parishioners in all stages of life.

“All of the ministries of our parish include families because each person is a member of a family,” he said. “I encourage parish leaders to reflect together as a parish on how we can better support young people in discerning married life and walk with couples who are engaged or married to ensure that they are growing in their faith with the support of their parish family.”

By Mark Zimmermann | Catholic News Service