27 January 2020
Ad limina

Laity, family, and life in the American Church

In recent weeks, various groups of American bishops in Rome on their ad limina visits stopped by the Dicastery. The spoke to us of a laity that is generous and which actively participates in the life of the Church. Even if they are still on the way towards a full synodality, the American laity have grown considerably in their awareness of their own proper mission. The numerous charities which address social problems, the support of the Church through fundraising activities, the defense of life through the Pro-Life movement, and political initiatives of advocacy and lobbying are just some of the areas where this awareness is especially evident. In equal step with this commitment, the need for lay formation has also increased, a need which the American Church has made a priority. In fact, many dioceses have created structures dedicated to the formation of the laity; and where a diocese does not have its own such resources available, it usually collaborates with an existing university within its territory in order to provide the laity with the appropriate tools for their apostolate. Moreover, in accord with a long-standing, all-American tradition, there is no diocese which does not provide for some form of “program” for the formation of the laity, marriage preparation, the pastoral accompaniment of families, youth ministry, and the protection of life.

In meeting with the prelates, the theme of “life” also emerged in a powerful way. In fact, with the adoption of increasingly radical abortion and end-of-life laws (for example, in the state of New York, pregnancy can be legally terminated at any time, from the first month up to the ninth), the American Church has sensed a call to do more to reaffirm the inviolable dignity of the human person from conception until natural death. In this sense, the bishops have chosen to place their stakes on locally rooted initiatives, close to the people, which provide concrete solutions. And so this is how “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” have multiplied almost everywhere—that is, counseling centers for women facing a difficult pregnancy, which accompany them and help them to choose life as the better alternative to abortion. According to many bishops, after many years they are beginning to reap the good fruits of these centers’ presence throughout their dioceses; because of them, the abortion rate continues to drop throughout the country.

The bishops also expressed great concern for the situation of the family. Cohabitation is increasing, marriages are decreasing, there are greater numbers of single-parent families, and the stability of family life is made precarious by various factors, such as: economic crises, drug addiction, domestic violence, pornography, and the spread of gender ideology. The phenomenon of migration, which had brought many faithful Catholics to American today, mitigates the crisis in the institution of marriage. In fact, it is mostly those from a Latin American background (40% of the American Catholic community) who still have a strong sense of family and care about marriage. But the bishops are in agreement that a few weeks or months of preparation is no longer enough to help young people fully grasp the significance of Christian marriage; a true catechumenate that lasts over time is needed, and it is necessary to begin remote preparation early with children and youth.  It is also necessary not to leave couples alone during the first years of their married life, and it would be even better if they could be accompanied by other couples specifically chosen and trained for this mission.

Finally, concern for young people was a constant in the meetings with the American bishops. How can we reach them in a context where the Church is perceived as an outdated institution and faith can no longer be taken for granted? The bishops painted a picture of this loss of contact between the Church and young people, and reaffirmed the need to journey together with them, in an attitude of listening, creating as much as possible spaces for the sharing and celebrating of their faith (WYD and other meetings of the same genre), but above all by making them concrete proposals of things to do and projects in which they can spend their fresh energy.