11 June 2021
Forum Amoris Laetitia

Amoris Laetitia: To embrace and live out the spirituality of spouses in order to become missionary families

Summary of the third day of the Amoris Laetitia Forum
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The third day of the Forum “Where are we with Amoris Laetitia? Strategies for the pastoral application of Pope Francis' Exhortation” opened with a reflection on conjugal spirituality. In his presentation, Father Renzo Bonetti, current spiritual assistant of the Mistero Grande Project and former Director of the National Office for Family Ministry of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, immediately clarified the distinction between conjugal spirituality and family spirituality: the former is a journey of faith centred on the spouses as a couple, while the latter is broader and includes other family members like their children.

By living their marriage according to the Holy Spirit, spouses are conformed to Christ and are enabled to love one another in the way that Christ loves. Their new life, imbued by the presence of Christ, becomes a permanent sacrament of Christ, a visible sign of God’s love for humanity, a “living image” of the fruitful love of the Trinity itself. Through their response to the vocational call to live according to the grace of Baptism in an even more specific way within their spousal relationship, spouses collaborate with the Lord who through them, “has chosen the face with which to present Himself to allow us perceive his communion of Love”.

Conjugal spirituality, which is a “genuine and firm decision to join paths, come what may” (AL 132), is built up “day by day” with daily actions in which one can experience the mystical presence of the Risen Lord. This is a presence to be cultivated by listening to the Word of God, practising reconciliation, attending the Eucharist and assiduously praying. It is along this path, punctuated by the small and large gestures of everyday life, that the Lord awaits the spouses to lead them to the heights of mystical union (AL 316).

This was followed by two pastoral experiences that soon helped us to identify how to concretely implement a path of spiritual accompaniment for married couples in parishes and church groups. Carlos E. Empke Vianna and Andréa C. Gonçales Vianna from Brazil shared their experience with Encontro de Casais com Cristo (ECC). The ECC is a service that started in 1970 in Brazil to evangelise families and involve them more as active participants in the pastoral work of the Church. Couples are trained in conjugal spirituality and in the study of the Magisterium, and then they are gradually introduced to pastoral work in their parish communities and in society.

Daniel and Shelley EE are a Singaporean couple and members of Worldwide Marriage Encounter, a movement that originated in Spain and is now present in over 100 countries around the world with the mission to help couples as well as ordained ministers to work together in the one mission of the Church. They shared their experience of conjugal spirituality within the family which means working on dialogue, sexual intimacy and prayer in order to overcome the inevitable difficulties of any relationship and to enrich their common journey. Strengthened in their union, they have served in various family ministry offices and they have helped other couples in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and the United States.

After a brief conversation among the participants, the second major theme of the day was family missionary work. Marie Gabrielle and Emanuel Ménager (France), consultors to the Dicastery, explained how mission is the natural consequence of a well-understood conjugal spirituality. Indeed, the gift of marriage, like all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, is intended not only for the sanctification and salvation of the spouses themselves, but also for the good of all, and therefore to the mission. It is from the small domestic family that the Church is built, and also the great human family of the children of God. In this sense, the couple is a precious gift in terms of evangelisation. The Lord calls spouses to collaborate with Him, making his love present in society, not only by welcoming life, but also by radiating happiness around them. Through their union, they are called “to make present today, in every sphere of life, the relationship of love with humanity and of Christ with the Church”, and so become “a sign of fatherhood and motherhood with every child of God” (AL 324), missionaries charged with introducing fraternity into the world (AL 194).

Faithful to the experiential approach of the Forum, Alicia and Fernando Martinez Acosta (Colombia) from the Missionary Families Project, then focused on the concept of ‘missionary family’. In marriage, a man and woman are called not only to accept each other and give themselves to each other, but also to bring to the world the good news of salvation and God’s love. In looking at the family of Nazareth, they reaffirmed the reality of the family as a domestic Church and the Church as a family of families. Finally, Benoît and Véronique Rabourdin (France) shared the importance and rewards of a mission carried out together as a couple, a model proposed by the apostolic movement Amour et Vérité. It also emphasises the missionary complementarity between spouses and ordained ministers in a perspective of communion between different states of life. 

In today's debate, the need to share good practices that are already bearing fruit at local level emerged again: how to accompany young couples in crisis? What can be the mission of widowers and single parents?  How can pastoral projects be launched in dioceses and parishes where there seems to be no particular interest in families? At the and, above all, personal testimonies of the couples were much appreciated. Simple testimonies, anchored in daily life.