The Family Ministry Office in the Diocese of Hamilton has reached out to Catholics in the diocese to help develop a plan to meet the needs of families. Photo from Unsplash

Hamilton diocese looks to make Church the focus of fulfilling the needs of family life

  • November 22, 2018

There was a time, not too far in the past, when people would look to their Church for the various supports they needed in their family life.

Somewhere along the way, however, things changed drastically. Culturally, the influence of faith declined and secularism took hold, and people turned their backs on the Church and looked to the state to take care of such issues.

Teresa Hartnett would like to see things go back to how they once were, when people would naturally turn to their Church in times of family crisis. She has worked in family ministry with the Diocese of Hamilton for 15 years and is seeing a shift where people are beginning to call “for everything again.” People with cancer, mental health issues and more have slowly started turning back to the Church for a faith perspective on their problems.

“That’s what we used to be, people turned to the Church for everything,” said Hartnett, director of the Family Ministry Office in the Hamilton diocese.

The Family Ministry Office has reached out to Catholics in the diocese to help develop a plan to meet the needs of families. In late October, a forum invited people to share their views and advice on helping parents and children thrive and grow in their faith, connect to their church community and invigorate parish life. 

It’s a continuation of data-collection efforts Hartnett has been using to find out what people want from their Church when it comes to family ministry. 

Hartnett wants to find ways to convince people that “faith is important and vital to their children’s health, physically, mentally and emotionally. I’ve got to get them to believe it.”

It starts with asking the people what their wishes are.

“We need to find out from the people what it is they want and need and expect,” said Hartnett.

Hartnett is leaning heavily on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) and its reminder that families today need more support than ever as they raise the next generation of the Church. 

There will be challenges in trying to develop a plan, said Hartnett, not least of which will be money. It is tight everywhere — for families and for the parishes. 

“Not every parish will be able to do everything, but I believe if we have a list of this is what people would like support in and here’s the programs available… could we reach out? If we want people to come back to the Church we need to touch them where they need us.”

Data she has collected so far shows “people really want their parishes to be alive.” The challenge is finding ways to make that happen. The Eucharist and getting a good message delivered in the homily are among the priorities people have identified, she said. But she said one thing that struck her is people say they are missing a sense of community and an attachment to the Church.

“They wanted a sense of belonging, that someone knew I was there and knew if I was missing,” said Hartnett. 

Looking ahead, she would like to see someone dedicated to family ministry at each parish, whether it is a paid layperson or a volunteer. “So that families will be able to shift in their looking at where do I get support, I can look to the Church,” she said. “And once they’re getting support from the Church, that transition to being an active member of the Church becomes easier. That’s my hope, more families in the pews.”

Coming up against the secular culture will be a hard obstacle to overcome. She recalls the words of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle from the World Meeting of Families she attended in Dublin, Ireland, in September. Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, Philippines, spoke of the “throwaway culture” that has arisen alongside secularism, where people want to do and be what they want. 

The culture is so strong and so engrained that it won’t be “something from the pulpit” that brings that cultural change.

“It’s tough because the culture is so pervasive,” Hartnett said.

But Hartnett thinks she is already seeing change, particularly among younger generations.

“You see little things… our younger generation coming up now into their 20s are already a simpler generation,” she said.

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