A Church that Accompanies
Pope Francis has raised up to greater heights and renewed emphasis a practice that has long been a part of pastoral ministry – accompaniment. Particularly in his exhortation Amoris Laetitia, accompanying others with loving concern is central with respect to how the Church – in its institutional ministries and in the lives of the lay faithful – supports, nurtures and cares for married couples and families.
Active accompaniment is a way we share in the Lord’s ministry, says Pope Francis, noting that Jesus “looked upon the women and men whom he met with love and tenderness, accompanying their steps in truth, patience and mercy as he proclaimed the demands of the Kingdom of God” (Amoris Laetitia, 60). In Baptism, we not only become followers of Jesus, but are called to share in his ministry by acting the way he acted, both in giving testimony to God’s love and in building up the Church on earth.
The upcoming National Marriage Week, February 7-14, is a good time to look at the ways in which this local Church accompanies engaged couples, married couples and families at all stages of life in light of the pastoral teaching of Amoris Laetitia. One aspect of marriage that became very clear in listening sessions leading up to the Synod on the Family, and more recently in preparation for the Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, is that preparation for marriage begins long before a couple is engaged. Young people need the witness of joy-filled marriages, they need couples in their lives who will walk with them and speak honestly of the ups and downs of marriage and family life and the important role that faith plays in married life. We have learned that engaged couples and newly married couples would welcome having mentor couples with whom they can pray, reflect and share their joys and challenges.
Accordingly, our archdiocesan Office of Family Life has developed a formation program for couples who are interested in being mentors with engaged couples. There are also a number of ministries that invite married couples in all stages of family life to come together to form faith-sharing communities. For example, we are blessed in this archdiocese with groups such as Teams of Our Lady and Couples for Christ. For couples whose marriages need to be strengthened and their love renewed, we offer the Retrouvaille support group. There is also support for separated or divorced men and women who seek to be full and active participants in the life of the Church, such as At the Well, which invites people together for prayer and fellowship.
All these ministries highlight that the personal pastoral care we offer in our parishes and through the work of the Office of Family Life takes account of the real, actual and concrete experiences of marriage and family life. We want to assure couples and families that we are here, in good times and during serious challenges, to accompany them with God’s mercy, love and compassion.