Some 20,000 young people preparing for marriage met with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square on Friday, Valentine’s Day, to celebrate the joy of “Yes I Do for Life.”
As the meaning of the Sacrament of Matrimony is increasingly lost, and young people are often afraid of commitment, couples have emerged who wish to give their testimony and to share the experience of living a Christian engagement by walking with God.
To talk about the challenges couples face today, the time of preparation for marriage and the Church’s role, ZENIT spoke last week with Father Andrea Ciucci, coordinator of the meeting with Francis.
ZENIT: Describe the ministry and the work done with engaged couples in the Pontifical Council for the Family.
Father Ciucci: It’s definitely true that over the last few years, the subject of support in the preparation for marriage has arisen with particular force. It is a preparation that has been individualized as it is done close to the celebration of the wedding, in other words, there is a more specific preparation. However, in reality it is a preparation that should support the whole growth of young people, also in their affective experiences, in the growth of maturity towards marriage. It is a decisive element, not only in imminence but in the whole phase of youth
ZENIT: Pre-matrimonial courses are an occasion for the Church to get close to couples. What is the main objective of the courses?
Father Ciucci: It depends a lot on the nations and the ecclesial contexts in which they are imparted. The point is that the course should not be simply an occasion of rapprochement, but one of the many elements of this journey of preparation for the choice of matrimony. Perhaps it’s the more specific one, but not the only one. Yet, thanks to these courses, many couples have a new contact with the Christian community after years of no religious practice and living away from the community. They are great and valuable occasions in which they can hear the Word of the Gospel again as Good News for their lives, and for their life as a couple, which is being structured. Moreover, they can meet a hospitable Christian community, capable of offering a rich and meaningful network of evangelical relations in which fundamental questions can be put at the center and also mature some decisions geared to the family they want to build.
ZENIT: How can this work given the fact that many couples who attend these courses have no faith or live estranged from the life of the Church?
Father Ciucci: The participation in the pre-matrimonial courses, in Italy and other European contexts, is extremely diversified. There are persons who are strong believers who live this time as the fulfillment of a phase of the journey; there are others who live it as a rapprochement to the faith. I like to point out two things. The first, to see these courses as occasions of first proclamation, of a renewed proclamation of the freshness of the Gospel, which passes through concrete persons, and of a Christian community. And also to see a journey of faith in which one can share with other couples who are living the same thing and who can give reasons why they are believers and their way of understanding matrimony.
ZENIT: The Pope has convoked the Synod for Families in which there will be talk of the family, marriage … What are the most important challenges in regard toof engagement?
Father Ciucci: [Friday’s] meeting is a meeting that proposes the subject of the choice of marriage, it focuses attention on this topic. To choose to marry and to marry in the Lord forever. I think the subject of engagement finds its test in the decision to say “forever.” It’s true that today engagement has changed profoundly in the way and modality of its realization. It often happens that many couples who come to the pre-marital courses already live together, and might even have children. In this connection, I think that the time of engagement is a precious occasion for young people who enter this period to reflect and grow in their choice of the vocation to which they are called.
Also to understand and comprehend that this call is so precious that it requires preparation. Important things need time to be received, to be built, to grow and to mature. I think we have to help young people to give themselves the time and have the patience to grow, to grow as a couple and to grow in the wisdom of love.
This time should lead also to support. The situations are so diversified, articulated and complicated that this is the reason there is a Christian community called to support the couple, and thus help them to recognize the truth in the gestures they make, to recognize the elements of conversion that the Gospel calls for: choices as a couple of spirituality, of life and of projection of the future. To this effect, it’s seems important to me to remind that [Friday’s] meeting has as one of its themes the fact that there are persons whoto walk and to choose a life together forever.
ZENIT: In your opinion, why are there increasingly fewer marriages?
Father Ciucci: I would like to recall something that Monsignor Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, says, which is that in reality there is a great desire for the family and marriage as some statistic show. Cardinal Scola also asks this question when he talks about these subjects: if you ask any young man in love how long he wants this falling in love to last, he will answer “forever.” It’s true that man’s heart calls for the “forever.” However, this desire of the young man’s heart meets with a world that proposes the “dictatorship” of the “I.” Instead of us and the family, the “I” is proposed as the only way to be fulfilled. The messages that are constantly directed to say that what oppresses your freedom, what blocks you, what impedes you from developing and from growing in what you are, mortify the desire of communion in the heart of every man and every woman. These are some elements of a cultural nature that reduce the choice of the definitive and of marriage, and that favor lighter and less structured or definitive ways such as passing affective unions.
Another reason, especially in Europe, is the economic factor. If the factors do not exist that make possible the young man’s independence, the choice of marriage is delayed. That is why I believe that the civil society should reflect, in order to foster the independence of young people to make it possible for them to form a family.[Translation by ZENIT]