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This article appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of The Journal.

Pastoral Understanding

This issue is largely concerned with pastoral care and understanding for interchurch families.

We begin not with a story from an interchurch family, but with a testimony from a priest from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who has considerable pastoral experience of work with interchurch families in a situation where Catholic/Protestant marriages cross not only a religious, but a community divide. He shows how important it is, as a pastor, to be able to accord a 'parity of esteem' to both the church communities represented within an interchurch family. One of the struggles that Roman Catholics in interchurch marriages have is how to balance the ecclesiological stance of their church alongside the psychological equality of their marriage partnership. For ministers too, this can be a problem, and the phrase, 'parity of esteem’, that Tom Layden SJ takes from civil society in Ireland, can be very useful for church relationships too.

This link between the interchurch family situation and wider church relationships has been vitally important in associations and groups of interchurch families from the beginning. The desire to relate their marriage to church unity is still there among young couples who know nothing yet of that history.  One couple, getting married at the end of the summer, came to the British Association of Interchurch Families recently with a problem over the 'promise'. 'We feel called to making our marriage a true Christian unity marriage', they said, 'not just doing things separately'. A similar concern for unity is expressed by a young Canadian, child of an interchurch family, in this issue (p.8): 'I'm just a building block helping to pave the path to an ecumenical world because together we can make a difference'.

It is simply the being together and doing things together as couples and families that can be so significant for our church communities. It can lead to a new way of relating on the pan of those church communities themselves. As Tom Ryan CSP says in his article on interchurch families as sign and summons (p.7): 'Everything that is gained by interchurch families and for interchurch families serves the whole Church’.

It is good to see that recently-published guidelines on eucharistic sharing, one from Ihe Czech Catholic Bishops' Conference and the other from the Australian diocese of Maitland-Newcastle (pp.8-9) have a strong pastoral orientation. They both recognise that in certain cases interchurch families will experience a serious spiritual need for eucharistic sharing on a continuing basis, and that this need can be met. As Cardinal Lehmann said at the end of the German Bishops' spring meeting in February 2002: for some interchurch couples eucharistic sharing ‘is not so much a matter of one-off events in the life of the family, such as First Communion, but more a matter of the constant striving of the couple to find their way together'. And he added: 'The pastor who travels with them has a special role to play'.

We end with the story of how John Coventry $J began his journey with interchurch families. He gave them devoted pastoral understanding and support over thirty years.


This article was published in The Journal, Summer 2002.