On March 19, 2021, upon the fifth anniversary of Amoris Laetitia, the Apostolic Exhortation on the joy and beauty of familial love, Pope Francis declared the start of a Year of the Family, which will conclude on June 26, 2022, with the World Meeting of Families in Rome. One of the goals of this is to help families discover the joy of having a gift to share with the Church and society.
Many would love to travel to Rome next summer. But every parish could bring together families from different backgrounds throughout the year to:
- gather for liturgy and prayer;
- get to know each other by name;
- listen to and reflect upon one another’s stories of how the gift of faith is nurtured and shared in our respective cultures; and
- discuss the beauty and challenges of family life.
I have found that as families witness to Jesus through their stories, they increasingly discover unity in diversity, as our Baptism calls us to do.
Over the next few months, I’ll provide concrete examples for breaking open conversations on the joy and beauty of family life in Christ, as told through the lens of Pacific-Island American families.
Invite families to tell their personal stories.
Hauati and Tonata were born and raised in the Kingdom of Tonga, where Christianity is an important aspect of society and culture. Daily life is structured around the Christian calendar. Bells ring daily across the land, calling people to church, and Sundays are reserved as a day of worship and rest.
Hauati and Tonata emigrated to Hawaii as young adults. Hauati was a member of the Tongan Royal Court of musicians invited by Queen Elizabeth II to perform in Edinburgh, Scotland for her birthday. He met Tonata upon his arrival in Hawaii and, with the blessings of their families, eventually married. The Tongan Catholic community was, and continues to be, a strong, values-centered extended family to them. They find strength in one another to worship, serve others, and—now as parents and parish/civic leaders—be role models of Christian discipleship.
Personal stories such as these can help families to build bridges of understanding.
Invite families to catechize through sharing liturgical music in their native language.
“‘Amusia ‘a ia” is a beloved hymn familiar to every Tongan Catholic. Composed by Sir Sofele Kakala, the hymn speaks of their devotion to our Blessed Mother:
‘Amusia ‘a ia ‘oku falala ‘ihe ‘aho kotoa kia Malia. (Blessed are those who trust daily on the intercessions of Mary.)
Ave Malia, ave Malia, ave Malia! (Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary!)
Perhaps use an a capella rendition of the hymn as sung by a choir in the Diocese of Tonga as part of a gathering prayer for a family gathering.
Sharing liturgical music from another culture has a way of touching the soul. It provides a universal language that often moves people beyond what words can convey.
Invite families to model and explain the history and purpose of their traditional attire.
The ta’ovala is a woven mat worn around the waist by men and women at all formal occasions. Often treasured heirlooms, the ta’ovala (and often a more decorative kiekie for women) is worn as a sign of respect, thus highly appropriate for Mass attire.
Presentations on attire are informative and can lead to discussions on ways that respect is conveyed across cultures.
Invite families to share their joys and concerns for growing in holiness together as a domestic church.
Over the years, I discovered that these value-centered, intergenerational stories are personal and universal. What is the experience of first-generation devout Catholics when it comes to raising their children in the United States?
Specifically for Hauati and Tonata’s family, what does it look like to be a second- or third- generation Tongan American? Certainly, they maintain important cultural rituals such as praying together as a family in their native language and observing Sundays as a day for church, prayer, and rest. They prioritize family time, listen to each other, and openly discuss issues.
Yet, those of Hauati and Tonata’s generation are concerned about the younger generation’s ability to maintain anga fakatonga (the Tongan way) due to the influence of the anga fakapālangi (the Western way). How could they, as a family, assist their parish with providing the kind of spiritual and social anchor for youth and young adults that will strengthen them as Christian disciples?
These are just a few practical ways that hosting a gathering of families from different nations may lead to discovering the gifts of others, and together, as Pope Francis urges, “becom[ing] a light in the darkness of the world” (Amoris Laetitia #66).