Cardinal Wuerl greets parishioners after a March 4 Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. (CS photos by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
Cardinal Wuerl greets parishioners after a March 4 Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. (CS photos by Jaclyn Lippelmann)

Joined at a special Mass on March 4 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle by families from throughout the Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl announced and issued a detailed plan for how parishes and individual Catholics can expand and strengthen the Catholic Church’s marriage and family outreach, guided by Pope Francis’s 2016 document on that subject, Amoris Laetitia, “The Joy of Love.”

And after Mass, the cardinal personally greeted the families at the Mass who represented the archdiocese’s 139 parishes in Washington, D.C., and surrounding Maryland, and handed them copies of Sharing in the Joy of Love in Marriage and Family: a pastoral plan to implement Amoris Laetitia.

Cardinal Wuerl in his homily invited local Catholics to join in that work, saying that he hoped the gesture of handing the plan to the families after Mass “will be a sign of the commitment of each parish to renew its efforts to share the joy of marriage and family life, and also its dedication to try to be there for all who may be facing difficulties, so that we – as Christ’s Church – can accompany them on the journey.”

A statement from the Archdiocese of Washington noted, “This broad and detailed pastoral plan is the first of its kind in implementing Pope Francis’s 2016 apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, at the parish level.”

The plan presents a summary of Amoris Laetitia’s teaching on marriage and family life, examines challenges faced by couples and families in contemporary culture, emphasizes Pope Francis’s call to accompany people where they are, offers specific ways that people at parishes can reach out to families in many different circumstances, and lists resources to support people in all stages of married and family life.

In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl noted how in that day’s Gospel reading, Jesus offered “gentle and consistent accompaniment” to the Samaritan woman at the well who had been married many times, an encounter that helped her experience Christ’s love and changed her life.

The cardinal said Pope Francis uses the story of that woman to illustrate how people who might be distant or detached from God on their life’s journey can experience God’s love when someone offers them patient accompaniment, which when carried out through the Church’s pastoral ministry “helps move us beyond hearing the Word, to come to understand it, to appreciate it, to appropriate and live it.”

Cardinal Wuerl shared the story of presiding at the archdiocese’s annual Mass honoring couples celebrating milestone wedding anniversaries, noting a time when the gift bearers included a couple married more than 70 years, followed by their son and his wife marking their 50th anniversary and their granddaughter and her spouse marking their 25th anniversary. That tableau, he said, offers a visible proclamation of the opening words of Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia: “The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.”

But the cardinal noted that, “Not every marriage, however, goes forward with ‘they lived happily ever after.’ In fact, for many in our heavily secular culture today, there is little understanding of the true meaning of love, marriage, commitment and self-giving which are all part of the Catholic vision of love.”

Whatever the situation of other Catholics’ lives and circumstances, “We’re called to remember they are part of our family,” the cardinal said.

That reality, he said, underscores the call for Catholics to reach out people where they are and accompany them, and motivated him to issue the pastoral plan to strengthen marriage and family life.

“It is in the light of both the effort to experience the joy of love in marriage, and the challenge to address its brokenness when that happens, that we, in consultation with this whole archdiocesan Church including laity, religious and clergy, offer the pastoral plan as our effort to share in the joy of love in marriage and family, and to be with others in their life’s journey,” Cardinal Wuerl said.

The pastoral plan spells out ways that parish priests, staff and volunteers can support married couples and families, by reaching out to engaged and newly married couples and young families, involving older couples and adults, and reaching out to families in special circumstances, like immigrant families, families in the military, families with members that have special needs, people in ecumenical and interfaith marriages, single parents and families of divorce, and families with loved ones who identify with same-sex attraction.

“As Pope Francis notes in Amoris Laetitia, the Church is a family of families, and the home of pastoral accompaniment is the parish,” the cardinal said. “The parish has a central role in making clear the Gospel vision for marriage and family life.”

Cardinal Wuerl noted the pastoral plan is intended to encourage reflection on the richness of the Church’s teaching on love, marriage, family, faith and mercy, and examines the role of conscience and the special role of parishes as places “where we find and experience Christ’s way of living and loving.”

In concluding his homily, Cardinal Wuerl invited the people of the archdiocese, represented by the families at the Mass, to help bring the pastoral plan to life “as we try to carry out our call to share the joy of love in marriage and family life.” He added that he hoped that on that journey of celebrating marriage and family life and also walking together with those who are struggling along the way, “May God walk with us and bless us.”

The Mass also marked a day of preparation for the Catholic Church’s 2018 World Meeting of Families, which will be held Aug. 21-26 in Dublin, Ireland. Pope Francis participated in the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. The theme of this year’s gathering, drawn from Amoris Laetitia, is “The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World.”

Sharing the Joy of Love in Marriage and Family is available on the archdiocese’s website at Printed copies of the plan in both English and Spanish were sent to all the archdiocese’s parishes in preparation for the official release of the document, and Cardinal Wuerl encouraged priests to read the plan and preach about it at all parish Masses that weekend.