It would be a tragedy to neglect vital link between family based on marriage and well-being of society

Time to give fresh heart and new energy to ‘this vital social entity’

The Christian vision of marriage can become a catalyst for renewal of good neighbourliness and support in local communities.

The Christian vision of marriage can become a catalyst for renewal of good neighbourliness and support in local communities.


Few institutions have been subject to such pressures and change in recent years as the family based on marriage. From the emotional and practical turmoil of dealing with the fallout of the economic crisis, to wider societal and attitudinal changes, the unit regarded by our Constitution as the very foundation of society has passed through some very turbulent waters in recent years.

The time seems right for fresh heart and new energy to be given to this vital social entity in which so much of our personal emotional, spiritual and financial wellbeing is vested and from which so much of our personal and social life draws its strength.

This is why the Council for Marriage and the Family of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, whose members, lay and ordained, have a commitment to supporting family life in society and the church, has organised its first national conference.

This conference will take place at the Glenroyal Hotel, Maynooth, on Saturday September 28th from 9.30am to 4.30pm. While it is hoped that the event will be of particular interest to people who work to support marriage and family within the parishes and dioceses of the country, all who have an interest in giving fresh heart and hope to the vocation of Christian marriage and the wellbeing of the family in our society are welcome.

Busy and distracted society
Marriage is at the heart of the church. It is that place where adults uniquely commit themselves to each other for life and so fulfil their deepest human identity. Marriage is also rooted in the real situations of daily life. It goes through ups and downs. It may be even stretched to the limits of our human resources of comprehension and commitment.

This is why, like our relationship with God itself, it requires our attention, effort, time and care. A very real danger in our busy and distracted society is that married couples are left feeling isolated in their challenges.

The sacramental dimension of marriage not only brings with it co-responsibility for each other as a couple, but also for the support and good of marriage itself.

The vocation to love, upon which marriage is founded, calls couples beyond themselves and their own children to a communion with and co-responsibility for other married couples and families.

Good neighbours
What is often expressed as good-neighbourliness is actually a living out of the vocation of married couples to be a sign of God’s faithful and committed love for his people.

Renewing our appreciation of how married couples can be a support to each other and how the Christian vision of marriage can become a catalyst for renewal of good neighbourliness and support in local communities could offer something timely and important for us all.

My hope is that the forthcoming conference will contribute to this reimagining of the link between the sacrament of marriage – the call to witness to the faithful love of God for his church – and the renewal of community and good neighbourliness in our society.

This hope extends to our understanding of the Christian vocation of the family, based on marriage. The family is where the Christian faith is first encountered and lived. It is where we learn, in concrete experience, what it means to love and care for others, what it is to be “a good neighbour”, what it is to be a good friend.

When families become effective strangers to each other, each member absorbed or closed in on their own “life” and interests, it is not only the family that begins to disintegrate but society and the social bonds of friendship and neighbourliness.

Pope Francis captured this link in one his addresses for World Youth Day in Rio this summer. “There is neither real promotion of the common good nor real human development when there is ignorance of the fundamental pillars that govern a nation, its non-material goods: life . . . and the family, the foundation of coexistence and a remedy against social fragmentation.”

Renewed appreciation
The guest speaker for our conference will be Dr Stijn Van den Bossche, from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. Dr Stijn is a layman, married with three grown-up children. Last year he collaborated on a new course on marriage which was looked at the questions: How does marriage teach us what being a Christian is about? How does being a Christian teach us what marriage is about?

In these questions lie the seeds of a renewed appreciation of the vital link between the family based on marriage and the wellbeing of society, a link that would be a tragedy for this generation to neglect.

Dr Christopher Jones is Bishop of Elphin and chairman of the Irish Bishops’ Conference Council for Marriage and the Family.

For further information on the conference, email:

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