Judy Buddle looks into the face of her granddaughter Seraphine Buddle-Crowe.
Two Edmonton couples say they hope the world Synod of Bishops on the family in October will lead to more inclusive, pastoral approaches to dealing with family concerns.
Pope Francis has asked the bishops to examine how the Church can guide and help the family. The Canadian bishops recently submitted their input to the pope, and the bishops in several nations have sought public input before responding to the pope's request for advice.
Bishops have questioned parishioners, asking them what they would like to see addressed during the Synod of Bishops on the family.
The family, in this ever-changing society, faces a multitude of challenges and changes. Add the growing secularization and the claim of many people that they are spiritual but not religious.
The WCR interviewed two local couples to get their thoughts about the issues facing families and the Church.
City lawyers Peter and Mona Duckett have three children, Emily, 20, Evan, 17, and Luke, 15.
Their vantage points on society are many – in the courtroom, society in general, neighbourhood and, of course, their own family.
"Both of us see many non-traditional families who have experienced separation or divorce, which would indicate that they've had troubles in the past," says Mona.
"We also see families who are currently facing challenges like adjusting to blended families, single parenting, accommodating mixed religions, and struggling to support family members who are estranged because of illness, addiction and the like."
"These families are very much the reality in our workplaces, our schools, our communities and our churches."
These comments come from a shared conversation with both Peter and Mona.
"It's a different world now for our children than when we grew up," says Mona. "We never had to face the technology issues they are facing. We never had access to global information in an instant, like they do. All of these things make supporting families more challenging."
The responsibility for ensuring this support is available rests on many shoulders, says Mona.
"But all supporters – governments, and the Church, and all of us – need to recognize the realities of today's world and today's families. We hope the synod can address this by increasing tolerance to this diversity in our world. That increased tolerance should include pastoral care."
This investment in having a family brings a multitude of rewards, points out Mona.
"One of the great gifts of family life is learning to compromise your own wants and needs for the good of those in your family unit. It's the beginning of people's experience of service and building community by sacrificing your own desires for what is best for the common good."
"Whether your family unit is traditional, single parent, same-sex or a single adult with a support network of friends or extended family, in that context, 'families' learn to do things and be there for one another," she says.
The Ducketts underline their belief that society must be inclusive, be a welcoming umbrella when it comes to the family.
"If the traditional family is to be the core unit for the Church's evangelization work, we need to be open to working alongside all those 'other families.' That is the world we live in and we as Church need to embrace them in our pastoral work."
The Ducketts don't expect any radical changes to come from the Synod of the Bishops on the family.
"That wouldn't be realistic or desired," says Mona. "But we do hope to see increased tolerance to diverse families that doesn't exclude people from pastoral care."
Judy Buddle agrees with Mona about families' imperative need for pastoral care.
She and her husband Harry have nine children, five born to them and four mixed-race adopted children. The mixed race choice came from their living in Eastern Canada at the time. "So we have a black, a Mexican and two aboriginal girls."
Three of the adopted children are afflicted with FASD – fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
"That has not been easy. Matthew, born from a Mexican dad, is great because his mother took care of herself."
Matthew's mother chose the Buddles to take her son. "We are just thrilled to have him," says Judy.
The family includes a son who teaches in B.C, a financial analyst, a corporate lawyer, a cultural anthropology professor, an MBA grad and more successes.
But the three afflicted with fetal alcohol syndrome are "troubled souls."
"We know that it is through the grace of God that we have gotten through this, and we will get through it and these children will get through it," says Judy.
"Without the grace of God, without the help of God and our faith, there is no way we could have gone through what we have and continue to go through with one or two of these children."
A cradle Catholic, Judy married Harry, an Anglican, 50 years ago after he converted to the Roman Catholic faith.
She wants the bishops "to be aware of the difficulties in raising a family, the difficulties in marriage, realize the time involvement, the expense needed, especially with special needs children."
She agrees the secularism and consumerism of the world are real threats. "It is amazing how the devil plays his little games and how so many people fall into it."
Judy credits the Church and the priests for their endurance.
"Having a relationship with a priest is ultimate in trying to get through difficulties. Having priests pray for you, having priests visit, having a priest friend along the way is ultimate. We are lucky because we had that. And that's hard for priests. They've got enough to do, a tremendous amount of work to do."
Judy credits Catholic education as a strength for her children and wants the bishops to realize that. "But once they get out of high school, then the challenges really start for them," and she called for more post-secondary Catholic education.
Subjects the bishops are expected to address include divorce and remarriage.
The Buddles have had "some kids married in the Church and divorced, some not married in the Church." One child was denied marriage because the priest did not like that they were living together. "So we went to another church where the priest did marry them and they are a happily married couple now."
Let the kids know they are welcome in the Church even though they are being pulled the other way and living together, advised Judy. "We have good marriages in our family that have stuck together."
Should the divorced and remarried person be allowed to receive Communion?
"Absolutely," says Judy. Her brother divorced and the priest told him not to bother receiving the sacraments. He ignored the priest, continued to receive the sacraments "and became a real member of the faith, brought others back to the faith."
Judy also asks the bishops to have another look at birth control. "Our present Catholic methods are inefficient and archaic. Most Catholic families I know, and this is widely discussed, are using devices or the pill. Right or wrong, this is what is happening."
Another topic for the bishops, says Judy, is mixed marriages. "These are happening more than two Catholics marrying."
"People are people and I am not saying the mores of our life should dictate to the Church, but we have got to open up to different family styles and different ways of looking at relationships."