CNS PHOTO | STEPHANE MAHE, REUTERS
People wave flags at the Esplanade des Invalides as they attend a protest march called La Manif pour Tous' (Demonstration for All) against France's legalization of same-sex marriage in Paris May 26.
Catholic families need to develop a road map, a vision and a strategy to rebuild society, said a keynote speaker at the Canadian Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) seminar March 20-21 in Quebec City.
This vision includes appropriating the Church's vision of the human person, and rebuilding "a new civilization of love as Pope John Paul II described it," said Antoine Renard.
Renard said the rebuilding of society also includes organizing solidarity among families, becoming politically active and seeking to influence universities and other institutions that form the marketplaces for ideas.
The vision is "based on love. Love is the key to relationships and that is the key to the person," the president of the Federation of Associations of Catholic Families of Europe (Fédération des Associations Familiales Catholiques de l'Europe) said in an interview.
Though France recently changed the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, tens of thousands participated in massive demonstrations opposing the legislation. Renard's federation, which has family associations in every department in France, played a major role in getting people to show up.
"In the end we failed, but we raised up huge protests, the starting point of a huge movement because now people are connected," Renard said.
"In our western countries, we are all about 50 years late because the others started 50 years ago with a clear road map and strategy that was growing year after year without ourselves even noticing," he said.
"Be brave, do not hesitate, talk to people, talk to the leaders, challenge them, ask questions and show your values," he said. "If you just stay as you are, you will not be protected. You have to show up."
Speaking on the topic of Christian Families: Witnessing to Hope as Citizens of a Secular Age, Renard said the family is under attack by a vision of individualism that separates the person from his relationships.
"There is a very clear link between individualism and totalitarianism because the state has the wrong view of freedom," he said. The family is "under attack" because it is a social institution that precedes the existence of the state and provides "the last bastion against the power of the state."
"Clearly we have a confrontation of two visions of the world: one is individualism and this is clearly without God; one is relation and spirituality and that is with God," he said.
"First, we have to give testimony through our lives that we do not live as they say. Second, we have to organize solidarity between families. Third, we have to claim our fundamental rights."
"We also have to go into politics."
Most French people who opposed same-sex "marriage" did so for non-religious reasons, he said. Though the government framed the debate in terms of equality, opponents saw the results causing inequality for children who might end up with two mothers, or two fathers instead of a mother and a father.
His organization has also used facts showing 76 per cent of young people below 18 live with their two parents, he said. "It's not true the majority is living the way it is portrayed."
"All surveys among the youth show they want to have a long-lasting marriage." They also can demonstrate that unstable families create growing social costs for society. "When the family is not stable, the state has to compensate," he said.
A Down syndrome child brings love and joy.
"Of course, we know there are many difficulties," he said, speaking of broken marriages, single-parenthood and other problems. The answer is solidarity, not the state acting as a substitute for family relationships.
International Federation for Family Development (IFFD) (Canadian branch) spokeswoman Gillian Roussy gave practical suggestions on how the family could witness to hope through the proper formation of children.
She stressed the development of the child's interior life, through prayer and participation in the sacraments, and the role of parents as first educators, especially in the instilling of virtue and character.
"Being virtuous doesn't happen overnight," she said. "It's a lifelong process, but it definitely should begin in early childhood because these are the golden years for learning."
Roussy said families need to persevere in spite of an overall culture of selfishness. "To live marriage well is heroic," and requires great generosity.
Jasmin Lemieux-Lefebvre, communications director for the Archdiocese of Quebec, spoke on "witnessing to hope in the media."
Lemieux-Lefebvre showed a two-year old video of a baby born with anencephaly, or part of his brain missing. The video shows the baby, who lived for only eight hours, with his parents and siblings and revealed how much love he experienced in his short life.
"Sometimes God acts mysteriously in the very short life" of the baby boy to provide inspiration, he said.
Start with the beauty of the message, he said, noting that is the first of Father Robert Barron's seven keys to evangelization, which he also presented at the seminar.
Lemieux-Lefebvre said he urged Catholics to complain if they see offensive material on television or other media. Congratulate and commend the programs and interventions that you like, he said.
Catholics also need to learn to express themselves in the public sphere, he said, and prepare themselves to take on politicians on issues such as euthanasia or secularism.
Even though the problems seem so big and society seems to be "going in the opposite direction, it's not just on our shoulders, Christ is with us," Lemieux-Lefebvre said.
He ended with a powerful video featuring Down syndrome children from around the world telling a newly pregnant mom expecting a Down Syndrome child how much love and joy the child will bring to her life. Lemieux-Lefebvre said he believed videos like this, "expressing the beauty and the love of God," might prove to be the "tipping point" in turning the tide against abortion.