With one of the highest divorce rates in the world -- in 2004, some 167,000 couples divorced -- and with divorce steadily on the rise since 1996, the bishops of England and Wales launched "Celebrating Family."
The plan is based on the results of a survey, "Listening 2004: My Family, My Church," in which 15,000 families responded to the bishops' invitation to share how the prelates could offer more help and support. This survey identified specific family needs.
Bishop John Hine, president of the Committee for Marriage and Family, and Elizabeth Davies, coordinator of the program "Everybody's Welcome," the first stage of the three-year plan, spoke with the Italian bishops' SIR news agency about the findings.
Among the critical issues that families face is the reality of an increase in life expectancy.
The bishop and Davies told the SIR agency in the interview: "The couple needs to rebuild their relationship after the children are gone, that is, they have to relearn how to be husband and wife not only father and mother.
"To this we have to add that is necessary to have two salaries for the family to survive due to the high price of housing. The long work hours prevent the couples from spending time together and communicating effectively."
The U.K. bishops' study found that marriage preparation is divided in two categories: "Preparation for the marriage ceremony and help in the time of crisis. Our culture doesn't recognize the need for continuous enrichment of the marital relationship."
Noting that Marriage Encounter weekends are a means of family support, the bishops' representatives also said: "We seek to spread the idea that for a good communication it is necessary to be realistic, concrete and without the expectations being too high."
Bishop Hine and Davies also underlined "the importance of communicating the idea that marital difficulties can be faced and overcome."
In this context we discover the role of the parish, they said.
The bishops are encouraging parishes to be "attentive to the families, recognize the difficulties of family life and organize its schedules according to the needs of families."
The plan suggests imaginative approaches, such as offering baptism preparation at couples' homes so baby sitters are not needed. They also suggest parish family activities, instead of concentrating on adults and youth separately.
The second phase of the plan is "Celebrating Family," which focuses on the family and marriage spirituality through the program "Home Is a Holy Place."
The third and last phase will center on helping parents and grandparents to pass on the faith.