Add to that the sponsorship of four Vatican offices. This is, I think, a very important contribution, and I don’t think I’m overstating it.
How do you view the Humanum conference in light of the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family and the upcoming Synod to be held in October 2015?
I would say a couple of things. First, the planning for this conference was begun a year ago, so obviously it couldn’t anticipate anything about the Synod. It turns out, very fortunately, that the Synod Relatio, in more than half of the paragraphs, invited the conversation we’re about to have. It referred to the man and the woman as the heart of the family. Well, this is where we’re beginning in this conversation.
We’re also going to be discussing what depends on them: the well-being of the children, the well-being of their communities. In particular, you’re going to see outstanding contributions from communities that are suffering the demise of marriage—the African American community in the United States. You’re also going to see, firsthand, people working with the poor in that community, able to explain exactly what happens.
The Synod invited a conversation about men and women. It said we needed to have the witness of people from all over the world telling their stories. The six films to be debuted have gone and collected witnesses from all over the world. The people who are speaking—single, married, lay, religious, scholar, non-scholar, young and old—are doing exactly that.
The Extraordinary Synod also asked for new language one could find that could speak to people in the modern situation in which they find themselves. And that, we have.
Are the films part of that new language? There’s an old saying, “Don’t tell me you love me, show me.” Are the films a way to show modern man the beauty of marriage, in a way that appeals to his modern sensibilities?
Absolutely. Beauty has been a touchstone particularly John Paul II, Benedict and Francis. They talk about a Church that wears a happy smile. They talk about bringing positive witnesses to attract rather than proselytizing. You’re going to see in the films ordinary married people, singles.
I’ll give you an example of the language that, when I saw it, went right to me, because again having read and written in this area for so many years, I could tell this was new.
We have a gorgeous couple that was interviewed in Nigeria. The woman was trying to explain why she thinks her marriage is important, why it should be important to anyone. And she said, “Listen, my marriage is my personal project but it is also my project for the world. Everything I do for my husband, what I do for my children, has ripples that make a positive difference in the world.”
And she said it so shortly and so sweetly that the tendency to see one’s marriage as a purely private matter was confronted. Your eyes will be opened by her.
Not to become too personal, but my mother’s funeral happened right before I came here to Rome. The people who came to the funeral talked not just about my mother, but about my two parents who have died in the last two years, and my sister who died a few years before that, who was severely disabled. My parents cared for her in a gorgeous witness.
What our family life, what my father’s love for my mother while he was dying, her love for him while she took care of him as he was dying, how he provided for her in the years before their deaths, how they both took care of my very disabled sister. Then what each of my sisters and brothers said when we got up at the funeral and spoke. The profound effect that the family had had. These are the letters and emails I’ve been getting since I came here to Rome.
What that African woman expressed in that film will touch people in a way that even the most beautifully written encyclical may not.
There’s another young man in the film. You know, we often say, “Young people are just not getting married at the rate their parents did. And why is this?” And he says in this film, “Don’t tell me marriage is the foundation. People my age say, ‘I’m the foundation. I’m building my life, I’m going to school, I’m making these accomplishments’.” And he says, “Then when I’m completely formed, I’ll reach out to someone who’s also formed and say, ‘I’ve got my act together; you’ve got your act together; let’s enjoy our life together now that we’re both formed’.”
Then, in the same film, you have these young girls on the way to a bar, and these young girls are saying, “You know, I really want to be part of somebody’s life before he thinks he’s made it and is looking for a woman who’s as accomplished as him. I want to build something with somebody. I want to help make him, and he can make me’.”
Out of the mouths of single people versus an academic diagnosis. They are on the way to a bar to meet people, telling you want they want. That’s new. That’s going to touch people in a way that a theoretical or even a theological [argument] in its best attempt will not.
Would you say, then, that the presentation is new but that the conversation ultimately goes back to the deepest desires of the human heart?
Exactly, and there’s the hope. That’s why, while we use the language of crisis, that’s never where we end. When Pope John Paul II used to talk, I think he said it in Evangelium Vitae—he said it in many places—he said the reason why we have no possibility of falling into despair, even on these issues that seem so neuralgic, is because we know we’re touching the human heart. He had absolute confidence. We know it from our reason, we know it from our faith. And so that’s why, when you hear something like this, it goes straight to your heart, because you’re a reasonable person living in the world.
Can people access the films and talks that will be presented in the Vatican at the conference this week?
Yes. They will be made available on the conference website, www.humanum.it. As soon as the videos of the presentations are ready, which will be within some hours of the live presentation, people will be able to click on the videos, under “Video” on the webpage. I believe we will also be making many of the texts of the presenters available, in 3-5 languages, on the Humanum website.