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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Daughters of St. Paul: Subject: Joy of Love Mini-Course: What Pope Francis asks us to do for families in trouble

Subject: Joy of Love Mini-Course: What Pope Francis asks us to do for families in trouble

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What Pope Francis asks us to do for families in trouble or that have broken apart.

In #297, Pope Francis makes it clear that mercy is to be extended to all families, whether they are intact or not.

"It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community and thus to experience being touched by an “unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous” mercy. No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves." 

Pope Francis makes it clear that every effort should be made to save marriages and to keep families intact, but he also acknowledges that this ideal is not always possible. When families do break down, it’s the responsibility of the community of faith to reach out to them, to be inclusive of them, and to refrain from judging them. God extends mercy to everyone, and we can do no less.

Divorce affects millions of people throughout the world: the couple itself, their children, their extended families, their church communities. We are called to help heal the wounds of divorce and to “avoid judgments which do not take into account the complexity of various situations.” True charity, he reminds us, is always the hallmark of Christians.

Reaching Out in Mercy
by Lynn Kapusinski

In his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis urges is to reach out in mercy and compassion to families who have broken up or are in trouble so they may continue to feel part of the Church and accompanied on their pastoral journeys. A priest at my local parish summarized the Holy Father’s pastoral guidance in a poignant way during his homily when he said that the Church “is a mother first, and a teacher second.” Just like a mother tends to her children’s wounds with care and understanding, letting them know her love is unconditional, before she gives them correction or consequences, so too are we called to do the same, he explained. 

This message struck me profoundly as a child of divorced parents, a population too often overlooked in these discussions. I was raised in a strong Catholic home where my parents instilled in me in different ways a steadfast love for God and the Church. I knew well what I was supposed to do as a Catholic child, adolescent and young adult. However, that knowledge felt very removed from the difficulties I experienced as a child of divorce--especially in relating to God as “Father,” as my own father moved across country and became even less of an active, consistent part of my life. It was not more catechesis that I needed during those years but, instead, a gentle compassionate companion who would listen and be with me as I wrestled with confusion and fears of being “abandoned” by my father and, in turn, God. I needed someone to tend to my wounds with care and understanding, so I could grow beyond them and begin to trust, with full certainty, that God still loved and would be there for me. 

When my parents separated in the 70s, there were no pastoral care initiatives available to help navigate this loss, so my older brother Marc and I formed our own two-person "support group." It was a tremendous consolation and one I credit largely for my strength to have "beaten the divorce odds" and enjoy a happy marriage today. Without that peer support over the years and the graces I received from the sacraments, I doubt I would have had the fortitude to overcome the shame, poor self-esteem, persistent sadness, and “co-dependency” that plagued me for decades. Left alone, without this vital two-pronged support, I could have easily become “another divorce statistic,” given the tricky, ambiguous nature of this grief.

I firmly believe that these grief factors play a significant role in the high divorce rate for children from divorced families. The National Opinion Research Center states that 60 percent of girls and 35 percent of boys from divorced families will go on to get divorced themselves. Other research states that if one spouse comes from divorced parents, the couple may be up to two times as likely to divorce. Spouses who are both children of divorced parents are three times more likely to divorce as couples who both are from “intact families,” the research says. 

In 2002, these statistics along with my increased awareness of how instrumental faith and Church teachings had been to my healing inspired me to start a nonprofit foundation, Faith Journeys, so other children from divorced families could have similar opportunities to work through their grief wounds, long before they consider entering marriage. We do this by helping Catholic schools, parishes and Dioceses establish pastoral care initiatives, using our award-winning books as the curriculum. Our approach follows the directives of the Holy Father in first tending to the emotional and spiritual wounds of children, then instructing them on important tenets of the faith, relevant to their experiences of parental separation or divorce. We do this by allowing children to tell their stories and learn about grief, then instructing them on important life skills so they are encouraged to take appropriate ownership of their difficulty, with the program culminating in discussions about their image of God, ways to ask for help from God, and Church teachings regarding suffering and forgiveness.

For Pauline Books and Media, I authored the book When Parents Divorce or Separate: I Can Get Through This. Formed by the truths of the Catholic faith and by what professionals in family counseling have found helpful, this guide through parental divorce and separation, designed for children ages 8 – 12, blends faith with interactive elements. What I wanted to achieve with the book was to help parents or teachers provide a child with a safe space for coping, healing, and growing.

God, indeed, prepared me for a much needed ministry through the hardship of my parents’ divorce and the experience of having my older brother, Marc, there to accompany me through it. I have been blessed with a deeper understanding and appreciation of what it means to be a “child of God,” as a result. For me, it boils down to the realization that, no matter how challenging, I can learn to be healed and, in turn, help to heal others. 

“Mother first, and teacher second.” It made the difference for me and inspired me to do the same for others. Pope Francis has, indeed, given us rich direction so our pastoral care efforts may more fully reflect the eyes of Christ. “I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street, " he said.

Lynn Kapusinski is the founder of the Faith Journeys Foundation, Inc. (, a Catholic nonprofit providing pastoral care for children from divorced or separated families since 2002. She is also a school counselor in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the author of three books for these young people. Her latest book, When Parents Divorce or Separate: I Can Get Through This, won a first place award from the Catholic Press Association. Lynn has been featured on EWTN, Relevant Radio, SIRIUS Catholic Radio, The Catholic Digest, Notre Dame Magazine, Catholic New World, and other media outlets across the nation.

By Lynn Kapusinski
Give your child the tools and Catholic faith to discover a path toward healing and growth.
Divorce and separation are painful experiences, particularly for children. Children may not fully understand what is happening between their parents. They may think that they are at fault, or feel like they are caught in the middle. As the divorce or separation unfolds and major changes in family structure and dynamics start to take place, children may become overwhelmed by their reactions.

Author Lynn Cassella-Kapusinki--a child of divorce who is a National Certified Counselor with a background in pastoral counseling and experience in Catholic-based ministry programs for children of divorce or separation-knows these realities all too well. Writing from both a personal and professional perspective, she comfortingly embraces children into the community of children of divorce and separation, and also into the community of God's children and God's family: the Church.

Formed by the truths of the Catholic faith and by what professionals in family counseling have found helpful, this guide through parental divorce and separation designed for children ages 8 – 12 blends faith with interactive elements. Whether you are a parent, guardian, caretaker, counselor, therapist, support group leader, or ministry program coordinator, with this resource, you can provide your child with a safe space for coping, healing, and growing.
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