Strong Catholic Families offers simplified survey for family synod

This article appears in the Synod on the Family feature series. View the full series.

If you found the official survey on family life presented to Catholics by about half of all U.S. dioceses difficult to answer and time-consuming, maybe you should try the survey prepared by Strong Catholic Families, a group of four national organizations that minister to families and youth.

Your answers, unfortunately, won't be shared with the Vatican's Secretariat for the Synod, which is directing the official surveys, but you can be sure the answers will be discussed by church leaders and parish workers interested in your family's welfare.

"It became pretty frustrating for me, even as a church leader, to read [the official synod surveys] and think of the people who had to respond to them, and how difficult it is to both understand and respond pastorally to those kinds of questions," said Michael Theisen, director of Ministry Formation at the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, part of Strong Catholic Families.

"They're certainly not made for parents to respond to; they're specifically for a very few church leaders to grasp and understand the language use."

The survey from Strong Catholic Families, which went live Monday, uses concise language and consists of three questions that take about five minutes to complete.

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And you won't have to wait until some unknown date in the future to know what the survey found. Theisen plans to present the results of the survey at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress on March 14 in Anaheim, Calif.

Strong Catholic Families works closely with church leaders to figure out how they can "walk more closely with parents" and continue to grow the domestic church of the home, Theisen said.

While the survey deadline says March 12, Theisen said the link will not close for some time. He is encouraging people to complete it at any time, as the results page will be a live link with updated responses.

Responses to its survey will be used in the initiative's future presentations, resource materials and discussions with church leaders.

One of the main problems with how parish leaders approach the topic of family life, Theisen said, is that they too often focus on completing tasks -- like getting kids to attend classes, making sure they receive the sacraments, or educating them on the Catholic faith -- rather than how to utilize one's God-given gifts.

"The church often starts in a place where parents are not," Theisen said. "What we need to do is step back and use Pope Francis' model of accompaniment to enter their journey. Find out where they are, what their needs are, what their story is as a family, and then walk with them in that accompaniment model [Francis] so wonderfully uses."

The simplified survey first differentiates families and parents from church leaders, then presents a list of 12 statements taken from regular practices in the church or documents for parents. Respondents are asked which statements are most important to them, followed by what message they'd like to share with the church or church leaders about being a parent or family.

Its first day, the survey garnered about 400 responses, Theisen said. Some of the highest-ranked statements have been: "You are always welcome in our church"; "How can the church help you and your family live out your faith in the world?"; and "You are not alone" -- a feeling Theisen said comes up often when Strong Catholic Families gathers with families who say they thought they were alone in struggling to raise their kids by church teaching.

"It's like they feel guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, or flummoxed, who knows what," Theisen said. "But the time and the ability for them to gather and talk with one another and find out they're not alone in this journey -- that's the accompaniment model Francis talks about. It lets them know we're walking with you."

The four organizations that make up Strong Catholic Families are the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers, the National Catholic Educational Association, and the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.

NCR will be following these survey results. Check back with NCRonline.org for details.

[Soli Salgado is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Her email address is ssalgado@ncronline.org.]


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