OSHKOSH — It’s not unusual for families to be involved in their parishes, but in many cases each family member is involved in their own fashion. One parent ushers, one parent is in the church choir, a child serves at Mass, and the kids are in separate religious education classes.
This situation is nothing new. More than 70 years ago, an organization was formed to bring Catholic families together. Christian Family Movement (CFM), founded in 1948, is an international movement of small groups of Catholics and their families who meet in one another’s homes or in parish centers to reinforce Christian values and encourage fellow Christian parents through active involvement with others.
“Christian Family Movement is a lay renewal movement directed at evangelizing families started by Belgian Cardinal Joseph Cardijn after World War II,” said Rob Saley, adult faith formation minister and communications coordinator at St. Jude the Apostle Parish in Oshkosh. “There have been CFM groups in the past in Oshkosh that have come and gone.”
In the fall of 2019, at the suggestion of Fr. Louis Golamari, administrator at St. Jude Parish, CFM came back to Oshkosh. “Fr. Louis’ previous assignment was in Chicago and he saw how effective CFM was (there) in engaging families and invigorating them and helping move them to live their faith,” noted Saley. “He really wanted to bring it here. As we were establishing it in our parish, he was talking to Bishop (David) Ricken about spreading it in our diocese.”
From Aug. 6-8, the parish will host CFM USA’s semi-annual board meeting. The board includes 10 married couples from throughout the United States. As national chaplain of the organization, Fr. Golamari will be involved in the meetings as well. On Aug. 7, Bishop Ricken will celebrate Mass for the attendees.
Last year, because of the pandemic, the initiative was put on hold. “We had four groups of six to 10 family units. We’re sort of restarting the program because we weren’t able to meet in 2020, but I think we’ll have about the same size and number of groups when we start meeting this fall. Our theme for this year is ‘Living the Beatitudes,’” said Saley.
In the parish’s eyes, a family can be anyone from a single person to a traditional family with young children to retired empty-nesters. Groups meet at various times throughout the week, including weekday evenings and after Mass on Sunday mornings.
This inclusive family ministry represents a wide range of ages, said Saley. “A lot of the material is focused on parents with children and inviting them to bring their children when they meet with the CFM groups,” he explained. “One of the things that works really well is when all these people are together talking about how to raise children. Older people have a perspective that other people do not, so you get a lot of sharing of perspectives.”
When the groups get together once a month, they follow the “social inquiry method” instituted by Cardinal Cardijn. “Observe, Judge, Act (OJA)” is the framework for discussion. “It’s based on discussing contemporary issues through that three-stage process,” explained Saley, who is a member of one of the groups.
Saley said that when families meet, they start by observing or looking at their own experiences as families. “There’s a discussion based on that and the second part is ‘judge,’ which is thinking about those issues in light of the Gospels and trying to understand them through the lens of our faith.”
Finally, they discuss what they can do about their concerns, which is the act.
While the issues discussed can be broader societal issues, generally they’re day-to-day issues that people experience as a family. “Like how do we pray as a family, how do we practice our faith, how do we discipline our children, what is our relationship like with our parents who are older? The heart of it is getting families to think about day-to-day practical things they face and be able to discuss them with one another,” said Saley.
The main objective of CFM is getting people together and moving them from thinking to acting, said Saley. “Everybody gets a booklet that sets the topics for each meeting. There’s a facilitator for each group. Each meeting ends with inviting people to think, ‘What can I do now, based on our discussions?’ It can be very small like we’ll work with our kids on a craft where they’ll draw a picture of a saint or color. It’s not necessarily some grand activist project. Part of what we do the next time we get together is talk about our experiences,” he said.
As a parish, St. Jude’s sponsors parish-wide events through CFM. “We did a CFM picnic at the beginning of the summer,” he said. “It’s not just the faith part — moving from faith to action — but also that social part, creating a space where people can make friends in a casual kind of environment.”
Saley invites representatives from other parishes to contact him if they want to observe a meeting or learn more about the CFM. “I think Bishop Ricken would love to see this grow and spread, because of how effective it is in other places,” said Saley.