The Catholic Church across Yorkshire's historic West Riding since 1878

The Catholic Church across Yorkshire's historic West Riding since 1878

Catholic Family Life

Family life is central to so much of the mission of The Church and of the Diocese of Leeds. Our schools, parishes, community and voluntary organisations are all served by or serve family people in one way or another. Our core diocesan commitment to the support, encouragement and care of family life is rooted in Bishop Marcus’ own special commission from Pope Francis: to take particular care of the families in his diocese.

In the Faith and Family pages of our website, we can focus in a special way on how our Bishop’s commission actually supports the work of Family Life Ministry in the Diocese. There are all kinds of ways that family is central to life, and to our Catholic faith.  It is important to us because it represents in a vibrant and very real and human way the astonishing secret of God’s love for all of us and His world.

Catholicism is a universal faith, we come from all over the world and many different cultures but we share some particular beliefs about family life, like the sanctity of all life and the sanctity of marriage, and about what it means and God’s purpose in designing us to be born into human families.

Catholic families may share some practices that celebrate those beliefs and that mark us out from other families. We attend Mass regularly, we pray every day. There are certain prayers that are particularly associated with our faith, especially prayers to Mary, the Mother of God, such as the Hail Mary and The Rosary. Even if not all Catholics use these prayers regularly we teach our children and we gather to say them in worship and liturgies at different times of the year. But it is not our beliefs or our religious practices that show God’s love, it is how we live our daily lives and how we understand what that daily family life means to us that characterises our Catholic understanding of family and family life ministry.

So, family life is absolutely central to Catholic life and in the Diocese of Leeds we are particularly honoured to have a Bishop who has a particular care for family life.  Ever since Mary said ‘yes’ to the baby Jesus and the Holy Family co-operated with God in the Incarnation, when God became man, and looked after the child Jesus until he was old enough to step out on his own in ministry, there has been tremendous value placed on the part played by ordinary family life in the human as well as in our Catholic Christian story.

Each human being on earth has been created out of the love of, and in the image and likeness of, a loving creator God. Each child is born into that relationship. We all have a family, whether we have just our family by birth or following that also have a family by adoption, we each live in relationship with others who care for us and teach us how to do all the things we need to know to grow. Family life on earth is so important that our Church teaches that family is an ‘icon’ of the Holy Trinity, which itself is a way of seeing God in multifaceted relationship and life-giving and sustaining communion.

As Catholics we believe in the inviolable sanctity and beauty of every single human life from conception through to death and at all points in between. This has huge implications for so much that we do as a Church: from running our Catholic schools, to working for peace and justice and for the common good in whatever field we find ourselves whether that is in local politics or business or, for most of us, in ordinary everyday family life.

Whether small or large; extended; blessed with children or not, the family is the place we try to live our ideals, protecting and caring for one another from conception to death.  Families say yes to life by birth and by adoption and in many other ways to as we support those around us in times of need and celebrate with them in times of joy. Families welcome new life and help foster vocations, and all the skills and responsibilities needed in the next generation. Families are intimately involved in care for the older generation, and in caring for our members who are physically or mentally ill and for those with special needs as well as those with special gifts.

But we also live in the ‘real world’ and as individuals and as a whole Church we recognise that each one of us is imperfect and we each stand in need of compassion, mercy and understanding.  We recognise that while all life is sacred, we do all fall short of our ideals and that in our individual and family lives we too suffer the ills and griefs of the wider world.

So while we place great importance on Sacramental Marriage, on children and on the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, we also recognise that ‘family’ life today includes much variety. Catholic families share in the broken, extended, blended and mended family life we see in the world around us. As Catholics we reflect and we value the many variations of family life that people live today and we strive to make our parishes and schools places where everybody is welcome.

The truth is that however constituted, family life is special because God is present in family life, especially in a family life that is a living ‘communion of life and love’.  How we live love in our families and how we can live our Christian love and faith in our families is what Family Ministry in this Diocese is all about.

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Family Life Ministry

Catholic education is recognised as beginning in the home. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that ‘parents are the primary educators’ and nothing can replace the role of parents in their children’s education.

Before he became a bishop, when he was a priest in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, Bishop Marcus wrote a seminal document on education called Christ at the Centre. Now, this work is being developed in our diocese into Catholic Character Education as schools learn how to translate gospel values into everyday virtues: actions and attitudes that we need to live and to model for the children in our homes and our schools.

Family is the basic ‘school of humanity’. It in family life that we learn to say ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’, those three small words that Pope Francis repeats time and again in his catecheses on family life.

‘The future of humanity passes by way of the family’
Pope St John Paul II

It is a truism to say that families are the basic ‘cell’ of society. Families are the cornerstone of all of life; we are all born in relationship and most of us stay in our birth families until we are able to move on and start our own families.

We have always taught the importance of family life but it was not until Pope John Paul II called the first synod on the family in 1980 and then produced the document summing up the learning from that synod called ‘The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World’ (Familiaris Consortio) that we began to develop a sense of positive and proactive ministry for families.

Family Life Ministry is, as a consequence, a relatively new concept within our faith. Nevertheless the Diocese of Leeds was an early leader in this field and appointed one of the first ever full time Family Life Ministry Coordinators in the England and Wales.

Family Life Ministry works with all families, whatever their circumstances, to help them to grow in love and to do this in practical ways like communication skills, or understanding what children need, why attachment matters and how to manage our relationships within the family.  Family ministry seeks to equip families to be even more fully, the families of life and love which they already are.

As Catholics we believe that family is founded on the sacrament of love we celebrate in marriage. Our commitment to marriage as a sacrament is one of the key ways we aim to support life and love.

Family life is central to God’s plan for us. God chose the family to be the place where he would be born and live most of his earthly life. The family is a central part of God’s plan for all of humanity.

More than this, in the Catholic tradition the family is sometimes called the ‘domestic church’. This can sound a little staid, formal or off-putting! In fact when we try to ‘unpack’ what church is: ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic’ we very quickly see that actually all families exhibit these attributes and in ways that are unique to what we might call the ‘charism’ or the unique gift of family life. Family is church but not as we normally understand the word church:


The family founded on a man and a woman who join their lives into one unit is the basis for all human life. A husband and wife become ‘one’. This unity strengthens them for all the joys and sorrow they will endure in their lives together as one family, which will, if they are so blessed branch into children who grow up to make their own families, new unities, independent but deeply connected to their families of origin just as we are deeply connected to God our creator.


All life is holy and family life is holy because God is present in each family as love and as life.


Family life is inherently catholic in its meaning of ‘universal’. Male and female bonding and caring for children and for other vulnerable people is our human design. Families say yes to life; we say yes not knowing who it is or what that life will bring. Family life is truly open to life and catholic in its unconditional acceptance of every member.


All family life is rooted in God’s plan for human beings. No baby can be born and live in isolation and families are a living example of how God’s creative life and love is at work in the world. Families which live in love are inherently apostolic and families which pray and practise the faith are living witnesses of that apostolic tradition we get from the early church. 

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