From wounds to slivers of light?
A tried and true vocation: being 'family' for families

Pia Meneguzzo

The journey with separated couples, which was initiated by the author and her husband, continued even after his premature death. The existential situation of Pia has marked a turning point in her "vocation". Sometimes, in fact, it is the loneliness of the separated spouses that is the obstacle to be overcome in order to allow light to shine again in their lives. Recently, the author has become a person of reference for separated families in the diocese of Gorizia.

Renzo and I got married very young, but we were aware that, along with marriage, a big project would embrace our lives and would transcend it. We have always believed in the family, through all the stages of development we progressively experienced, between joy and pain: three children to raise, work problems, constant relocations, starting over each time anew. Like all families.

The more our commitment to live the Gospel grew, the more unity and harmony grew between us and with the children, and the more we felt the urge to open our hearts to the families that surrounded us, as if we had a very specific vocation, that of being an "available family". The opportunities to give of ourselves multiplied, in the normalcy of everyday life.

Then, the unexpected happened: Renzo, just 55 years old, was struck by a rare syndrome that within eight years gradually led him to immobility and death. These were difficult and special years during which the love between us was refined. On the one hand the suffering, the silence, the solitude, the annihilation. On the other, a growing presence of God, a very clear light. They were the two faces of the same coin. We tried to "stay in the game". The disease had made us more sensitive to the pain of others, more open to others. It was at this point that we got to know very well some separated individuals. Their suffering - but also their dignity - shattered the fence that, albeit unintentionally, existed between "our" world and "theirs."

In 2006, I attended a meeting at the European level on separated couples. Soon, along with Renzo - his little strength multiplying mine - we started, together with other couples, a journey with people who were separated. In addition to providing strength to some separated individuals who had made the heroic decision to be faithful to the sacrament, holding firm despite the fact that their love was not reciprocated, the group had set itself the objective of also being open to other separated spouses, to offer them support and friendship. They felt understood and loved, especially by Renzo, stuck in bed, but with his soul projected to infinity. Very many initiatives were born between one hospital stay and the next!

In 2009 came the time of detaching myself from Renzo. It was very hard, humanly speaking, but it turned our union into a bridge between Heaven and earth. Our commitment to others was to continue as before. Now that I, too, am alone, maybe I can better understand the loneliness of those who are separated, the hardship of having to educate children alone, the discomfort in social settings.

Our weekends with separated couples have continued, in the setting of beautiful and relaxing locations, taking walks and organizing picnics, celebrating Mass, and taking time for spiritual retreats. About a hundred separated people, on average, participate in these meetings that are only summoned by a digitally circulating password. Together with them we have discovered that the sacrament of marriage continues even beyond separation; this truth challenges even the couples that are still together and are not always aware of the gift they have.

In fact, those separated spouses that remained "faithful" have spoken to us about the distress of the couples that are remarried, asking us to do something also for those couples in new unions who feel cut off from the Church and who would like some help to grow in faith and in performing their parental duties.

In 2011, on the invitation of the diocesan Office for the Family, I attended the National Conference "Lights of Hope for the Wounded Family." It was a big step forward in the deliberation on the issue. I felt that in God the "wounds" of the family can be turned into "slivers" through which his Light can shine through and restore hope. Back home I had the opportunity to update the bishop about the work of the conference. Visibly impressed, he asked me to begin a journey with separated individuals in our diocese.

In preparation for the next Synod, the Family Ministry of the Diocese of Gorizia has planned a meeting entitled "The Family: a Field Hospital." A Capuchin friar who in recent years has accompanied with great wisdom the journey of wounded families will lead this project with me. We will offer a journey of faith entitled "Know your heart," addressed to anyone who desires this, separated or not. We want to proclaim to all: God loves you immensely.