Leslie Sammut had a distinguished academic and professional career in his native Malta before moving to Australia. During his 18 years of secondary teaching in Australia he gained qualifications in theology and marriage counselling. He has also been involved in journalism and in various lay movements.
Recently retired, Mr Sammut and his wife were chosen as the Oceania President Couple by the International Confederation of Christian Family Movements.
No one can deny that the Christian family as we know it is in great danger of becoming almost extinct, and that most Catholics are enormously ignorant of what baptism in Christ actually entails regarding values, morals and duties as Catholics in everyday life.
This situation calls for an urgent re-evangelisation of families, a challenge the Christian Family Movement has sought to address.
Back in 1945, Pat and Patty Crowley (who died recently at the age of 92) founded the Christian Family Movement in Chicago. It was one of the first Catholic lay-apostolate movements in which married couples could participate together, as couples.
The movement spread rapidly into many Catholic countries, with groups of married couples, led by a chaplain, holding regular meetings in their own homes to pray together, discuss family issues and problems and propose concrete courses of action. In most cases these meetings led to the couples becoming involved in pastoral work in their own parishes.
Following the successful spread of the movement worldwide, the Crowleys set up the International Confederation of Christian Family Movements (ICCFM).
Some decades later, on 11 March 1992, the Maltese- Australian Christian Family Group was established in Australia by my wife Carmen and myself, with Fr Terry Micallef MSSP as our chaplain. The move was encouraged by Fr Charles Vella who had started the Cana and the Christian Family Movements in Malta, and who visited Australia in 1990.
During his stay, Fr Charles met so many Maltese couples laden with marriage and family problems, that he decided to do something about it here as well. Knowing I had been a member of the Cana Movement in Malta and had completed a Marriage Counselling Course, he encouraged me to set up Christian Family Groups, at least for Maltese migrants.
It took me almost two years to find the courage to go ahead with the help of three other couples. Since then, we have been also trying to broaden the project to English-speaking couples.
Christian Family Groups seek, in brief, the evangelisation of families through other families. This aim can be realised in the following ways:
* Trying to promote Christ-centred marriage and family life by providing adequate spiritual formation to the individual married couples.
* Helping individuals and their families to live their Christian faith in their everyday life, so that through a genuinely Christian family life, they bear witness to the Gospel wherever they may be.
* Improving society through actions of love, service, education and example by cultivation of a missionary spirit in member couples who then offer their services to other families. This can be done by prayer and support.
In recent decades, our families, most of our Catholic Schools, and unfortunately even some parishes have become infected with the modern disease of "supermarket religion". It is not uncommon to find the virginity of Mary, use of the sacrament of reconciliation and attendance at Sunday Mass rejected, while cohabitation, sex before marriage, divorce, abortion and so on are regarded as acceptable.
I have witnessed this myself during 18 years of teaching in Catholic schools in Australia.
It was no wonder that when we first started to meet we were faced with all these problems. Parents felt disheartened, bewildered and discouraged at their children's lack of interest in their faith even while attending Catholic schools, not to mention the high rate of divorce, abortion and general decline of moral values among Catholics.
As the Catechism tells us (par 2204ff), the family, as a community of faith, hope and charity, assumes singular importance in the Church, in so far as the Second Vatican Council calls the family the "Domestic Church" and "the cell of social life".
Guided by this teaching, the Christian Family Movement has set up networks of families at the grassroots level consisting of small groups meeting regularly to look at their experiences, joys and tribulations. This movement in turn works in conjunction with the International Confederation of Christian Families.
We invite other couples to start these groups in their own parishes. All that is needed is a willing couple to lead and a priest to serve as a spiritual leader. Their aim should be to spread the Church's teachings and promote the welfare of Catholic families according to the vision expressed in papal encyclicals and letters, the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Young families, blended families, single parents, widows and widowers, grandparents, the newly married, and clergy and religious who believe in the importance of Christian families, are all welcome in the ICCFM global family.
Anyone interested should contact Leslie and Carmen Sammut, (03) 9379 7176, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or the chaplain, Fr Charles Portelli, parish priest of Keilor Downs, Melbourne Archdiocese.