This summer I was blessed with being a part of the USCCB’s delegation at the five-day “‘Humanae Vitae’ Congresso Internazionale — The Fecundity of a Letter From the Future” which was organized for the 50th anniversary of Pope St. Paul VI’s prophetic document, in Brescia, Italy.
The last day of the congress was held in Concesio, Italy, the birthplace of Giovanni Battista Montini — who later became Pope Paul VI. There we heard from the Italian family about the last miracle accepted in Pope Paul’s cause for sainthood and got to meet Amanda Tagliaferri, the smiling toddler whose life was miraculously saved in the womb through his intercession. Her mother, Vanna Pironato, was advised to have an abortion because of a premature break of amniochorial membranes, leading to a loss of amniotic fluid. She and her husband prayed daily for Paul VI’s intercession through a difficult pregnancy, and Amanda was born Christmas Eve, 2014. This led to his canonization Oct. 14.
We also toured the family house and saw the actual bed in which St. Paul VI was born. In that room, our little group of USCCB representatives prayed to Paul VI and asked him to bless Pope Francis, especially to help him continue the legacy of life and love he gave to the world 50 years ago in his prophetic encyclical, “Humanae Vitae.”
The new saint’s encyclical invited faithful Catholics to develop family planning methods in conformity to Church teaching, leading to the development of Natural Family Planning.
Approximately 200 participants attended the congress that included talks reflecting on the themes of the 1968 encyclical with various speakers. Most were Catholic, but two couples from mixed marriages represented NFP use as an integral part of their faith: one as a Hindu and another as a Muslim. All shared honestly about the impact of integrating “Humanae Vitae” into their own marriages.
We also presented our experiences in diocesan NFP ministry over the past 40 years, sharing how NFP ministry developed in the U.S., with the majority of early diocesan NFP leaders focusing on the science and methodology above Church teaching, reasoning that couples would welcome safe, natural and effective methods of family planning that were also moral.
Over the years, however, this approach proved to be inadequate. We’ve learned the importance of beginning with NFP education with Christian anthropology and the nature of marriage. When the faithful are provided with an opportunity to learn and reflect on God’s gifts of human sexuality, the nature of marriage, conjugal love and responsible parenthood, as well as the gift of human fertility and the value of children and family life, then the methods of NFP can be seen as a “skill set” which can help them remain faithful to their marital vows, be open to life and live God’s plan for married love and life. Many couples who come to us are un-churched and participating in the program opens the door for them to trust the faith in all of its dimensions.
Thanks to Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s new policy on marriage preparation eight years ago, we’ve been able to provide a thorough Christian foundation for NFP, and it’s made all the difference in couples joyfully accepting the challenges of living the NFP lifestyle in their marriages.
On Dec. 1 we will end the 2018 Shepherd Series with a practical afternoon meant as a renewal and refreshment for NFP couples. I hope many couples will come to renew their love and understanding of NFP; joining me, Fr. Charlie Goraieb, Steve and Becky Greene and our NFP-only medical providers. We’ll also provide workshops for NFP use while breastfeeding, infertility support and practicing NFP during peri-menopause.
Registration links for this event and the Oct. 20 White Mass, hosted for all levels of medical providers and their spouses, can be found at dphx.org/shepherd-series. This year’s White Mass will feature keynote speaker Fr. Peter Short, the vicar general of the Diocese of Gallup who will present on the relationship between Pope St. Paul VI’s “Humanae Vitae” and Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.