Interim staff

Individual families can play a major role in counteracting increasingly disruptive influences in society, say participants of the Second Pan-American Conference on Family and Education.

The conference, held May 26-30 in Toronto, attracted nearly 1,200 delegates from Canada, the United States, Mexico and several other countries throughout the world. The theme of the conference- Building a Civilization of Love- was taken from Pope John Paul II’s Letter of Families (1995) which held up the traditional family as the key component promoting a more stable society and combating diminished respect for human life.

Conference delegates discussed ways of strengthening the traditional family through marriage, education and social policy. The communications media and its tendency to denigrate marriage and the family occupied much of the conference agenda. Several sessions were devoted to ways of shielding the family from anti-family messages in television, film and popular culture.

Parental role

As well, delegates examined new educational arrangements, such as home-schooling, to ensure greater parental involvement in their children’s upbringing.

Conference chairman Paul Tomory said delegates were impressed by the quality of speakers and the diversity of information presented.

Tomory took part in a May 30 concluding panel which shared ways of implementing the initiatives raised at the conference. He said panelists agreed a “civilization of love” can be achieved by individuals acting to uphold the family, the neighborhood and the local community. “It’s a matter of doing the small things that you have control over,” he said.

Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, president of the Vatican Council for the Family, was scheduled to give the opening address at the conference May 28. The cardinal was unable to attend the conference but his assistant, Monsignor Francesco Di Felice, presented his paper. In it, the cardinal outlined church social teaching on the family as the cornerstone of the community. He said the attempt to redefine motherhood, fatherhood and marriage is the first step towards societal upheaval.

The importance of the family as a protection against the “culture of death” was put forward by keynote speaker Janine Langan, founder of the Christianity and Culture program of St. Michael’s College and the University of Toronto.

“In the struggle of life over death, the family must be at the forefront,” Langan said. “It will not do for us to deny the problems that face the family. But it will not do either to agree that the civilization of love is a pipe dream; that the family does not work and cannot work. For all the disinformation around this topic, 20 centuries of love haven’t passed in vain.”

A number of workshop presenters called for new legislation supporting the aims of the traditional family. Although some speakers recognized the need for two incomes and substitute child care arrangements, they urged changes to the tax laws which would encourage one parent to stay at home to raise young children. In her talk, Legislating for the Real Needs of the Family, Gwen Landolt, vice-president of REAL Women of Canada, said Canada’s tax structure discriminates against traditional families. “It’s to a couple’s financial advantage to have both husband and wife employed outside of the home,” she said. “This is the case even though a spouse at home greatly assists the other in the paid work force by ensuring the children are being well looked after and in his/her absence. This creates security and stability which allows more time and energy for accomplishments by the spouse in the labor force.”

Popular entertainment, notable television and films, came under fire at the conference for promoting violence, promiscuity and a disrespect for marriage and families. Several speakers urged delegates to monitor and/or restrict children’s access to TV and movies.

‘Big Lies’

Noted U.S. film critic Michael Medved and his wife Diane led a session focusing on Hollywood’s “big lies” about the media and the family. Medved, author of the best-selling book Hollywood vs. America, argued the TV and film industry is seriously out of touch with North American values and that it distorts reality to its own permissive, secular agenda.

“Five times more North Americans attend church or synagogue watch week than go to movies,” he said, “but religion is virtually ignored in Hollywood except to ridicule priests, minister or rabbis.”

The conference was a follow-up to the first conference on family and education held in Monterrey, Mexico in May, 1994. The Monterrey conference coincided with the International Year of the Family, and led to the formation of the World Association for Family and Education (WAFE), an international resource and information organization. The next Pan-American Conference on Family and Education is scheduled for May, 1998 in Buenos Aires.