This extract is from the Tui Motu’s review of lay movements in the church┬ásince the Vatican Council defined the church as the People of God.

The Passionist Family Groups
The successor to the Christian Family Movement has its origins much closer to home. The Passionist Family Group Movement was started in 1972 by Fr Peter McGrath cp in the Terrey Hills parish, New South Wales. It has grown steadily and now it operates in 420 parishes in English-speaking countries touching the lives of over 100,000 people. The first parish in New Zealand to have the Passionist Family Movement was Paeroa (Waikato), in 1988.

Peter McGrath describes the essence of the Movement as follows:
A well-functioning Family Group is an extended family. It provides a nurturing and supportive environment for all its members to grow as Christians. It is a basic building block of Christian community, providing a sound foundation for the life of the parish. It answers the need for belonging. When people are at home in a Family Group their gifts and graces are revealed. Then they use them within the parish community and in the Christian mission.

The way the Passionist Family Groups function was described in detail the Tui Moutu June 1999. The typical Family Group in inclusive and all-embracing. Non-Catholic partners, the young and the old, all social strata are welcome to belong. In this sense it is in obvious contrast to some more exclusive groups described in Part 1 of this review (September TM).

But is it only a successful socialising force, or is it more? John Kleinsman insists the Family Group is a place we encounter God in the most ordinary aspects of our lives.

The focus of Passionist Family Groups is that we do indeed encounter God and experience God-moments outside the four walls of our churches and beyond the sacred spaces where we spend time in prayer .. we encounter God in the ordinary, in the ordinariness of our daily lives and in the ordinariness of our social relationships.

This difficulty of believing that God can be encountered in the ordinary is because the groups seem to focus around social activities, are ‘just social’. We believe however it is only people who fail to recognise that God can be in the ordinary who can possibly have such an understanding.

Sometimes the need of a person close to us is to receive practical support by way of meals or other means. Sometimes the response called for is simply to get alongside and listen. Sometimes there is a need for us to grieve with others. Sometimes it is a need to celebrate important milestones such as anniversaries, births or baptisms. Always there is the need to converse with, understand, accept and love in real, concrete, and ordinary ways. This is what Family Groups are all about.

“A Family Group is far more than social, it is incarnational. The Spirit of Christ living in the hearts of its faithful members, is able to work wonders. People are accepted, understood and forgiven. There is a true reconciliation. People break bread at a common table. All the sacraments of the church, from Baptism to the Anointing of the Sick, find a place within the Family Group. The Family Group is the church.

John Kleinsman
Family Groups New Zealand