At 50, CFM Is Still Alive and Risking

By McClory, Robert | National Catholic Reporter, September 4, 1998 | Go to article overview

At 50, CFM Is Still Alive and Risking


McClory, Robert, National Catholic Reporter


Next year the Christian Family Movement will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a "Families of Faith" conference at the University of Notre Dame July 1-4. Although the movement, which once numbered more than 150,000 couples in 52 countries, has shriveled over the past quarter century, it is alive and growing again, said Kay Aitchison of Ames, Iowa.

She and her husband, Gary, have been CFM members for 32 years and co-executive directors of the organization for 13 years. Currently, she said, some 300 CFM groups (with 2,000 member families) exist in 125 U.S. parishes. This represents a significant growth since 1982 when CFM bottomed out with only 1,132 dues-paying member families. A sizable number of CFM groups are growing in other countries, too, Aitchison said.

CFM has changed since the days of its first fervor. Once major attention was placed on societal issues, such as racial justice, the U.S. economy, poverty, world peace and politics. There was a reliance on the papal social encyclicals and a tendency toward a liberal (in those days) interpretation of scripture and theology. With their projects for a just world, CFMers were sometimes accused of delusions of grandeur.

The current, more modest approach, said Aitchison, is directed at integrating Christian values into family and local community life. In some places, CFM groups are militantly pro-life and stress absolute fidelity to the church's magisterium, but the yearly program book lends itself to a variety of interpretations and projects.

The 1997-'98 book, Seasons of the Heart, was centered around major holiday celebrations and drew inspiration from scores of sources ranging from the gospel to Little Women and from The Catechism of the Catholic Church to Leo Buscaglia. Each section guiding the adult meeting was followed by suggestions for a follow-up "family meeting."

For the next two years, said Aitchison, the books will be using inquiries from CFM books of the first 25 years. The aim, she said, is to connect the present with the past and to learn how (or if) some of the larger societal issues have changed over the years.

The Christian Family Movement was created in 1949 as a U.S. variation of the Young Christian Workers movement pioneered in Europe in the 1920s by the Belgian priest Joseph Cardijn. He formed cells of young people and used the see-judge-act technique to sensitize them, in the light of the gospel, to economic injustices in the workplace.

Among the first to adapt the method to married couples and their world were Pat and Patty Crowley, then a young Chicago-area couple, who became copresidents of the U. …

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