Synod on the Family 2014: Commentary By Hector Welgampola

Hector Welgampola

Hector Welgampola

If synodal midwifery is to prevent hemorrhaging a familial Church …

There was a time when Africa was sneered at as the Dark Continent. But no longer. The recent Rome synod showed that now there is more to Africa than the stigma of Boko Haram, ISIS or Ebola.

Both theologian-Saint Augustine and his mystic mother, Saint Monica, would have felt vindicated by African voices at the Oct. 5-19 Synod on Family. Amid media-mediated efforts of deviant cultures, African synodists spoke up courageously for family values cherished by their peoples. As Augustine’s voice did in an earlier decadent era, African bishops’ stand helped prevent the synod’s gay abandon to effete post-Christian trends.

Some claim that it was pastoral realism that led German Cardinal Walter Kasper to canvass for permissiveness both sacramental and sexual. Whatever that may be, it brought into the open a reality less spoken of in public up until now: if pastoral policies need to suit the times, they need also to suit the climes.

As Hans Kung once wrote, this modern age too may “produce various and contradictory views of the Kingdom of God.” But every such view need not be imposed arbitrarily on all Catholics as universal Church teaching. Perhaps, that was why Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kagama held that, “the time has gone when we would just follow without question.” Also, that was why Guinean Cardinal Robert Sara recapped arbitrary moves to impose Western gender ideologies as a precondition for humanitarian aid to developing nations.

Some Asian synodists too echoed related sentiments. Their passivity did not always match the passionate pleas of African prelates. Yet, their interventions cited the unsung heroism of poor but virtuous families struggling to resist the imposition of secular values.

In a way, Cardinal Kasper’s disputed claim that “Africans should not tell us too much what we should do” did more than open a can of worms. It was a profound moment of truth. There was no need for others to make a big hue and cry about it.

After all, his plain-speak was an admission of the plurality of Catholics worldwide, who live in varied cultures while sharing a common faith. And of course, the converse also has to be true! Dechristianized societies should not dictate what Churches elsewhere should do. In particular, they should not project their secularized worldview as a universal Christian ethic.

If that realization emerges undiluted in the final document of the synod, then the consultation could claim a considerable achievement by way of preparation for next year’s synod proper. Hopefully, the recent synod had an opportunity to assess over-concerns about people’s sacramental and sexual life. And Pope Francis, who spoke very little during that process, seems to have said it all in his post-synodal remarks that the family is being “devalued”. Some translators of his remarks used the word “bastardized”!

In those frank words spoken Oct. 25 to members of a Marian movement from Cardinal Kasper’s own country, the Holy Father summed up the gut feeling of most Catholics about the trend to downgrade family life from a joyous vocation to a permissive social industry.

If those words are to hold out hope for the synod of 2015, that upcoming consultation will need active participation of more mothers, fathers and youths, but fewer celibates. Opening the synod to families will give voice to Church members who strive to live marital spirituality in family beyond what some may see as just a sacramental or sexual partnering. 

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Hector Welgampola has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.  

Write him: welgampo@gmail.com 

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In Rome CBCP President reflects on poverty, migration, Filipino family

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan (right) /NJ Viehland Photos

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan (right) /NJ Viehland Photos

POVERTY, MIGRATION AND FAMILY
Archbishop Socrates B Villegas
CBCP President, October 16, 2014

Rome – Because the family is also an economic unit, poverty impacts on it — more often than not (though not necessarily), negatively.  While inspiring stories are told of families that have emerged stronger after having been tested in the crucible of poverty, more often, poverty inflicts terrible wounds on members of the family and sadly, many times, there is never a complete recovery!

Of the nations of Southeast Asia, the Philippines ranks among the highest in the dispersal of its citizens throughout the world.  In fact, there is hardly a corner of the world that one will not find a Filipino.  In Rome alone, there is a sizable and vibrant Filipino community.  And it would be a case of undue generalization to make the claim that it is poverty that drives Filipinos from their homeland to seek their fortunes elsewhere. 

We are not the poorest nation, but those who rank lower than us in the economic scale are not as dispersed as we are.  This compels us, if we are to understand the phenomenon of the Filipino family in the 21st century better, to look elsewhere for plausible explanations.

Many Filipinos who are abroad are nurses, teachers and other professionals, among these, engineers and agriculturists.  They are therefore not at the bottom of the economic scale. In fact, as professionals they would not have really been hungry had they remained home in the Philippines.  In dialogues with Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), it has become clear that many who have sought employment abroad have done so because they feel, rightly or wrongly, that in the Philippines, they do not get what they deserve. 

Philippines hospital doctors, nurses and staff / NJ Viehland Photos

Philippines hospital doctors, nurses and staff / NJ Viehland Photos

The phenomenon of the nursing profession makes for an interesting case study.  At one time, the Philippines fielded nurses all over the world, and till the present, many nurses in the United States and in Europe are Filipinos.  And as schools of nursing proliferated in the Philippines, we overstocked the labor market with nurses and really killed the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg.  There has been a deleterious slump in the demand for Filipino nurses.  Many schools of nursing have closed down, and graduates of the nursing curriculum have had to seek employment as call-center agents, sales representatives, etc.

The point seems to be clear: In the Filipino psyche is a romanticized notion of the West as the land of opportunity accompanied by a deprecatory assessment of the Philippine situation.  It is not really poverty alone, nor perhaps principally, that sunders families.  It is rather the idealization of the West — and, for non-professionals, or manual laborers, the Middle East — as the land of promise.

Many marriages are threatened by the separation of couples owing to overseas employment of one or the other spouse; this peculiarity of the national social psyche is threatening for it can only mean that not even the family is powerful enough a factor to keep Filipinos home, especially when, we observe, the Filipinos who pack their bags and seek employment abroad are not really impoverished Filipinos.

There is no doubt that the unprincipled aggressive recruitment policies of many Western corporations and business establishments, eager for cheap labor, induce Filipinos with dreams of immediate, though unrealistic, prosperity.  Talk to any OFW and you will be impressed at the grasp he or she has of terms relating to placement fees, payment schemes, salaries, benefits, wages, privileges…all this, obviously the result of sweetened deals packaged so as to attract cheap Filipino labor to country’s where a successful birth-control program has a very thin younger sector to take care of an increasingly aging population! 

This takes us to a more involved sociological issue that the Philippine church must resolutely and studiously confront: Does the family still matter to the Filipino, and does it matter sufficiently to come before every other consideration that may sacrifice the unity of the family? To cling to idyllic pictures from the past of members of the family cohesively constituting an economic unit working not only in proximity to each other but living under the same roof will be a disservice to a Church that is sparing nothing to be more effective in its pastoral care for members of the family.

It would be presumptuous to offer any definitive answer to this question, but the matter has to be raised, and the problem addressed.  Does the Filipino find in family ties and bonds a value so high that others, including the prospect of higher salaries and more comfortable living, can be sacrificed for it?  And if the Filipino’s valuation of the family has suffered a downturn, what can the Philippine Church do about it?

Obviously, the Philippine phenomenon is also symptomatic of a universal phenomenon: a re-thinking and a re-shaping of elemental units, the family principally among them.  And while many Filipino OFWs will declare that the sacrifice of living apart from spouse and children is one they willingly make ‘for the sake of the family’, one wonders what notion of family life and what norms of family membership Filipinos have when they willing forego conjugal cohabitation, they miss out on the childhood and adolescence of their children, they become strangers to their own families — while they make a pile abroad.

If, as Gaudium et Spes boldly proclaimed, the Church is the expert on humanity, then this anthropological and sociological question has to be something that merits the Church’s serious reflection, the debates and studies of its scholars, and the guiding voice of its shepherds.

Catholic Women educators weigh in on discussion of Filipino family ahead of synod

From left: Father Ruben Tanseco, SJ, Eleonor R. Dionisio, Agnes Brazal, PhD, Mary Racelis, PhD, Emma E. Porio, PhD gave presentations and a reaction at the Symposium on the Filipino Family: Catholic and Women's Perspective, Sept. 13, Ateneo de Manila University. - By NJ Viehland

From left: Father Ruben Tanseco, SJ, Eleonor R. Dionisio, Agnes Brazal, PhD, Mary Racelis, PhD, Emma E. Porio, PhD gave presentations and a reaction at the Symposium on the Filipino Family: Catholic and Women’s Perspective, Sept. 13, Ateneo de Manila University. – By NJ Viehland

Inspired by Pope Francis’ challenge to the Church to “broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church,” the Theology Department of the Jesuits’ Ateneo de Manila in Quezon City organized a symposium to  allow women to voice out their perspectives on issues in their field of expertise relevant to situations Filipino families face today.

Symposium organizers said the discussions are timely as the Church prepares to hold the Synod on the Family in the Vatican October 5-19, 2014 and in 2015 .

Leaders in various disciplines tackled the concerns, new trends, and experiences Filipino families undergo in a “patriarchal context wherein patriarchy is still hardly articulated,” organizers wrote in their symposium description. They said using the  interdisciplinary approach aims to bridge gaps and intensify present connections between religious beliefs and the wealth of knowledge from culture, the secular arts, and sciences.

Presenters and their topics included:

• “The Catholic Church in the Philippines: Some Perspectives on Gender and Public Policy on the Family” by Eleanor R. Dionisio 

• “Women, Family and the Church in a Changing Society: An Introduction to the Socio-Cultural Issues” by Mary Racelis, Ph.D

• “Gender and Family Dynamics: Building Climate Resilience Among the Urban Poor” by Emma E. Porio, Ph.D

• “Gender Roles in the Context of Feminization of Migration: Challenge to Papal Teachings?” by Agnes M. Brazal, Ph.D

• Reaction: Fr. Ruben Tanseco, SJ from the Center for Family Ministries (CeFam)

[more]

Cardinal Tagle lecture on Synod on Family – Photo

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, and one of three presidents of the Oct. 5-19 extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, explained the first 2 synodal assembly being held in a row, which Pope Francis is convening this year and next year. - NJ Viehland photos

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, and one of three presidents of the Oct. 5-19 extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, explained the first 2-synod assembly being held in a row, which Pope Francis is convening this year and next year. – NJ Viehland photos

Today at Loyola School of Theology.

Cardinal Tagle: Upcoming synod will reflect clear picture of families

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, president of the Synod on the Family, at the June 10 press conference on the 2016 International Eucharistic Congress discussed the synod in his response to National Catholic Reporter's question: What can Catholics who are not allowed to receive the Eucharist hope for in the upcoming synod. - NJ Viehland Photo

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, president of the Synod on the Family, at the June 10 press conference on the 2016 International Eucharistic Congress discussed the synod in his response to National Catholic Reporter’s question: What can Catholics who are not allowed to receive the Eucharist hope for in the upcoming synod. – NJ Viehland Photo

For Philippines Cardinal Luis Tagle, the two stages of the Synod of Bishops on the family that Pope Francis will convene in Rome are “hopeful signs” that the Church is willing to listen not only to the success stories and joys of families, but also to the difficulties families experience worldwide.

At a June 10 press conference in Manila, Cardinal Tagle pointed out various reasons why Filipino spouses separate, some of them because of marital problems, but many others “because of poverty that leads to forced migration.” He described the latter as “separation because they love.” 

Daniel and Evita Licardo (seated) celebrated their silver wedding anniversary with their daughters, relatives and friends grateful for "blessings" they received especially while Daniel was away, working in Kuwait since one year after they were married. - Photo by Noriza Licardo published with permission.

Daniel and Evita Licardo (seated) celebrated their silver wedding anniversary with their daughters, relatives and friends grateful for “blessings” they received especially while Daniel was away, working in Kuwait since one year after they were married. – Photo by Noriza Licardo published with permission.

 

Cardindal Tagle said Pope Francis wants various voices on the matter of separation of spouses to be heard.

Read full report