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Posted Tuesday, August 24, 2004 at 1:16 p.m. CDT


Bishops aim to bolster families buffeted by changing value systems
Churches' pastoral programs should form and empower families, bishops say

Daejeon, South Korea

Editor's Note: The Asian bishops' meeting has ended, but NCR coverage of the event has not. Keep watching this web site for feature stories and interviews with Asian Catholic leaders.

The Asian bishops aim to help families buffeted by rapidly changing value systems by building pastoral programs for the churches in Asia that form and empower families. The outline of their plan is included in a three-part, 21,000-word statement the bishops issued at the end of their weeklong plenary assembly.

The Final Documents

The bishops issued two documents at the end of their plenary assembly, a message addressed to "the People of God in Asia and People of Good Will" and their final document, The Asian Family toward a culture of intergral life.

The Asian bishops identified "massive poverty" as the most common challenge facing families in Asia. But poverty in Asia today has "a new dimension, which is "the process of neo-liberal economic globalization that is producing a new world order," the bishops wrote in the final statement issued at the end of their weeklong plenary assembly here.

The bishops' statement also cited "Western secularism" and a "post-modern spirit of individualistic sense of freedom" as rapidly "reshaping the value systems of Asian families."

The document begins by listing pastoral challenges Asian families face, then offers a lengthy theological reflection on the family and concludes with a plan for pastoral programs. The document is intended to offer non-binding guidelines for pastoral programs for the Asian bishops that they can work to implement in the years ahead.

Among the challenges the bishops highlight are poverty, landlessness, cultural globalization, patriarchy, the inequality of women and girls, child labor, ecology, population programs, HIV/AIDS, and bio-genetic threats.

The bishops wrote: "In God's plan of salvation, the Son became incarnate through the Holy Spirit and became part of the family of Mary and Joseph." and "From the Scriptures then, we know that Jesus was born and reared within a Jewish family whose fundamental religiosity arose from the home. There he experienced the love and care of parents and learned spiritual values so characteristic of Judaism: a passion for God and an intense concern for others."
The most common challenge facing Asian families, the document states, is poverty, often stemming from forces of globalization. "The first major challenge confronting Asian families is massive poverty," the bishops write. "It is the tragic reality of poverty that the majority of Asian families must contend with everyday and are unable to escape from. Many poor young people have difficulty to think of marriage and start a family because of the lack of basic means of support and sustenance. But today's Asian poverty has a new dimension. This is the process of neo-liberal economic globalization that is producing a new world order to which every country has to be conformed lest it be left behind on the road to economic progress as defined by developed countries."

Addressing Western influences, the bishops write: "Since the middle of the 20th century Western secularism has been strongly influencing Asian societies. But at no time has the secularizing process, now with a significant post-modern spirit of individualistic sense of freedom, been more rapid and effective in reshaping the value systems of Asian families than in the last two decades of the 20th century. The bearers of this change are economics, as we have seen, and the on-going revolution in mass global communication that has truly made the world a global village."

The document notes that a variety of family forms exist in Asia today. "Almost common now in Asia are family situations that are certainly different from what Asians used to call the 'traditional' and even 'ideal' family. Intercultural families and inter-faith families that result from 'mixed marriages' abound. In such marriages couples might find adjustment to each other much more difficult than if they were of the same faith. Also increasing in number are families with single parents, families with separated parents and cases of remarriage for one or both partners. Some parents are separated permanently while others temporarily because of work. No longer rare are children whose parents are divorced and children living with grandparents. There are families where only the father or only the mother is around with the children, families where parents only come once or twice a year and families where children do not have common fathers or mothers. There are also many families where the parents are not married and are not able to offer stability to their children."

The bishops' document then sets up a theological lens through which the challenges can be viewed. Much attention is paid to the framework of the "cultural of integral life," which, the bishops stressed during their meeting, is broader than the notion of "prolife" as seen by some in the West. Integral life, for the Asian bishops, has to do with living in communion and solidarity with the peoples of Asia. The bishops also stress the notion of the family as being a sacred sanctuary from some of the ills of modern society, a sanctuary built on the examples given to the church by the lives of the Holy Family.

The bishops go on to say: "While the emerging culture has certainly many positive contributions to our world, it is a challenge to Asian families to evangelize it and liberate by transforming it into a culture of integral life so that it may not be inimical to integral human life. In understanding a culture of life and the gravity of the threat against it, the ancient religious and philosophical traditions of Asia would most certainly be helpful. And surely there would be many convergences in the understanding."

"In understanding a culture of life and the gravity of the threat against it, the ancient religious and philosophical traditions of Asia would most certainly be helpful. And surely there would be many convergences in the understanding."
The third section of the document offers a series of pastoral recommendations. They list a set of priorities drawn up by regional groups at the plenary gathering. For family programs to be successful, the bishops wrote, they need to be holistic, taking into consideration a "comprehensive understanding of a culture of integral life" that extends "beyond our usual concerns about contraception, abortion, euthanasia, natural family planning, pre-marriage and post-marriage catechesis, and family enrichment seminars."

"In the light of emerging secular values regarding the family," family ministry programs, the bishops wrote, should seek to vigorously promote faith convictions that the family is based on marriage, open to the transmission of life and it is a divinely instituted sacrament. Family ministry should also "prepare couples and families to meet the challenges of poverty, migration, gender, youth, indigenous families, environment, politics, economic and cultural globalization."

The document speaks of "restoring equality of dignity, complementariness, and co-responsible partnership" of husband and wife, "eradicating the evils of patriarchy and liberating women from oppressive and traditional values and structures that do not recognize their equality of dignity with men." It calls for providing "adequate formation regarding the role of male and female sexuality in human and family relationships."

The bishops offer a critique of patriarchy, noting it is embedded in Asian society. They write: "With regard to the roles of women and men in the Asian family and in the wider society, patriarchy remains sadly the determining factor. As such the social attitude of patriarchy is embedded in social structures and has fundamentally determined gender inequality and the superior role of men. The world view of patriarchy lies deep in the cultural and religious subconscious of Asia and dominates politics, economics, human relationships, childrearing views and practices, stereotypes about men and women, community roles, etc. Patriarchy defines man in terms of prowess, brawn, authority and domination. It is at the basis of male chauvinism in society and of men's authoritarianism in the family. On the other hand patriarchy defines woman in terms of meekness, submissiveness and subordination. It regards women as subordinate human beings and generally establishes a double standard to govern the behavior of men, women, boys and girls. For instance, based on such patriarchal world-view the infidelities of a husband against his wife and his irresponsible behavior to his children are more likely to be condoned and tolerated than those of the wife."

"In some countries patriarchy reveals its evil features in sex selection procedures during pregnancy. In those countries, the preference for the male child has created a tremendous imbalance of sex ratio in the population. Science has tragically assisted this evil feature of patriarchy through pre-natal sex identification and selection resulting in the abortion of thousands of female fetuses."

"A family of deep religious faith is a sign of the Church and of the Reign of God. In ecumenical and inter-religious families, such deep religious sense is a countersign to the increasingly irreligious sense of a secular culture."
The bishops include in their pastoral initiatives a section on providing ministry to people with special needs, including single parents, inter-cultural marriages, ecumenical marriages and inter-religious marriages. It calls for compassionate care for the divorced and remarried. The document calls on the bishops to establish programs to help migrant workers, substance addiction and HIV victims, war victims. It calls for the bishops to be active in programs involving child and women

Reflecting on inter-religious marriages, the bishops write that such marriages can be "a dialogue of word, of love and life."

"A family of deep religious faith is a sign of the Church and of the Reign of God. In ecumenical and inter-religious families, such deep religious sense is a countersign to the increasingly irreligious sense of a secular culture."

"We discover that ecumenical and inter-religious marriages and families analogously and truly share the values of covenant life, communion, solidarity, complementariness and mutuality of self-giving. For this reason, the Christian partner brings into the covenant of marriage and family the distinctive riches of her/his beliefs while growing together and journeying together with the other partner and their children toward the Reign of God."

"It would not be farfetched likewise to imagine that at a certain point of inter-religious relationship Christian families could share with others their own God-experience, their religious experience of faith and love of Jesus, not in order to proselytize but simply in order to share of themselves in transparent friendship and unity."

[Fox is publisher of the National Catholic Reporter and author of Pentecost in Asia, a book about the Asian churches. His e-mail address is tfox@ncronline.org.]


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