Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Post II

in Pune (In preparation for the World Family Synod to be held
in Rome in October 2014)

1. OUR POPE: An idea germinates in a person’s mind, and comes to fruition over a period of time. This is what Pope John XXIII experienced about 55 years ago, when he felt the need of a new Pentecost in the Catholic Church; to open the windows and allow fresh air in. That resulted in the Second Vatican Council (Vat II) from 1962-65. Its teachings radically transformed the church’s self-understanding, and its approach to the world, other religions, 
It was nothing short of a miracle that in March 2013 Pope Francis was elected. His election electrified the Church and the whole world. Most of us are familiar with the many initiatives and 
statements of Pope Francis. They mark him out as being truly human (as Jesus himself was). His priority is not on doctrine and dogma, but on the pastoral approach of reaching out to people 
in their actual circumstances of life. It was therefore not surprising that his choice for the first synod of his papacy was “The Family”. 

2. FAMILY SYNOD: Accordingly a World Synod on the Family is scheduled for October 2014 in Rome. It will prepare working guidelines for the General Assembly in 2015. What is a synod? 
Etymologically it is a combination of two Greek words that mean “walking together”. How is this different from a “Walk the Talk” chat show on TV? This walk is like that of the disciples on the way to Emmaus, after the Resurrection. The difference here is that Jesus joins them on this walk, and enlightens and guides them. A Christian Synod then is a gathering that seeks to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and be guided by it. 

3. WORLD SURVEY: A sincere and humble person like Pope Francis realizes only too well that no single person is the repository of all truth and knowledge. He saw the need to feel the pulse of the people; to ascertain their thoughts, aspirations, doubts and fears. He therefore asked for a worldwide survey to be conducted, for which a Questionnaire was prepared. 

4. THE QUESTIONNAIRE: It was sent out to all the bishops/ dioceses for them to send back responses that would help shape the synod deliberations. Unfortunately, the form and content of the Questionnaire was very top heavy. As in the pre-Vat II model of the pyramidical church, the Questionnaire too starts from the top - what is the Church’s teaching, coming down to the broad base (the ground reality of peoples’ lives). Despite this inherent drawback, the Questionnaire has not shied away from addressing contentious and vexatious issues. Some of them are: 
• Co-habitation, or live in relationships and premarital sex
• Same sex unions, and even their adoption of children
• Inter-religious marriages
• Single Parenthood
• Polygamy
• Dowry
• Temporary bonds (as distinct from the permanent bond of marriage)
The Questionnaire is grouped under different heads that we shall take up, together with the 

5. RESPONSES: We have the official report of the German bishops (dt 3/2/14), and that of the Japanese bishops (dt 15/1/14), as also the report of the Bombay Archdiocese (undated). A leading Indian prelate, in response to a press reporter, stated that a report from India had also been sent to Rome. It contained “unquantified data”, but the process was still continuing. We cross-checked with our sources across the country only to find, as we had apprehended, 
that no such survey had been conducted among the laity (families) of India. Even the author of the Bombay report admitted that he had not received a single response to the Questionnaire that they had sent out! We do not know the methodology adopted in Germany or Japan; but whatever report went from India, was certainly not scientifically collated or quantified. Concerned Catholics in India now felt the need to do their own investigation/ consultation, which we shall presently come to. But first the bishops’ reports.

• Regarding the Church’s teachings on marriage, Germany says that there is little knowledge among the people. Japan echoes this finding, and Bombay says that these teachings have not filtered down to the grassroots. 
• Germany says that there is little or no acceptance of Church teachings on pre-marital sex, homosexuality, birth control, and the status of Divorced and Remarried Catholics (DARCs). Japan and Bombay say that abortion and contraception are becoming 
• Marriage Preparation Courses are infrequent in Germany. In Bombay, though mandatory, most couples consider it as an obligation to be over and done with, so as to obtain the required “certificate”. In Japan, where 76% of marriages are inter-religious, 
couples come to the Church for marriage, when there is already a pregnancy! Marriage preparation is hap hazardous, and civil marriages have become the norm. 
• Germany says that live-in relationships are almost universal, and separation/ divorce is normal. There is a great gulf between Church teaching and the reality of peoples’ lives. Bombay says that cohabitation is frowned upon in society and hence is infrequent.
• Germany says that family prayer has been reduced to saying grace at meals with small children! Bombay states that 20-30% have family prayer. 
• People in Japan have not heard of Humanae Vitae, the document on family planning issued in the 1960’s.Bombay says that it is hardly heard of. Germany says that hardly 3% of couples practice Natural Family Planning (NFP). Germans consider the distinction 
between natural and artificial birth control as incomprehensible and impractical. Japan says the Church teachings on birth control are not taken seriously, and invite criticism and negative publicity in the media. Bombay says that there have been sporadic attempts to teach about NFP, but it is not considered “workable”. 
• Germany says that trying to annul a failed marriage would be an act of dishonesty. 
Japan seeks a simpler procedure for Church annulments. Bombay says that marital breakdown is not yet a major problem. 
• Bombay says that DARCs, by and large, respect Church law and do not insist on receiving Communion. But at the same time they feel the pain of alienation.
• Germany says that if the Family Synod is to be a success then it must have the involvement of married couples as participants.
• Japan says that the Questionnaire was made bearing in mind so-called “Christian” countries. It does not reflect the concerns of Asian countries, where Christians are a 
miniscule minority. 
• Bombay says that the Church must extend tangible support to those couples that want to have more children! (In the past we have heard such exhortations from the bishops of Kerala).
• Bombay is also concerned about inter-religious marriages, as the children of such marriages are often confused. The aforesaid are extracts from the three reports that we have. We regret that we are, as yet, unable to access the report purportedly sent to Rome by the bishops of India. These extracts give us some indication of what is trending in the worldwide Catholic community, and the vast area of concern, “THE FAMILY”, that Pope Francis seeks to address. Soft copies of these reports are available on request.

7. IMPORTANCE OF THE FAMILY: Sociology teaches us that humans are gregarious 
creatures. From the beginning of time (Genesis) we know that it is not good for man (humans) to live alone. Marriage is the natural bond for companionship and procreation. Vat II talks of the family as the “Domestic Church”, the whole church being present in the 
family. The family is the building block of society. Happy families mean a happy society, and a world at peace with itself. So any ministry to families is the greatest contribution to society. It is 
unfortunate that despite infrastructure and resources of billions of rupees, and several thousand “dedicated” personnel, the Church in India, as in the rest of the world, has not given family apostolate its due importance.

8. INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATION: One needs to amplify one’s voice to cut through the labyrinth of power centres in Rome. By God’s grace we are in active collaboration with “Catholic 
Church Reform International” (CCRIL). As its name suggests, it is a group of lay Catholics having a presence in 60 countries. It has been founded by Mr. Robert Kaiser of America, who was the Time magazine correspondent covering Vat II over 50 years ago. He is the author of 16 books. His co-founder is Ms Rene Reid. They are in turn collating information from allover the world and are organizing their own pre-Synod meet in October in Rome itself. Our preliminary reports have already been sent to them, and published on their website. They have requested us to organize national/ regional consultations by August and send the reports to them, to be collated into their final report that will be submitted to the Pope. We are now inviting you to be a part of this worldwide process. 

9. NATIONAL CONSULTATION: To this end we are organizing a National Consultation on Catholic Families (NCCF) on 23rd
accommodation is limited to 50. Those who can arrange their own accommodation are equally welcome. We would like to give preference to couples, as also single parents, and those involved in some form of family apostolate. Those interested in participating are required to fill up the attached Registration Form at the earliest, as we will be taking people on a “First Come First Served” basis. 

10. REGIONAL MEETINGS: Those who are unable to come to Pune are welcome to arrange their own regional or local level meetings. Any guidance sought will be accordingly provided. 

11. DYNAMICS: We have seen how Church teaching has followed its pyramidical structure, from top to bottom, believing in the trickle down theory. It hasn’t worked. We are therefore adopting the converse approach, from the bottom – up. We expect each participant/ respondent to be dynamically involved in the entire process of planning and execution. In the Registration 
Form please specify the issues/ concerns that you feel are of greater importance/ relevance to Catholic families in India. They may not necessarily be the same as mentioned in the Vatican Questionnaire and the reports of various bishops. 

We have also referred to the Emmaus experience. Hence in our Consultation we hope to have enough freedom of expression on the one hand, and openness to the Holy Spirit through prayer and meditation on the other. After we receive your suggestions we will give more concrete shape to the programme content.

12. SPREAD THE WORD: If you are aware of any other lay leaders/ families that are interested in participating in the NCCF then please forward this email to them. Thanks.

13. ORGANIZATION: We are not an organization. As of now we are a group of concerned and committed individuals who seek to make a sincere contribution to the World Family Synod. We also have no funds and are totally dependent on the goodwill and contributions of dear people like you. At present we have a small Organizing Committee (OC) comprising the following: Dr James Kottoor (Ernakalum), Ms Virginia Saldanha (Mumbai), Dr M Ampareen Lyngdoh (Shillong), Alan Doulton (Pune), Dr John Dayal (New Delhi) and Ms Raynah Braganza Passanha (Pune). The host and Local Co-ordinator is Diago Almeida (Pune), and the 
undersigned is the co-ordinator.

We look forward to your active support and participation.
Chhotebhai, CO-ORDINATOR

Phones: 0512 – 2361363/ 2317287 (Off), 2401999 (Res), 09415130822 (Mob)
Postal Address: Noronha Sadan, 2/11 Krishnanagar, Kanpur - 208007

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