Wednesday, October 25, 2006

TOWARDS A NEW CATECHESIS OF THE FAMILY IN ASIA

Introduction

May I thank FABC-OESC, led by Bishop Aloysius Sudarsu of Indonesia and Fr. Vicente Cajilig, O.P., for the kind invitation that the Office has extended to me to speak at this important gathering.

I have listened attentively to the sub-regional reports. They have been very interesting and informative. The reports serve as a valuable background to my reflection. Here my purpose is to suggest certain directions for the catechesis and faith formation of the Family in Asia.

As indicated in your program, my present reflection will look into the catechetical implications of the 8th Plenary Assembly of the FABC in Korea in 2004. The theme of the Plenary Assembly was: “The Asian Family towards a Culture of integral Life.” This was also the title of its Final Document, which shall serve as the basic reference for the present reflection.


A. The Shape of Present Family Ministry – a Focus on the Culture of Life.

Before the 8th Plenary Assembly the FABC Office of the Laity, did an informal survey of the objectives and activities of the offices of Asian Episcopal Conferences that are in charge of Family ministry. The survey result indicated the common concerns of family ministry and family catechesis. These common concerns may be said to describe the general shape of family ministry in Asia.

Quite obviously, as seen in the activities of family ministry the general direction of family catechesis is to promote the “culture of life” and to evangelize the “culture of death” seeping insidiously and subtly into Asian cultures. Pope John Paul II’s document, Evangelium Vitae, has persuasively pressed this general concern into Catholic consciousness and to a certain extent into the consciousness of all humanity.

All over Asia is a concern for “pro-Life” catechesis and advocacy based on the Catholic belief of the seamless nature of life from conception to death. Thus family catechesis all over Asia is directed to raising awareness on the dignity and sacredness of human life, respect for and defense of human life. The major traditional threats to human life are seen to be contraception, abortion, and capital punishment. These threats take various forms. They are also at various levels, including international, as seen in the lobbying done by international groups on the policies of national governments in favor of population control through every means possible, including abortion.

In addition most family catechesis is focused on the faith-formation of man and woman in view of marriage, such as pre-matrimonial catechesis and marriage enrichment, and family responsibility with regard to the upbringing of children toward maturity. More recently there has been a renewed interest in Bible studies as part of the on-going faith-formation of couples.

With due consideration for other concerns that family catechesis in various countries might have, what I have just presented is, I believe, a general description of present family ministry in Asia.


B. A New Shape of Family Catechesis:

Let us now look at new directions for the catechesis of the family as suggested 8th FABC Plenary Assembly in 2004.


1. Implication of the methodological approach:

FABC’s discernment on the Family in Asia followed what is called “the Pastoral Spiral.” This method of discernment starts with an analysis of the situation and is followed by reflection-in-faith. In the light of both the situational analysis and the faith-reflection, certain pastoral recommendations or decisions are made. At the FABC Plenary Assembly, this third phase (decision-making) was the end of the discernment process. It was left to the Episcopal conferences and their Family Life Commissions to continue the pastoral spiral by going into the planning on how to implement the decisions. Action or implementation then follows. To conclude the pastoral spiral, evaluation is made not only of the result or impact of the action but also of the whole process of discernment. This is really an elaboration of the well known process of “see --- judge --- act.”

Thus:

Situation ‪→→ Reflection in Faith →→ Decisions/Recommendations →→

Planning →→ Action →→ Evaluation.

The Pastoral Spiral ensures that faith reflection is situated in context – contextualized. Faith does not operate in a vacuum. This is so because the light of faith bears upon the situation and illumines it. Pastoral decision and action are likewise the fruit of the interaction between situation and faith.

Therefore, being a principal instrument for faith-formation, catechesis has to be contextualized. It may deal with doctrine but that doctrine has to be applied to the situation in order to be meaningful and relevant.

This has also to be true of family catechesis. The factors that impact family life positively or negatively are important for catechesis. The daily struggles that families experience or suffer through are part and parcel of family catechesis. Contextualization will prevent irrelevance and pure abstraction. On the other hand, faith-reflection on the situation in the light of Sacred Scriptures and the teachings of the Church will prevent merely secular or even ideological interpretation of family realities.

Obviously the method of discernment that the 8th FABC Plenary Assembly used would be extremely useful for family catechesis. It can more easily lead to the application of teaching to life, i.e., to orthopraxis. It is necessary for catechesis to go beyond orthodoxy to orthopraxis.


2. The Global and the Asian Context of the Family: Implications to Catechesis.

If family catechesis is to be contextualized, we need to realize that the family is influenced by various factors at three general levels: local, regional, and global.

At the local and regional levels are factors such as the social, political, and economic situation, the rural and agricultural character of most Asian families, the cultural and religious elements such as language, religious beliefs and traditions, customs, etc.

At the global level, one may sum up many of the factors that impact the family under the rubric of “globalization,” economic and cultural.

The 8th FABC Plenary Assembly analyzed the impact of globalization on the family in the following terms:

- the weakening of cherished traditional family values, such as the sense of the sacred, respect for parents and the elderly, marriage as sacred life-time commitment, etc.;
- the rise of new family forms, different from is traditionally believed is the ideal, i.e., a family founded on the marriage between man and woman;
- the breaking up of the Asian “nuclear family” because of poverty, job opportunities, migration, new family values, emerging secular ideas;

The Plenary Assembly also realized that many traditional family values might actually be quite negative in terms of the message of the Gospel and of the teachings of the Church: e.g. values arising from caste-ism, from an extreme type of “patriarchal” framework where women are subordinate, subservient, and disposable.

Thus, one can immediately see that any genuine catechesis, particularly family catechesis, would have to discern the significance of globalization, its impact on the human person, families, on communities, on the beliefs and values of people, on the way they live their faith.

We can also see that catechesis is more than just religious doctrine. It is about the formation of individuals and communities that are impacted not only by religious and spiritual factors but, indeed, by all the other dimensions that make up human life. The faith that is to be formed through catechesis is more than devotional and spiritual. The faith to be formed is integral faith, faith that remains mature, can interface, and can engage with religious, cultural, political, economic, and social challenges.


3. Various Forms of the Asian Family: Implications to Catechesis.

May I elaborate a bit more on what I have briefly mentioned – the rise of “new” family forms in Asia.

Many of these forms have been with us for a long, long time. They seem to be new only because we never really paid pastoral attention to them. They are new because they have only recently come to our pastoral consciousness in the Church in Asia.

I am not referring to “same-sex unions.” I am referring to families consisting of single parents, divorced or separated parents, families where mothers and/or fathers are absent for a long time because of migrant work, inter-cultural and/or inter-religious parents and families.

It seems to me that family catechesis and family ministry in Asia have not given adequate attention to these various forms of family. I would be happy to be corrected. But I do know that in one Asian country where almost 70% of marriages are inter-faith marriages, the dioceses do not have pastoral guidelines or formation courses that would help the couples deal with serious issues regarding their practice of faith, the faith of their children, the worship that the family will give to God, etc.

Because Asia has a basically inter-cultural and inter-faith character, I would think that a sort of “paradigm shift” should take place with regard to the priorities of family catechesis and family ministry. What we face daily in most of Asia is not so much the so-called “ideal” family of a Catholic mother and a Catholic father of the same culture, but a husband and wife belonging to different cultures and different religions, etc.


4. The Theological Vision of Family in 8th FABC Plenary Assembly – Implications to Catechesis.

It is from the pastoral situation of the Asian family that the 8th Plenary Assembly draws up the key themes that are required for a theological vision of the family. Among these themes are:

- towards a culture of integral life – covenant love and life, communion and solidarity;
- towards the family as a sanctuary of love and life, covenant and communion;
- vocation and mission of the family in the church and in society;
- spirituality of communion, discipleship and “the way of the ordinary”;
- human relationships in the family;
- the family, the Reign of God, and social transformation.

Indeed, one can make a quick contrast between the above theological themes and a traditional theological framework for viewing marriage and the family.

If this is so, then new catechetical modules for family catechesis would be needed.


5. Evangelization and Social transformation in Asia – Implications to Family Catechesis.

The Lord has entrusted the whole Church with a mission of evangelization. This is so with the family, the domestic church. The catechetical formation of the Asian family’s missionary consciousness would require formators to be thoroughly familiar not only with the basic references – the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church, particularly Vatican II teachings and great papal documents.

But in a special way catechists in Asia should be also familiar with the main FABC documents which, in a certain sense, contextualize the teachings of Vatican II into the Asian situation, its peoples especially the poor, its cultures, and its religions. Here we see the great themes of mission and evangelization, inculturation, inter-religious dialogue, and integral human development.

In a particularly way, within the general consciousness of mission and considering Asia’s complex realities, the Church in Asia needs to needs to “accompany” families in faith-inspired social discernment. The Church has to form the religious faith of families so that they may be able to cope with their own social concerns. The formation of a social conscience in the family would be particularly imperative.

Beyond the family’s own social concerns are the wider challenges that confront Asian societies. The mission of evangelization urges the family to go out its own confines and into the neighborhood and even beyond. For the families to do this, the church needs to assist families through catechesis and other means to engage in concerns regarding poverty, injustice, development, peace, conflict, ecological issues, youth, exploitation of children and women, HIV/AIDS, etc.

Faith-formation would include enabling the Asian family to build communities of justice and harmony, to build bridges of solidarity with other families toward the work of social transformation.


6. Family and Basic Ecclesial Community – Implications on Catechesis.

This solidarity with other families brings us to consider the implication of the FABC Plenary Assembly’s treatment of the relationship between the family and the Basic Ecclesial Community.

BEC building is one of the major pastoral priorities of the Church in Asia. For most BEC’s the family is the building block. In fact in some approaches to BEC, a cluster of 10 to 20 families, called Family Groups, makes up one BEC. It is evident that the strength, the unity, and the life of the BEC depend very strongly on the quality of life and faith of each family in the BEC, as well as on their relationships with one another.

This is even more so when we consider the building of Basic Human Communities (BHC) which are composed of families of different faiths.

In a very true sense the faith formation of the family is not only for itself but also for he sake of the Basic Ecclesial / Human Community. Hence, faith-formation through catechesis will have to include relationships within the family, relationships with other families. Catechesis will have to include formation to a community of disciples, formation as well to leadership in community, formation to prayer and community prayer, formation finally in community building.


Summing up - A Contextualized Catechesis on the Family:

From the above observations one can see the far-reaching implications of the 8th FABC Plenary Assembly document, “The Asian Family towards a Culture of Integral Life.” Among these implications are the following needs that are, in effect, pastoral directives for catechesis:

- contextualizing family catechesis by way of a pastoral spiral of discernment that starts with the pastoral situation of the family and the social, political, economic, religious and cultural factors that impact the family;
- a new paradigm of family ministry that would go beyond the traditional concerns of a “pro-life” program to include also the new concerns that are required of a culture of “integral life”;
- faith formation in the family that would enable it to be a community of committed faith and to help build similar communities;
- family catechesis to look beyond internal needs of a family and empower it for the task of social transformation.

In the light of the above perspective, one can see the usefulness and validity of the vision and framework that the 8th Plenary Assembly suggested for family ministry in Asia and the corresponding catechesis that it requires:

- a Family Ministry that Forms and empowers;
- a Family Ministry that Cares and Serves;
- a Family Ministry that Promotes Social Transformation;

In fact, the Plenary Assembly has said: “May it not even be said that the focal point of evangelization should be the family as object and subject, to which all parish pastoral programs are geared?” (no. 100).

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
FABC-OESC Assembly on Catechesis
Assumption University, Bangkok
October 25, 2006

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