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Issue Date:  September 17, 2004

Asian bishops aim to bolster families buffeted by changing values

Deajeon, South Korea

Aiming to help families buffeted by rapidly changing value systems, the Catholic bishops of Asia plan to develop pastoral programs that form and empower families.

The bishops outlined their goals in a 21,000-word statement issued Aug. 23 at the close of the weeklong plenary assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences here. The bishops meet in plenary session once every five years.

This plenary, like the seven that preceded it, drew a mix of clergy, religious and laity from 22 Asian countries. With the focus on family life, organizers took extra steps to assure that lay voices were heard. About 60 lay people, many married couples, joined some 90 bishops, archbishops and cardinals and about 30 priests and religious in general assemblies and small group discussions

Reflecting on the plenary assembly after it was over, chief organizer De La Salle Br. Edmund Chia said, “I have no hesitation in asserting that it happened ‘the Asian way.’ ” He called the process of the assembly “fluid” and “easygoing.”

“It was in keeping with the contextual, bottom-up method, an approach that places greater emphasis on listening to the ground and allowing the Spirit the freedom to dictate,” he said.

“The only agenda was for the bishops to talk to and with one another,” he said. “Numerous persons had come prepared to give lectures but none knew for sure if they would be asked. The bishops had come armed with the working document and their interventions, but didn’t know what they were to do with it.

“The program of each day was only decided upon the night before, after a long period of review and discernment by the steering committee,” Chia said. The steering committee comprising bishops, theologians and laypersons was appointed at the beginning of the assembly.

Chia said this approach allowed for greater participation by all present, whether they were official voting delegates (bishops only) or consultants (the “non-bishop” participants). “The relational aspect was given primacy,” he said.

In their final document, the 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 neoliberal 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,” the bishops wrote.

Their statement also cited “Western secularism” and a “postmodern spirit of individualistic sense of freedom” as rapidly “reshaping the value systems of Asian families.”

The bishops’ final message noted, “how the values of indigenous peoples and other religions have enriched Asian families.” It went on to state, “Intercultural and interfaith marriages have generally been a source of blessing to many in spite of the complex issues they bring.” (See related story.)

The document listed pastoral challenges Asian families face, and offered a lengthy theological reflection on the family, concluding with guidelines for pastoral programs.

Programs aimed at supporting family life need to be holistic while extending “beyond our usual concerns about contraception, abortion, euthanasia, natural family planning, pre-marriage and post-marriage catechesis, and family enrichment seminars,” the bishops wrote.

Among the challenges the bishops highlighted in addition to poverty are landlessness, cultural globalization, patriarchy, the inequality of women and girls, child labor, ecology, population programs, HIV/AIDS and biogenetic threats.

“It is the tragic reality of poverty that the majority of Asian families must contend with everyday and are unable to escape from.” Poverty can, the bishops wrote, discourage young people from starting families.

Addressing Western influences, they said: “At no time has the secularizing process, now with a significant postmodern spirit of individualistic sense of freedom, been more rapid and effective in reshaping the value systems of Asian families.” The bearers of this change are economics and the ongoing revolution in mass global communication, the bishops wrote.

The statement stressed the changing nature of families 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. … 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.”

The bishops noted that patriarchy is embedded in Asian society: “Patriarchy remains sadly the determining factor. … 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 a patriarchal worldview 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 prenatal sex identification and selection resulting in the abortion of thousands of female fetuses.”

The document spoke of “restoring equality of dignity, complementariness and co-responsible partnership” of husband and wife. It called for providing “adequate formation regarding the role of male and female sexuality in human and family relationships.”

Tom Fox, NCR publisher, can be reached at tfox@ncronline.org.

Asian Bishops' Conferences gathering
A day-by-day account of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences gathering can be found on NCRonline.org. Look for the Churches in Asia Gather logo.

National Catholic Reporter, September 17, 2004

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