Easter pastoral letter from our bishop Let us pray for all families and the forthcoming Synod of Bishops
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord
May the peace of the Risen Lord be with you. I would like to welcome all the newly baptized Catholics who are joining our Church family this Easter. Let us learn to love one another as brothers and sisters, and become one family in Christ.
Being one family in the Lord, let me share with you about recent meetings in Rome, during which the cardinals explored the challenges faced by the Church’s pastoral care for the family.
On February 20 and 21, two days before the elevation of the 19 new cardinals at St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis convened a two-day gathering of all cardinals.
On the morning of the first day, Walter Cardinal Kasper addressed the Extraordinary Consistory on the Family with a reflection on the Gospel of the Family, the same title as his book.
That same afternoon and the following day were open for comments and sharing from the 140 participating cardinals.
The Gospel of the Family, as Cardinal Kasper explained, refers to preaching the Good News to the family. By using the bible as a base, and Canon Law and pastoral theology as paradigms, he spoke of the challenges faced by the Church regarding pastoral care of the family today.
His speech was very much appreciated by the Holy Father and the cardinals. I also think he explained the theme clearly and thoroughly. He began with the Book of Genesis, saying that God created a man and a woman, and that they built a family to bear offspring. Therefore, marriage and family is the original blueprint for God’s plan for creation.
But the sins committed between men and women, body and soul, human beings and nature, have destroyed the original harmonious relationships, causing tribulations in life. Fortunately, the Lord Jesus came into the world to save humankind and raised marriage to the level of a sacrament, giving those who live married life special graces.
Consequently, human families can partake of the mystery of Christ and continue to grow (cf. Ephesians 5). In fact, as far back as the Early Church, Christian families gathered in family churches, where all the members often joined together to listen to the Word, to pray together, serve one another and bear witness to the faith.
Such groups evolved into today’s small faith communities and have become an important place for a renewed Church life and a new evangelisation (cf. Acts 2).
Indeed, as Cardinal Kasper said, the Church often emphasises the fidelity of both husband and wife in marriage and the indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage (cf. Code of Canon Law, Volume IV).
For those who have failed in their marriage and family life, the Church has to be close to them, and shows them Christ-like compassion and love. Our stance should neither be too lenient nor over strict, so that they can receive the sacrament of reconciliation.
We need to help them find a way to get out of their plight. The times are ever-changing and so are the issues.
We are looking forward to the forthcoming Synod of Bishops this October. It will gather views and broaden horizons regarding the situation of the family. The Synod will provide better responses to those who suffer marital difficulties. Let us pray doubly hard for our families and the upcoming Synod of Bishops! After Cardinal Kasper’s talk, participating cardinals responded positively and enthusiastically to the further day and a half of meetings. Most of their speeches were splendid and focussed on the realities of pastoral care in local Churches. We have learned many new scenarios and broadened our knowledge. Among others, I was deeply impressed by the speeches of the cardinals from Manila and Seoul.
Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, said that the family is very important in the minds of Asians and can even be said to be the top priority. As job availability and household income in The Philippines are insufficient to meet the needs of its people, many women choose to leave their families and work overseas as domestic helpers.
This situation has led to their children growing up without a mother’s care. Instead, the children are mostly raised by their grandparents or relatives. However, such families join hands and stay united to help one another, manifesting God’s love to their neighbours.
The newly elevated Andrew Cardinal Yeom Soo-Jung, the archbishop of Seoul, South Korea, pointed out that it has now been 60 years since the Korean War, which resulted in a separation of families. Recently, North Korea allowed nearly 100 separated families to meet briefly and it happened to be the day Cardinal Yeom was addressing the cardinals’ meeting.
Such family reunions can last for only three days. When they lost their families, some people were only youngsters in their 20s. Now, they are in their 80s when they greet their family members again. This is a result of the bitter past of a war-torn situation. This aroused sym- pathy and mixed feelings among the cardinals and others.
At the Extraordinary Synod, I also shared about the pastoral situation of the family in our diocese. In the last 20 years, the faithful of our diocese have been deeply concerned about the importance of family life. Some Catholic groups or organisations that promote marriage and family life have gradually been formed, providing a wide range of pastoral care, social services and formation activities.
After the Diocesan Synod (2000 and 2001), our Church established the Diocesan Pastoral Commission for Mar- riage and the Family. More and more newly-weds in our Church have taken pre-marital formation courses, which they find beneficial. We have also trained a number of volunteer formators to help conduct these formation courses; whereas marriage consultations and talks also draw many people.
However, for Catholics who have sought an annulment and later want to re-marry, our Church’s pastoral care in this aspect is not sufficient. We still need to put in more effort.
Dear brothers and sisters: This year, on April 19, at the Holy Saturday Easter Vigil, our diocese will see 3,350 adults receiving the Sacraments of Christian Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist) and joining our Catholic Church family. This is the happiest event that our diocese can celebrate and for this we give thanks to the Lord. Certainly we also thank him for the numerous ministries involved with evangelisation at Easter.
The conversions of our brothers and sisters will directly affect their family members, who may benefit spiritually and socially. Even if only one person converts, the faithful can bring to one’s own family a new element of faith in Christ. This will foster the Good News of the risen Christ being brought into their family lives.
On behalf of the diocese, I sincerely welcome the new faithful into our Church family. Also, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all the catechists and pray that God will reward them abundantly.
All Christians have to engage in lifelong catechumenates, following closely the diocese’s promotion of the Year of Learning, which encourages us to revisit the Vatican II documents and deepen our knowledge of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Therefore, may we take the Early Church Communities as our model of faith, and participate in small communities, to support each other and to carry out lay ministries.
Also, please keep all families and the upcoming Synod of Bishops in your prayers.