Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - The family in China "is facing many challenges that not only risk the sacramental value of marriage, but that can destroy the entire socio-economic system." The high divorce rate and the aging population, generated by the one child law, are peremptory challenges threatening the core and basis of society. The local church "cannot do much before the dictates of the government, but small gestures - such as groups of listening and sharing for married couples - can change the world." Below is a brief analysis of the phenomenon published in the Hong Kong diocesan weekly, the Sunday Examiner.
The wisecracking American baseball player and coach, Yogi Berra, once said: “If the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be.”
This October, the world’s bishops, together with experts and 18 married couples, 17 individual auditors (among them 13 women) as well as fraternal delegates from other Churches gathered at the Vatican for the Synod on Family Life. This is part two of the assembly that first met in 2014—to do three things: Listen to the challenges to the family; Discern the vocation of the family; Send into the world (or mission) the family of today.
Why does a meeting of bishops matter to us? It matters because 99.99 per cent of the Church is made up of people who have, or live in a family.
And today’s families face daunting challenges, whether they live in cities or villages, whether they are rich or poor, whether they are migrants in search of work and security, or people fleeing wars, or stuck with no place to go.
In some places, owing to demographic trends, government policies or socio-economic environment, people struggle for the means to form a family, provide for their young, or care for their elderly ones.
And then what are the vital elements of a marriage? Is it to love and to care? What is being done to nurture love amidst many demands and distractions? And who is doing the nurturing?
The Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness, for when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words (Romans 8:26).
That is why together with the Holy Spirit we are at the heart of the Synod on Family Life. We pray that participants who hold in trust the hopes, dreams and cares of families from many lands speak freely and truthfully.
Pope Francis exhorted his brother bishops to ask the Holy Spirit to draw shepherds who are “capable of standing in the midst of the flock,” who are “watchful, not someone who is afraid of questions, contact, accompaniment.”
May we have pastors who remain “vigilant by helping people to lift their gaze at times of discouragement, frustration and failure.”
Family snapshots on the mainland
A congregation of sisters known for their stellar work caring for children with disabilities has expanded their ministry to care for the marital relations of the parents.
Because of the stigma traditionally associated with having children with disabilities, some families choose to give away or abandon these children. Those who opt to care for them do so with little support. The physical and psychological hardship they face can be a big strain on domestic relations.
The sisters provide workshops where couples can have time to themselves (a break from their harried roles as parents and caregivers) and affirm Catholic and non-Catholic families alike in their courageous decision to choose life.
At these retreats many couples learn for the first time practical skills of communicating and how to show tenderness to each other.
Marriage Encounter and Cana are some initiatives that help families renew the grace of the sacrament of marriage.
One couple, both professionals, shared about their family’s conversion. In one exercise, husband and wife each drew a graph of their life-experience, plotting the high points and the low. They were amazed when they compared the graphs. The highs and lows in their life together did not always match. Sometimes they were worlds apart. But where the family was in sync, there was great joy.
The Church in China, with support from Catholic families overseas, is slowly introducing family ministries in diocesan formation. Priests and religious who walk alongside couples also deepen their own vocation of love.
The odds against
The divorce rate is about 30 per cent nationally. The rate is higher in urban areas (Beijing 39 per cent, Shanghai 38 per cent, Shenzhen 36.25 per cent, Guangzhou 35 per cent). Divorce is rarer in rural areas (12 per cent). However, with many couples living apart, often as one spouse seeks higher-paying work in cities, rural families are also impacted on.
Catholics are not immune. Pastoral workers cite factors such as immaturity, ignorance about the sacredness of marriage, the lack of or inadequate pre-marital formation, Internet distractions and extra-marital relationships.
China’s government imposed the one-child policy in 1980 through enforced abortions and sterilisations.
Young people, when asked if they wanted siblings, typically answer: “I don’t want to have siblings because if I had a brother or a sister I would have to share. It would be difficult to get a good education” or “I want to have a brother or a sister because being a single child is so lonely. I want to have someone to play with and grow up with.”
Narcissism and a deep loneliness seem to pervade younger generations. Perhaps they are at the root of other social problems.
Fewer births mean an ageing society, fewer young workers and a slower economy. Some estimate that in 10 to 15 years the government will run out of money to pay for pensions and healthcare for seniors.
The government recently relaxed the population policy, allowing a second child if both parents are a single-child. So far not too many couples have taken up the offer.
The Church and the family do not have the power to change government dictates. But Christ’s followers have the power to heal the sick, wash the unclean and restore life.
Scripture also teaches us that the redemption of a people can begin with a homemade basket and the life-giving gestures of three women (Exodus 2).