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Extraordinary Synod of Bishops

Response to Questions of the Preparatory Document from the Archdiocese of Bombay

Pastoral challenges to the family in the context of Evangelisation 

1. The Diffusion of the Teachings on the Family in Sacred Scripture and the  Church’s Magisterium

a)    Describe how the Catholic Church’s teachings on the value of the family contained in the Bible, Gaudium et spes, Familiaris consortio and other documents of the post-conciliar Magisterium is understood by people today? What formation is given to our people on the Church’s teaching on family life?

     The general feeling is that in the Archdiocese of Bombay, the Church’s teaching is being offered to Catholics, but it has not filtered to the grassroots. The Marriage Preparation course has been mandated as a requirement for the celebration of marriage and the elements of the Church’s teaching are being imparted. But, by and large, it has not been fully understood by the people.  They do not seem to be aware of the depth of the Church’s teachings on family.

     Several reasons were adduced for this state of things: Among the poor, the struggle for survival seems to be uppermost. Amongst the well to do, “convenience”, a love of the world, seems to be very strong. A group mentioned that the only ways of communicating messages to the people are through homilies which are generally given according to the theme of the day. At times one or other priest may give a good sermon on the family, but there is no organized and sustained teaching. A Family Movement observed that the Church’s teachings on the value of family contained in the Bible are theoretically understood by people today. What is missing is practical implementation and support system to LIVE OUT the teaching in parishes.  

b)    In those cases where the Church’s teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice? If so, what are they?

        We can hardly say that the Church teaching on the family is fully accepted. As we mentioned, very few people know the Church’s teaching. Hence it is necessary first of all to make Church teaching an integral part of Parish.  People must first know the teaching and then comes accepting it and practicing it. As a group said: Let us go step by step (a) Teach (2) Support (3) Empower.

        We might add that today some Catholics see marriage only as a relationship between a man and a woman but not as a life-long commitment sealed by the sacrament of matrimony. If the marriage works out well, it is fine but if not, they will not hesitate to find a way out. Again, many do not accept that marriage is for procreation; they think, rather, it is for pleasure. The partners are free to decide whether they want children or not. Contraceptives are used quite freely. As we will mention in our response to Question 7, few abide by the method of Natural Family Planning (NFP). Even abortion is found to be acceptable by a growing number of people. A growing number of Catholics (younger generation) think nothing of having sexual relations prior to marriage today.

c)     How widespread is the Church’s teaching in pastoral programmes at the national, diocesan and parish levels? What catechesis is done on the family?

     In the Archdiocese of Bombay much is being done at the Diocesan level. Through the Family Service Centre and other bodies, the Archdiocese organizes regular courses to spread the Church’s teaching on the family. Also Family Cells are established at the parish level and they too at times organize pastoral programmes at the parish level. But much more needs to be done for more intense evangelization of families.  We might mention the stellar role played by Family Movements such as Couples For Christ and the Neo-Catechumenate (‘The Way’), where emphasis is given to Church Teachings in the formation of the members. There is ongoing SUPPORT to people in week to week basis, where time, talents & treasure are given generously to couples to build strong families for Christ.

d)    To what extent – and what aspects in particular – is this teaching actually known, accepted, rejected and/or criticized in areas outside the Church? What are the cultural factors which hinder the full reception of the Church’s teaching on the family?

     With regard to those outside the Church, aspects mostly criticized are the Church’s pro-life stance and her emphasis on marriage as the union of a man and woman (not a union of people of the same sex).  Indian culture down the centuries would agree with the Church’s position; but this has changed to some extent because of the media – and as time goes on, the divergence from the Church’s teaching will become even greater.        


2.    Marriage according to the natural Law

a)    What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?

        Answers to this question varied. Some felt that natural law is generally accepted amongst all communities in Indian Society.  Others were of the opinion that the idea of natural law has no place in Society’s institutions, etc. due to various commitments which force an individual to go against it.

b)    Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?

        The common opinion is that this point of natural law is generally accepted by Catholics, including the younger generation - even though the latter is being influenced by the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) agenda.

c)    How is the theory and practice of natural law in the union between man and woman challenged in light of the formation of a family? How is it proposed and developed in civil and Church institutions?

        The theory and practice of natural law as a union between man and woman is being challenged in the media, in colleges etc., but still by and large the view of natural law prevails.

d)    In cases where non-practicing Catholics or declared non-believers request the celebration of marriage, describe how this pastoral challenge is dealt with?

        In the Archdiocese, it is difficult to assess who is practicing and who is “non-practicing”. The majority of Catholics could be considered practicing even though some may not go to Mass every Sunday. Non-practicing Catholics or declared unbelievers will not, as a general rule, request the celebration of marriage in the Church.  If such a request is made, it would be dealt with on a case-to-case basis to find out why such a party wants to have the marriage celebrated in the Church.


3.    The Pastoral Care of the Family in Evangelization

a)    What experiences have emerged in recent decades regarding marriage preparation? What efforts are there to stimulate the task of evangelization of the couple and of the family? How can an awareness of the family as the “domestic Church” be promoted?

        The Marriage preparation course is obligatory in the Archdiocese for all couples wanting to get married. It has two formats: one is a two-day intensive course, made up chiefly of talks on various aspects of marriage.  The second format is in the form of the Engaged Encounter, which is residential and includes input as well as sharing by the couple intending to get married.  This second format is found to be better because it enables the couple to be married to know each other better.  Unfortunately, many couples opt for the first format: they look upon the Marriage Preparation more as an obligation to be got over with - obtaining a certificate without which the marriage will not be blessed in the Church.  Those who have done the Marriage Preparation Course with a true spirit find it very helpful and the feedback has been very positive.    

        This, of course, is only the immediate preparation for marriage.  Much more has to be done by way of Mediate Preparation, the long term preparation for marriage as a vocation.  So also the immediate preparation has to be supplemented by the Proximate preparation.  This should be done by the priest preparing the papers for the marriage.  This would have been an ideal occasion for the couple to personalize what has been imparted at the Immediate Preparation Course. Unfortunately, at times, the priest neglects this aspect of marriage preparation.  Again, experience gathered at the marriage preparation course is short lived as the couples, by and large, are not nourished by any further Formation Sessions.  The Pre-Baptism course is also not mandatory in many Parishes.  Hence the awareness of family being a domestic church is not promoted.

        One group pointed out that Preparation for marriage and family must also envisage dealing with in-laws and the care of older members of the family. When children see the care and respect their parents show to senior members of the family, they too tend to imbibe the same caring attitudes.

b)    How successful have you been in proposing a manner of praying within the family which can withstand life’s complexities and today’s culture?

        In the past, the rosary and prayer within the family was a common practice.  On a general scale this practice of couples and families having a daily prayer time together is slowly diminishing. Today, the Call Centres, with their unusual working hours have disrupted the rhythm of family life.  The shift system of work, along with other pressures, makes it difficult for a family to be together even for meals – much less for prayer.  Prayer is no longer a priority for most couples and families. Perhaps, 20% or 30% still have family prayer and devotions like the rosary etc.

        We might add that for those couples who have experienced a personal relationship with Christ – as happens in some of the family movements or in the Charismatic Renewal - the prayer habit has become a reality. Some of the family movements like Couples for Christ have shown members how to enhance their couple prayer. They have been successful in promoting a manner of prayer within the family to withstand life’s complexity.  Going through the right modes of parenting, the Couples for Christ Movement has tutored children about the value of prayer.

 c)   In the current generational crisis, how have Christian families been able to fulfill their vocation of transmitting the faith?

              The Archdiocese of Bombay is largely an urban one. In our urban setting T.V., tuitions of children, careers, hobby classes, extra-curricular activities etc. over burden the family and have tended to take precedence over transmission of the faith.

        The family movements have played no small a part in the transmission of faith. We could by way of example, speak of the Couples for Christ. CFC has womb to tomb ministries i.e. Couples for Christ (CFC), Kids for Christ (KFC), Youth for Christ (YFC), Singles for Christ for persons who have completed graduation and are working (SFC), Handmaids and Servants of the Lord (Single Women/Widows and Single Men). The members of SFC follow a manual consisting of series of talks and weekend programmes relating to topics on (i) work environment, behavior, etc. (ii) finances – handling their finances, investment, tithing, etc. and (iii) preparation for marriage. Besides that the CFC also has teaching ‘nites’ each month, household meetings and Marriage Enrichment Retreats

d)    In what way have the local Churches and movements on family spirituality been able to create ways of acting which are exemplary?

        As mentioned above, in our Archdiocese we are blessed with a number of vibrant family movements and ecclesial movements such as Couples for Christ, Christian Family Movement, Teams of Our Lady, Marriage Encounter, Engaged Encounter, Jesus Light of the World and so on. These as also our diocesan Family Service Centre, Snehalaya, conduct a number of trainings and also programmes like recollections, talks and retreats to help couples grow spiritually. Many parishes also have Family Cells which organize programmes periodically.

        We would like to single out one creative way of teaching prayer in the Neo-Catechumenate.  At the “SUNDAY LAUDS”, the whole family prays the Morning Prayer from the Divine Office.  The children are explained the Bible (one short topic each Sunday) parents share their personal experience of the topic and the children are invited to share their thoughts on the topic/passage read and also encouraged to speak about the experiences of the past week.  All this is done in the context of prayer.  This gives the children from a very young age the awareness of the family as “DomesticChurch”

   The children are also taught from a young age about ‘THREE ALTARS’:

(1)      the Altar of the Eucharistic Celebration

(2)       the Altar of the Marital Bed

(3)       the Altar of the Dining Table.

        This initiates children into a sense of the sacred in daily life and teaches them to respect life and family.

 e)    What specific contribution can couples and families make to spread a credible and holistic idea of the couple and the Christian family today?

        When couples and families which have received training testify, this can truly be a strong witness of Christian family life.  Certain contributions like the art of creative prayer can be made by couples or families to make individuals aware of the constant presence of God in their lives in various situations.

f)          What pastoral care has the Church provided in supporting couples in formation and couples in crisis situations?

        The pastoral care that the Church has provided in supporting couples in formation has come chiefly through the Family Movements.  We have mentioned these in our answer to 1(d)


4.  Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations

a)      Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?

         We have no precise figures, but we can say that, in the Archdiocese, cohabitation ad experimentum is not a frequent occurrence – it is looked down upon by Catholics and even by non-Catholics as a whole.

b)     Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available?

         Such unions would exist, but they would be rare amongst Catholics. Most Catholics would want to have a marriage in the Church.

c)      Are separated couples and those divorced and remarried a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage? How do you deal with this situation in appropriate pastoral programmes?

         Yes, there are cases of separated couples, divorced and remarried couples – and the number of breakdowns in marriage is growing; but as yet, it has not a major problem.  Families are by and large stable, though not all may be happy ones. External pressures and the fact that there are children at times keep couples together under the same roof, even if there is not much interaction between the couple.  We would estimate that roughly about 10% of Church marriages break down for various reasons. 

         Rather than working on broken marriages, the emphasis in the Archdiocese has been to focus more on strengthening marriages through the programmes mentioned in question no. 3.   Facilities for counseling couples facing difficulties do exist at our Archdiocesan Family Service Centre and other counselling centres such Prafulta run by the Salesians of Don Bosco. But we do not have specific programmes for broken marriages.  Very recently, we have started the programme Retrouvaille, but it is still in the incipient stage.

d)     In all the above cases, how do the baptized live in this irregular situation? Are aware of it? Are they simply indifferent? Do they feel marginalized or suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments?

         Most couples suffer inwardly from living in such an irregular union, though they may not speak much about it. They feel marginalized. Some continue to come for Mass, though they realize they cannot receive Holy Communion.  This would be true for most couples in irregular unions.  Some, however, would be at least outwardly indifferent.  In a city, they can live ‘anonymously’ without anyone questioning them about their marital status.

e)      What questions do divorced and remarried people pose to the Church concerning the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation? Among those persons who find themselves in these situations, how many ask for these sacraments?

         Most divorced and remarried people know the law of the Church and, by and large, they abide by it and do not approach the sacraments.  They would have been very happy of course to have the situation changed and to be able to receive the sacraments.  They carry within their hearts a ‘burden’.

f)      Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?

         The Archdiocese does its best to tackle petitions for annulment as effectively and speedily as possible.  But given the large number of petitions, and the procedure that must be gone through, time is needed.  If there is some way in which the canonical procedure can be simplified, it would be welcome.  No respondent has come forward with any concrete suggestion as to what form such simplification would take.  One group felt that the Church should invest more in enriching and strengthening married and family life rather than use a lot of its energies at the tribunal towards marriages falling apart.

g)     Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases? Describe this pastoral ministry? Do such programmes exist on the national and diocesan levels? How is God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?           

         As mentioned in 4(c), a beginning has been made by starting Retrouvaille. Counselling centres do exist, but more would be needed for a big Archdiocese like Bombay.


 5.        On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex

a)      Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same-sex and equating it in some way to marriage?

         The law of the country as it exists today regards homosexual acts as criminal.  Attempts have been made to change the law and there is a strong pressure to do so, but so far the law stands. One group (a women’s group) pointed out that in India such unions are lived under cover. People should, according to this group, not be encouraged to live in this way but should be able to make their independent options.

b)     What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in type of union?

         The Church would not desire the criminalization of homosexuality. She has drawn a clear distinction between morality and legality.  The law does not regard consensual heterosexual acts as criminal, but these would still remain immoral.  The Church would look with compassion on homosexuals, without in any way regarding homosexuality as an alternative form of life.

c)      What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?

         Not applicable in our country.  Some members in one group felt that the Church needs to be more compassionate and merciful towards same sex marriages.

d)     In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith

         Again, such a situation does not arise in our country. The present Adoption rules would not allow adoption by persons of the same sex living together.


6.   The Education of Children in Irregular Marriages

a)      What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?

         It is difficult to give any precise figures, but, in general, we can say that given the relatively small number of Catholics in irregular marriages, the number of children and adolescents born in such unions is relatively small.

b)     How do parents in these situations approach the Church? What do they ask? Do they request the sacraments only or do they also want catechesis and the general teaching of religion?

         Most Catholic parents, even those living in irregular unions, are eager to have their children baptized and to receive the other sacraments.  They are keen on their catechesis and teaching of religion.

c)      How do the particular Churches attempt to meet the needs of the parents of these children to provide them with a Christian education?

         In parishes where Pre-Baptismal sessions are organized, these parents living in irregular unions would have to attend these if they want their child to be baptized.  Regular religion classes are organized in our Catholic schools and in our parishes on Sundays.  In this way, even though the parents themselves may be living in an irregular union, if they wish, they can have their children baptized and brought up as Catholics.

d)     What is the sacramental practice in these cases: preparation, administration of the sacrament and the accompaniment?

         The preparation for these children to receive the sacrament is the same as the one for children of parents born in sacramental unions.  As one group put it, our attitude should be to reach out to them in a spirit of honest and total acceptance of the families and their children so that they may feel comfortable and accepted and benefit from a Christian education. They asked: Why should children be lost to the Church through no fault of their own?

         A difficulty may arise when, as happens in some parishes, where the practice is for parents to receive Holy Communion along with the child receiving Holy Communion for the first time. This is a practical difficulty which has to be faced by the parish. The child may have to be accompanied for First Holy Communion by godparents in place of his/her real parents. Such a problem exists also when a child of a couple married with a Disparity of Cult marriage receives First Holy Communion. 


7.   The Openness of the Married Couple to Life

a)      What knowledge do Christians have today of the teachings of Humanae vitae on responsible parenthood? Are they aware of how morally to evaluate the different methods of family planning? Could any insights be suggested in this regard pastorally?

         The faithful are given knowledge through marriage preparation course Also at pre-baptismal courses, wherever they are held, Catholics are made aware of the various natural methods of family planning.  But, by and large, the knowledge that Christians have with regard to the teachings of Humanae Vitae is not much. In fact, the members of an educated Women’s Group said that the respondents “had hardly heard of the encyclical Humanae Vitae”!

b)     Is this moral teaching accepted? What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple’s accepting this teaching?

               Generally speaking, many Catholics are aware that the Church is against contraceptives, but they often do not regard the use of contraceptives as sinful. Many are using methods not approved of by the Church.  Many too labour under the illusion that the Natural Family Planning methods approved by the Church are not workable.  Some argue that it is better to prevent life through contraception rather than to kill it later through abortion. A women’s group expressed its view strongly:  “Those in the Church who legislate on these matters do not have the experience of living a conjugal life. One has to understand the difficulties faced by couples. It is better to dialogue with those who face difficult situations and who have to bear the consequences of such decisions in the reality of daily life”. This may be the view of one group, but it reveals that the Church’s moral teaching is not really accepted whole heartedly. 

               There is a tremendous amount of media progaganda in favour of artificial birth control – condoms are advertised and even given away freely.  Abortion is legally allowed under such conditions – Medical Termination of Pregnancy as it is termed. In practice, the government encourages abortion (but illogically, not female foeticide which is a consequence of abortion).

               When couples decide to practice NFP, they do experience difficulties: partly, they do not know the methods well enough.  Sometimes a spouse is away for long periods due to work (e.g. in the Gulf or on the ship).  There is an element of asceticism involved in the practice of NFP and the climate today is to go for quick and easy solutions.

c)      What natural methods are promoted by the particular Churches to help spouses put into practice the teachings of Humanae Vitae?

                  The Archdiocese surely promotes Natural Method of Family Planning and couples are given an explanation of NFP methods at the Marriage Preparation Courses; but barring a few sporadic attempts by the Diocesan Human Life Committee, there has   been no systematic and sustained attempt to propagate NFP. One group pointed out that it is important to teach NFP not just as a family planning device but as a means to cultivate respect for each partner and act accordingly, with mutual consent. It helps raise the quality of life in the family.

d)     What is your experience on this subject in the practice of the Sacrament of Penance and participation at the Eucharist?

         As mentioned earlier, several Catholics do not regard the use of contraceptive birth control methods as sinful and hence, they do not confess it.  People frequent the Eucharist, but many not confess about the use of contraceptives when they avail of the sacrament of Penance.

e)      What differences are seen in this regard between the Church’s teaching and civic education?

         There is surely a big difference between the Church’s teaching and civic education. In most civic education, NFP is hardly even mentioned as a possible method.  It is just taken for granted that people should go in for contraception even in the case of young people who are not yet married and would like to engage in pre-marital sex.

f)      How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an increase in births be promoted?

         Barring groups like the Couples for Christ and particularly the Neo-Catechumenate, the small family (one or two children) has been almost a norm amongst the educated Catholics in the Archdiocese.  It will be very difficult to change this mentality, given the fact that parents today would like to educate their children well – and education is expensive - and give them as many comforts as possible.  The cry is that India’s population is the main cause for the economic problems the country is facing!  Right now, since India’s population is a huge one, the effects of the small family norm will not be felt immediately – but the effects of such a policy will be felt later. It would need a systematic campaign to change the mentality of people.  On the part of the Church, perhaps, she could manifest tangible support for those who go in for go in for bigger families by way of free education and other benefits for the third and subsequent children.

8.   The Relationship Between the Family and the Person

a)      Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the human person. How can the family be a privileged place for this to happen?

          The Family can be a privileged place of revealing the mystery and vocation of human person by constantly becoming aware of the presence of Jesus in various situations in its family life.  Where parents give importance to gospel values, to the life of faith and prayer, the children tend to also value such a way of life; they will practice the faith in the manner they can. A good lived witness of one's faith has the greatest educational value. When a child wishes to practice his faith in a family that is indifferent or even averse to religious practice, it is difficult for the child to persevere.  

b)     What critical situations in the family today can obstruct a person’s encounter with Christ?

          We live in a world that sets great value to success in studies, as a stepping stone for upward mobility in the socio-economic ladder, for status and comfort in living; in other words the attraction to power, influence and wealth make families enter a competitive society where the children have to fulfil the ambitions of their parents; parents also have to respond more than they can to the ambitions of their children. In such an atmosphere there is strain and tension on both sides, which, if not controlled, can cause a breakdown of the person physically, emotionally and even lead to suicide. Absorption in one’s own ambitions, critical situations such as illness, loss of jobs, etc. can put a great strain on relationship within the family and obstruct a person’s encounter with Christ.

          Clashing work schedules, spirit of competitiveness, high expectations on children to achieve results, lead to an unnecessarily stressful life. Parents tend to compensate for lack of love and attention by providing children material goods. Fast foods and fast life has impacted family time together. No time for family prayers as more focus on Entertainment and TV. We have chosen a complicated lifestyle vs. simple lifestyle where there is peace, joy and unity.

          Dependence on God is diminishing as the focus is shifted on accumulation of wealth, profession, high usage of modern gadgets like mobiles and internet with its consequent lack of family time. We are not living by our prayer Our Father…give us today our daily bread. Rather, we are busy gathering for generations to come at the cost of enjoying present family life

 c)     To what extent do the many crisis of faith which people can experience affect family life?

 Many crises of faith which people experience badly affects family life. A crisis make members bitter towards one another. They grow distant and do not communicate with one another. Then, they don’t communicate with God.  Lack of dependability on God has affected families to face situations such as terminal illness, death, financial problems, joblessness, alcoholism and drug addiction thereby leading to helplessness and negativity.


9.   Other Challenges and Proposals

What other challenges or proposals related to the topics in the above questions do you consider urgent and useful to treat?

A number of proposals emerged from the groups:

  • Work more with couples especially in the early stages of marriage and follow it up throughout at regular intervals.
  • Some emphasized that marriage needs to be looked at as a vocation – a calling to love. Not everyone who is single needs to marry. Some also felt that more programmes need to be conducted for couples and youth which highlights the beauty of our sexuality to give the right perspective towards relationships and marriage. Unfortunately parents are not talking to the children about this at all and so children are being formed by the media and the secular world.
  • A special problem in our country is inter-religious marriages between a Catholic and a person of another religious tradition.  The number of such marriages is increasing, leading children to confusion.
  • Finally, one pointed out that the community spirit needs to be strong, support system needs to be strong. Christians like to live in silos and do not share resources.  We have to build vibrant Small Christian Communities made up of stable, Christ-centred families.


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