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The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World

Excerpts from the Report of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong on the Questionnaire in Preparation for the
14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, October 2015: 

The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World

Endorsed by the Diocesan Curia, the Working Group for the Synodal Consultation Questionnaire publishes the following information from the 181 responses received:

Demographics of Respondents (N=181):

1. Curia Members: 4
2a. Diocesan Priests: 5
2b. Permanent Deacons: 4
2c. Religious/Apostolic life/Personal prelature: 4
3. Lay Organisations in Pastoral Care: 15
4. Lay Associations: 10
5. Individuals/ Families: 139

1. The parish is still considered to be the major locus responsible for providing a full range of faith formation and pastoral services for the family, including Sunday school for pre-school children, activities for families with children of different age groups, youth ministry, ‘spiritual companions’ to lead family peer groups, or the promotion of Mass attendance with extended family members. 

2. To reawaken an awareness of God’s presence in Catholic family life, most respondents share the common view that the strengthening of family catechesis and family spirituality is of paramount importance.

3. With regard to marriage and family research in Hong Kong, an anthropological understanding of the reality of marriage and the family from the vantage point of sound philosophical and Biblical-theological understanding is lacking, thus giving rise to the emergence of a relativistic and utilitarian approach as the dominating trend. Gender studies without a solid natural law foundation are prevalent in academic institutions and this negatively affect the younger generation in their attitudes towards sexuality, human love, marriage, family and procreation.

4. In order to come to the aid of families in extreme situations, many respondents suggest that the Church should consider the marriage and family ministry as a top priority in her pastoral ministry. An overwhelming majority believes that offering direct and concrete help, care and support to families is the most effective way to support the families in extreme situations. Some respondents also suggest strengthening the cooperation between Caritas–Hong Kong and parishes so that parishioners with family problems and great difficulties can be identified as early as possible to receive timely and quality services.

5. To prevent families from falling into extreme situations, the majority of respondents suggest that the Church should strengthen the catechetical formation on family values through school education, as well as catechism classes and doctrine classes organised by parishes and different Church groups. Ongoing family support to strengthen personal faith as well as marital and family bonds is also important. This can be achieved through the parish-based family pastoral groups by offering seminars on marital chastity and Christian parenting. Some respondents stress that the Church should adopt a more assertive stance on social issues which are adversely affecting family life by courageously pointing out the injustice inflicted on families and children by civil legislation and government policies.

6. Over 90% of respondents opine that the evangelisation of the family by preaching and teaching God’s plan for human love and life is an effective way to support and strengthen the families of believers and those committed to the bonds of marriage.

7. The respondents give much emphasis on the need for ordained ministers to receive formation and continuous training on pastoral ministry relating to marriage and the family.. Only in this way will they be able to help Christian families to bear witness to a life of emotional maturity.

8. Parents are identified as persons primarily qualified to teach young people the core values of Christian family and spirituality. This is principally achieved through prayer and the practice of virtues in family life.

9. With regard to the response of young people to the Church’s effort in her mission to them, two extremes can be identified in general. At one end, respondents observe that active and enthusiastic responses are found among youths who are more involved in parish life or affiliated with a Church group or lay movement. In this way they have developed a more mature spiritual life. Besides, more positive and responsive attitudes are seen in youths who come under close pastoral care and spiritual direction. The teaching of the Theology of the Body is often well received by these youths. However, they form only the minority. More passive and negative responses come from youths who mainly come under heavy influence of the secularised, individualistic and pleasure-seeking worldly culture. These temptations from the modern society hinder their receptivity to the Church mission. The lack of proper spiritual formation and catechetical input weakens their capability to respond to the living Word of God.

10. Many members of the faithful express the view that they have difficulty in applying Biblical teachings to real life situations owing to the lack of basic formation in reading, understanding and using the Bible in the life of the Church. Some respondents observe that the wedding preparation period is an opportunity to enable the faithful to encounter the living Christ through the Word of God.  Others believe that it is the responsibility of priests to unpack the hidden treasures of the Bible for families and children through their homilies, since they have received the formation to do so.  As shepherds of souls, priests should also assist families to grow in their faith by passing on to them the skills of Bible reading and group sharing.

11. Concerning the role of a relationship with God in helping couples to face marital difficulties or trials, the majority of respondents mention that maintaining intimacy with God comes from joining Catholic groups and from active participation in the communal life of the Church. Through interaction and fellowship with other Catholics, they get to experience God’s presence and actions in their struggle to overcome their own weaknesses in marital life. Couples in difficulties can experience the closeness of God through Bible study and sharing, life testimonies and Sunday homilies.

12. Most respondents did not realise that Christian marriage involves God’s conferral of a vocation, a mission and a new state of life to a Christian couple who are called to be a living sign of the union between Christ and the Church in this world.

13. Slightly over half of the responses indicate that familial spirituality can be developed from a strengthening of the faith experience within the family, starting from the parents acting as role models and spiritual leaders. Regrettably many parents are not spiritually prepared and are ignorant of their role as such. 

14. Regarding Church teachings on the family, most responses consider it necessary to safeguard a correct, adequate and effective presentation of catechetical material and Sunday school teaching material. Many respondents highlight the importance of appointing dedicated and well-qualified catechists and school teachers to teach Catholic faith and morals in conformity with Church Magisterium. Nonetheless, no response has been made on the need to inculcate the Catholic understanding of love and sexuality. 

15. Nearly half of the respondents hold the view that respect, love and care on the part of the Church community will encourage couples in irregular situations to reflect and think positively about the fullness of Christian marriage. For these couples, who are adults, the beauty of Christian marriage cannot be taught but can only be caught.  The friendship of Catholic couples who live their vows faithfully can speak a lot to such couples who get to know them.

16. In order to highlight the vocation and mission of the family, the catechetical and spiritual formation of the engaged couple is indispensable in marriage preparation. The meaning of holy matrimony and Catholic family life should be clearly explained and the testimonies of mentor couples should be provided.     

It is also agreed that the families of Catholics married to non-Catholic Christians or unbaptised persons need special pastoral care. 

17. The “simplifying” and “streamlining” of judicial procedures in marriage cases must be carefully considered; they are not applicable to procedures which are essential.  Furthermore, it is clear that the centuries-old judicial principle of requiring “two conformed affirmative sentences” in order to annul a ratified and consummated marriage must be upheld, instead of considering (as some pastors or Church members have suggested) one single affirmative sentence as sufficient for annulling such a marriage.  We must not compromise “truth” or do without “sufficient objective evidence” in the name of “pastoral solicitude” for those who are eager to rectify their canonically irregular marital status.  

Pastorally speaking, it would be very helpful, for example through the diocesan website, to keep the faithful well informed about the basic Church Law on marriage and the services of our marriage tribunal. 

18. The Diocese has in recent years handled more and more marriage cases which involve the “Privilege of the Faith” procedures (i.e., “Dissolution of the Marriage Bond in Favour of the Faith”) that invoke the exercise of the “Power of the Keys” on the part of the Supreme Pontiff.  The Diocese humbly recommends that the Holy See study further, from the doctrinal point of view, whether the Supreme Pontiff may “delegate” this power to the local Bishops, so that cases can be expedited more speedily for the spiritual well-being of the concerned parties.

19. During the 2014 Synod, no Synod Fathers proposed to change the doctrine of marital unity and indissolubility.  Those who see prospects for readmitting the divorced and civilly remarried to the reception of the sacraments argue for an exploration of the possibility of adopting a different pastoral practice in the administration of sacraments.  Therefore, the burden of proof rests with the proponents to demonstrate that a change in praxis in no way comes into conflict with the doctrine of unity and indissolubility of marriage.  They have to list out what those factors are in individual cases that may extenuate an irregular situation.

20. In line with Church teaching (see, for example, Catechism of the Catholic Church) many respondents demonstrate an attitude of compassion toward people with a homosexual orientation, recommending that they be respected and loved in view of their intrinsic human dignity. Nevertheless, a large number of respondents reject homosexual behaviour and insist on the practice of chastity.

Regarding the most appropriate responses in light of cultural sensitivities, many respondents believe that even though homosexual acts are morally unacceptable, Christians should always treat homosexual persons with respect, love, care and concern. 

21. Many responses contain a strong and clear message that the prophetic teaching of Humanae Vitae on natural parenthood has not been adequately promoted within the Diocese. There is a strong appeal for more preaching, teaching and witnessing in relation to procreative fertility, the immorality of contraceptive sex, the vocation of parenthood and natural family planning.

22. Around 45% of the respondents hold the view that apparently there is not enough solidarity with and effective support for maternity and paternity from the Christian community.  Only about one-fourth of them agree that effective solidarity and support do exist.

23. The majority (95%) of the respondents highly recognise the importance of giving support to adoptive and foster parents and providing related pastoral care.

24. Slightly over half of the respondents are assured that the vocation of maternity/paternity is dealt with in catechesis in general.  Whether it is sufficiently emphasised or not depends a lot on the depth of the catechist’s teaching material.

25. A large number of respondents agree that as parents they can find solidarity and support from the Christian community in their education mission through parish activities, family groups, Sunday schools and the Catholic school system.

About one-third of respondents call for more support in the form of family network and family groups. Some of them prefer to use new media, like Facebook, for information exchange among Catholic parents. These parents look for more concrete support in spiritual and parenting formation. A small number of respondents report having received no support in the mission of education from the Church community. 

Date: 20 May 2015

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