CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Education is part of pastoral care

HONG KONG (UCAN): Leaders in the Church around eastern Asia are saying they are happy that the exhortation of Pope Francis, The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia) is affirming of Church teaching on marriage and the family, while at the same time pointing to the need for change in the way pastoral care is understood.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, from Hong Kong, says that the exhortation matches with his expectation by stressing pastoral care, while at the same time affirming the church stance on family.

“Pastoral care needs to come with catechesis. The Church cannot just express its concern without preaching the truth,” the former parish priest said.

In Taiwan, Father Otfried Chen, the secretary-general of the Regional Chinese Bishops’ Conference, commented that the exhortation will be helpful in bringing about change in the pastoral approach in ministering to the family.

However, he stressed that an exhortation differs from an encyclical. “It is not to change doctrine, but to bring change in pastoral methods and make them acceptable to all people,” he explained.

He said that he thinks the situation of Chinese families today is complicated and there is a need for a pastoral approach. “Those who are divorced and remarried could not come to the Church in the past or receive communion. But now these people are not rejected and can participate in Church activities,” Father Chen said.

Bishop Ha added that traditionally the Chinese emphasised family life, but this is no longer the case. “China under the Communist regime and after the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976) greatly damaged the institution of the family that now needs to be remedied,” he said.

In southern China, a bishop who asked not to be named, said that individual family cases he encountered are so complicated that he sometimes feels helpless. “And if Catholics faced family problems, they used their own way to resolve it rather than seeking help from the Church,” he added.

Getting easy divorces and extra-marital affairs are also common family problems in China.

Bishop Ha thinks that this is largely because of the country trying to maintain a high economic growth rate at the expense of family values. “Only the men went out to work in the past. Now it is inevitable that women also  need to work, and the time for family has been reduced a lot.”

Kevin Lai Yuk-ching, executive secretary of Hong Kong’s Diocesan Pastoral Commission for Marriage and the Family, said the exhortation helps them reflect and to admit that there has been a gap between Church teachings and pastoral work.

“Our previous work rarely touched on those who were divorced but not remarried, or those who in live in relationships. For young people who do not want to get married, we also have to explain to them the meaning of marriage,” he said.

However, traditional Chinese culture does not prefer making known “scandalous family affairs” and this increases the difficulty in pastoral work, Lai explained.

In response to the Synod on the Family in 2015, John Cardinal Tong Hon, the bishop of Hong Kong ordered a restructuring of the Marriage Commission in November.

The ongoing restructuring is expected to stress works on pro-life issues and the promotion of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, as well as providing relevant training, counselling, information, research and support to couples and families under different situations, according to Lai.

Meanwhile, the Committee for the Pastoral Care of Persons with Same Sex Attraction is disbanded and its work will be placed under the new commission.

While Pope Francis stresses in his exhortation the need to care for different people, including gay people, the Hong Kong Diocese is sometimes criticised for its attitude or wordings that make Catholic and non-Catholic gay people feel alienated.

“Our work is to provide pastoral counselling and there is a related ministry to care for people with same-sex attraction. We just do not want to deal with it in a high profile way. As for the stance of the diocese, it is not our scope (to comment),” Lai said.

“The Church has to take Jesus as the standard and be compassionate to others. Pope Francis is making this a merciful invitation to people to live a life of repentance. I think this is the biggest message of the exhortation,” said Father Chen of Taiwan.

“If there is a gay person in the family, it does not mean we are in favour of this but we are to accept them,” he said.

“The clergy should have a mature attitude to deal with this pastoral change and to accept these people while lay people with problems are invited to return to the church and walk on a new path, he said.

In South Korea, Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong of Gwangju, president of the bishops’ conference there said, “The exhortation presents the guidelines and practical ways to effectively solve problems that come up in family pastoral ministry.”

He added that following the spirit of the papal exhortation and under the principle that nobody is excluded from God’s mercy, “the local Catholic Church will develop various pastoral methods for families in trouble to regain harmony and peace.”

Father Romano Song Hyun, secretary of the Korean bishops’ Committee for Family Pastoral Ministry, said, Pope Francis’ exhortation on family does not change any church rules but deals with various aspects of the sufferings and pains in modern families.

“As the exhortation recommends, the Church in Korea will listen to the voices of families in complicated situations and in difficulties and help them experience the unconditional love of God by accompanying them and not by judging them,” he said.

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