For Mgr Hinder, Pope Francis highlights not only the problems but also the joys of family life in a “plain language” that is close “actual reality”. The apostolic exhortation provides guidelines on how to love in families. Many values are shared with Muslims, but the fear of proselytising and mixed marriages remain an obstacle.
Abu Dhabi (AsiaNews) – Amoris Laetitia shows "not only the problems" but also "the beauty of marriage and the Christian family,” said Mgr Paul Hinder, apostolic vicar of Southern Arabia (UAE, Oman, Yemen) about Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation, published in early April.
For the 73-year-old prelate, the document is very important "for our families in the Gulf", even Muslim ones, because it deals with issues "in a in a language that is plain and close to their actual reality, good or bad. “
Pope Francis "provides many actual guidelines on how to love in families, and how to educate children in an atmosphere of understanding and love." Moreover, “The sections where he talks about migration reflect the reality of our families: geographically split families, families in crisis because of the unfaithfulness of one or both partners, families uprooted from their cultural environment, etc.”
In the UAE, 76 per cent of the population is Muslim (80 per cent immigrants). Catholics are only 9 per cent, mostly foreigners from Africa, as well as South Asia (Bangladesh, Pakistan and India).
“Although many values are shared with the Muslim world,” the prelate doubts the exhortation will make any inroads among Muslims because “When Christian values are presented explicitly, there is always the barrier caused by the fear of proselytising.”
The issue of mixed marriages is compounded by the non-validity of civil marriages and the need to provide pastoral outreach to couples “separated because of work”.
Mgr Hinder’s interview with AsiaNews follows:
Mgr Hinder, what value does the Amoris Laetitia have for Christian families in the Gulf?
The exhortation is very important for our families in the Gulf because it deals with all the problems they face, in a language that is plain and close to their actual reality, good or bad. For those working in family outreach, Amoris Laetitia will be a mine to accompany and help families, as well as those preparing for marriage. Pope Francis provides many actual guidelines on how to love in families, and how to educate children in an atmosphere of understanding and love. The sections where he talks about migration reflect the reality of our families: geographically split families, families in crisis because of the unfaithfulness of one or both partners, families uprooted from their cultural environment, etc.
And to what extent does it also embrace the Muslim world?
Although many values are shared with the Muslim world, I do not think the exhortation will seep a lot into their perception of things. When Christian values are presented explicitly, there is always the barrier caused by the fear of proselytising. Then there's the issue of mixed marriages, which is generally not recommended for the simple reason that, as a rule, the Catholic partner must convert to Islam (men) or is the victim of pressures that push towards conversion (women). Children by law are deemed and raised as Muslims. If the section in Amoris Laetitia that speaks of religious freedom (AL 248) was really respected we would have a new situation. For now, this remains a dream for almost all Muslim countries.
Your Excellency, what does it mean to be a family in a place of violence (Yemen), or in areas where Christians are a small minority?
In a situation of war and violence it is essential that family members support each other. This transcends the individual household. Families are called to help and encourage each other. This is even more important when one or both parents are separated from their children because they are drafted into the army or - more often – killed in war. Very often family and/or tribal ties are the only social network that still provides some protection and security. This applies to everyone, but especially to minorities like Christians.
Has the Church of Arabia promoted specific initiatives in favour of the family?
We know the "movements" that seek to provide care to families like Couples for Christ (mostly Filipinos), Marriage Encounter, Family Ministry, and others. We are also developing family and marriage counselling programmes. We seek to ensure close parental involvement in children's catechesis. Where necessary, we provide families with economic and financial support for their children’s education. We are always improving marriage preparation. We also organise family planning seminars in accordance with Church principles.
What are the areas that need the most urgent action?
Among the problems that need urgent actions is the non-validity of marriages, because they were only celebrated civilly. This is largely a cultural problem. In certain cultures, marriage celebrations must be lavish. Very often they get into debt for the rest of their married life because of social pressures. To be in good standing in a Muslim country, where common law relations are not allowed, people marry civilly, putting off the religious marriage to a later time, to avoid the exorbitant costs of the celebrations. We try to overcome this problem by organising – after solid preparation – simple group weddings to regularise non-valid marriages without forcing people into debt.
Another field is pastoral outreach to couples that are separated because of work. Very often they find themselves in an ambiguous situation, in which they seek an occasional or permanent companion for as long as they stay away from their family. Frequently marriages and families break down because of it. In some cultures, like India’s, parents still arrange marriages. Couples meet for the first time only a few days before the wedding. After that they are separated again for months or a whole year. It is obvious that in such cases a family cannot develop well, even if the marriage was properly performed.
The Emirates, Oman, and Yemen are nations with high immigration rates. Many Christians are economic migrants from Asia. What message does the apostolic exhortation have for them?
Amoris Laetitia (46) challenges us when it speaks about families in migration. Chapter 4 (AL, 89-164) on love in marriage is of great value for spousal and family relations. For our families, it can serve as a guide to improve the quality of family life and open up to others, not to turn the family into a self-sufficient closed island. Ultimately, I find it important that with Pope Francis we can see not only the problems, but also and above all the beauty of marriage and the Christian family. (DS)