"Upholding a culture of life in a globalised world"
by Nirmala Carvalho

Mgr. Agnelo Gracias, Auxiliary Bishop of Mumbai, describes the mission of the Christian family in India: defeating abortion (12 million cases per year) and educating people about marriage.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – "We live in an age in which the family and the culture of life are increasingly and systematically attacked." Mgr. Agnelo Gracias, President of the Office for the Family of the Conference of Catholic Bishops' of India (CCBI), will take such convictions to the 8th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) that opened yesterday in Daejeon, South Korea; its theme: "The Asian Family: towards a Culture of Life".

"Not only is human life no longer considered sacred in urban India but this attitude is catching up with our rural masses, too," the bishop told AsiaNews. Almost three quarters (74%) of India's 1.1 billion people live in rural area, growing by 1.44% in 2004, down from the 2.1% average of the nineties.

"The authorities are promoting abortion as a birth control method," Bishop Garcias said. "Stamps carry the portrait of the ideal Indian family: Dad, Mom, and one kid. Abortion ads even appear on Mumbai public transit headlining an abortion today is one less dowry tomorrow." Net effect: at least 12 million abortions performed each year.

Why this? According to the bishop globalisation has weakened the culture of life in favour of a more modern "culture of death. [. . .] And the average Indian family, and generally speaking the same is true for the average Asian family, has to cope with a changing socio-cultural and economic landscape. Globalisation has really changed rural communities. Even the poorest huts now have a television."

"While we must acknowledge that 'cultural globalisation' has its advantages," he pointed out, "we must also be conscious that its materialistic nature must be held in check. Otherwise it will keep eroding traditional family values which have so far sustained our peoples and societies. Not to mention the fact that divorce is breaking many families apart."

In a multiethnic context like that of India the growing number of mixed marriages is creating additional problems. "With spouses coming from different religious and socio-cultural backgrounds, married couples adjust to each other less easily than same-faith couples do. Children, too often, suffer in such marriages," the Bishop stressed.

The problem is compounded by the fact that marriage in India also joins together large extended families, making them even larger. How to manage relations with members of such extended groups is often a source of tension.

Analysing the problems is only the first step; finding solutions is the next. Bishop Gracias has come up with some suggestions as to how to deal with them. The cornerstone of his plans is marriage preparation.

Trained counsellors should organise activities that provide sex education, teach respect for life and one's future spouse, and instruct people in the value of the marital union. And it should be provided from early school up to the time of marriage.

"It is essential that each diocese or parish set up bodies that deal with family issues," Bishop Gracias said. However, according to the CCBI's Office for the Family only 6 of its 12 regions have anything like them. "Only a few dioceses have community centres with trained staff dealing with family issues, providing pre-marital courses, encouraging respect for life," the Bishop pointed out.

It is Bishop Garcias" intention to submit a proposal to the FABC Assembly that would encourage local churches to bring together local communities with religious men and women or trained volunteers who would help families cope with the latter's spiritual and material needs.

In India, associations such as Neo-Catechumenate, Couples for Christ, Engaged Encounter, and Marriage Encounter have become active in this domain. Such family-support groups are rooted in and are supported by the Church.

"It is paramount that such groups do not become too insular and isolated. It is important that they feel they can always count on the support of the whole Church," Bishop Gracias emphasised.

"We must reaffirm our hope in the future and heed the younger generations, conscious of the presence of evil but also of the strength of the word of God. The Christian family itself must bear the Gospel in the new millennium."

Mgr. Agnelo Gracias is Auxiliary Bishop of Mumbai as well as Bishop of Molicunza. He chairs the Commission on the Family of the Western Region Council of Bishops of India.

He has been involved in social assistance and spiritual education in support of families for a long time.