04/29/2016, 12.18
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Msgr. Menamparampil: Amoris laetitia affirms values of Indian families

by mons. Thomas Menamparampil

The apostolic administrator of Jowai comments on Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation. He believes that the papal document is applicable to the condition of the Indian tribal families. Amoris laetitia talks about "irregular" situations, marriages, divorces, abandoned children. All of this is also found in India where, as the Pope recalls, we must not give in to easy judgments, but to discern each situation case by case.

Jowai (AsiaNews) - The post-synodal Exhortation "Amoris laetitia" of Pope Francis, "affirms the Indian and Asian family values", says Msgr. Thomas Menamparampil, Archbishop Emeritus of Guwahati and current apostolic administrator of Jowai. Referring to the model of "extended family" mentioned by Francis, which also includes "parents, uncles, cousins ​​and neighbors," the Bishop recalls that this family model is well established in Indian villages, where tribal mothers have many children but continue to "adopt more and more."

Msgr. Menamparampil speaks of the everyday reality of Jowai families, which are also discussed in the Apostolic Exhortation. Families that are poor and landless, often forced to relocate for work; the partner who remains in the village leading to "forms of depression, infidelity, new relationships”; abandoned children; mixed marriages. The bishop recalls the words of the Pope, who invites us not to judge these situations but act as guide in suffering. And remember that if there is love, everything "can be solved”. Below, the full text of his message

I see the Apostolic Exhortation as a reaffirmation of Asian, Indian family values firmly rooted in our cultures. If these cultures have stood pressure for centuries, it is because they were preserved, cherished and handed down in families and communities.

The Document says that "Large families are a joy for the Church" (167). It speaks of "parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbours" (187) constituting "wider families" (38), friends and other families composing a "larger family," in-laws and other relatives (196-98). We are familiar with such large extended families in Indian villages.

The Pope refers with respect to the cultural diversity of situations (3). Tribal mothers are not embarrassed about the size of their families; they adopt a few more children. Every day we meet with mothers holding babies in both hands and screaming children around. They generally live in a neighbourhood community that has a strong sense of solidarity. It is in such contexts that cultures and traditions are diligently fostered and faith carefully handed down.

In India we have the advantage of living amidst a majority community, even though not belonging to our faith, whose culture gives great importance to family values and frowns upon deviations. Hindu society as a whole finds it hard to accept cohabitation, abortion, divorce, or same sex marriage.

Further, most of our Christian communities live in agricultural and  unsecularised contexts. Not that there are no difficulties. Many of the anxieties of poorer families are concerned with their struggle for life. If they are landless labourers, their family life is reduced to brief encounters between periods of intense labour. Thus, shared life in family is greatly impoverished.

If they move to the town or to another region in search of jobs, the partners live lone lives most of the time with the danger of depression, infidelity, new alliances; broken bonds and abandoned children (241-43). However, the Pope's advice to avoid judging people in such situations and to discern the right approach to different problems provides a guidance in all such anxieties (296).

With young people studying or working away from their homes and living among people of other cultures, inter-cultural marriages are becoming more common. Every culture has its own categories of thought, modes of expression, styles of communicating, wisdom for guidance, symbolisms that give meaning, norms that regulate relationships, ways of manifesting joy, displeasure, acceptance or rejection. In a family context, there is every possibility that one partner misreads the mind of a partner of another culture when differences of opinion, taste, vision for the future or plans for the children arise. If, of course, the love between them is genuine and deep-rooted, they will recognise and appreciate "differences," and solve their problem through sensitive dialogue (139).

Inter-faith marriages are even more complex, not easily finding common sources of inspiration between partners. Marriage with an agnostic or atheist can be more challenging still. However, if love prevails and there is a readiness to appeal to one's partner's convictions and to whatever he/she believes is conducive to human good, there are always possible approaches to solution.

There are many instances of alcoholism, dowry-related tensions, and domestic violence. The Document admits that in life everything is not just black and white (305). It refers to "the law of gradualness" (295), the "pedagogy of love" (211). It invites pastoral leaders "to be attentive...how people experience distress" (296). It is when pastors understand couples in pain in contexts of intimacy and share their inner agonies, and manifest the "power of tenderness," does healing come and discernment bear fruit (308). There is always abundant room for "missionary creativity" in difficult situations (57).

The culture of the Khasi-Pnar community of Jowai is generally considered matri-lineal, the family property being inherited from the mother to the youngest daughter. The mother's position in the family is considered precious.

People here would agree with the statement that "The weakening of maternal presence with its feminine qualities poses a grave risk to our world" (173). Society would be dehumanised (174). For, a mother shares in the mystery of creation. "You have knit me together in my mother's womb" (Ps 139:13) (168). But even here the father figure is greatly desired. He should prove himself to be truly a responsible person.

The Document descends to practical suggestions: to seek the help of psychology, sociology, marital therapy and counselling; of professionals with practical experience (204). It gives realistic suggestions, leaving freedom to search for solutions in contexts. Let families in difficulties be exposed to people who take their Christian life seriously. It will be precisely "missionary families" that give rise to similar families (289).

In all these cases, everyone ought to remember that human beings are "unfinished products," always a "work in progress" (218). "Each marriage is like a salvation history" searching for fuller answers (221). What is expected of pastors is to remain constant learners and keep reaching out to the "outermost fringes of society" (312) with "love and tenderness" (59) and unfailing faith.

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