Towards the synod: Papua a nation of extended families, polygamy and mass sterilization
Port Moresby (AsiaNews) -"We need to stress the weaknesses and at the same time the complexity of the family in the Melanesian context". This is what Catholic bishop Arnold Orawae of Wabag, Enga province told a press conference in Port Moresby on Thursday. He was a few hours away from flying off to Rome to attend a worldwide gathering (Synod) of Catholic leaders with Pope Francis on the Family. Bishop Arnold will be representing PNG and Solomon Island in his capacity as President of the Bishops' Conference of the two countries.
"People feel cut off from the Church", he said, "when they can't fully participate in its life, including the Sacraments. We need a flexible approach in this regard considering the variety of situations and the personal spiritual journey". Bishop Arnold revealed that in his allotted time for intervention at the Synod he intends to explain that the idea of a "nuclear family" of parents and few children pertains only to the Western culture and way of life. In most of the world, including Melanesia, the family is a much more complex web or relationships which include close and far relatives. They also have responsibilities and thy also rejoice or suffer for the success or failure of a specific marriage. In some matrilineal societies of Melanesia the responsibility for the education and welfare of the children lies with the maternal uncles rather than the biological father of the offspring.
Questioned about the issue of polygamy Bishops Orowae acknowledged that the practice runs against Christian revelation. However, patience and a gradual journey are required to overcome entrenched social customs. Epidemics, natural calamities, tribal fights at times create gender imbalance and the conditions for polygamy.
As far as contraception is concerned the Church tends to stand with what is "natural". Family apostolate activists John and Lucy Lavu, at the same press conference, stressed the fact that natural family planning methods are successful with committed and motivated couples. The aggressive campaigns for mass contraception and sterilization in rural areas fail to provide teenage girls and women, let alone the male partners, with informed choice. Apparently on purpose; and with great financial gain for some. "Then people come to us . We can counsel them, but hardly repair the damage done to their bodies", Mrs. Lavu said.
*Missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Papua New Guinea