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Bishops of India move to unite estranged flock

Advocating special pastoral attention to people estranged from the church and their families, the Bishops of India emphasised the need to show a respectful attitude to those who have not been provided with adequate pastoral care, such as transgenders and people with different orientations.

Story: THE | GOAN | 14th February 2017, 12:00 Hrs


These significant recommendations formed part of the “Plan of Action” (PoA) endorsed by two Cardinals, 136 Archbishops and Bishops, representing the 132 dioceses of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI), who recently met in Bhopal on the theme “Promoting the Joy of Love in our Families”.

Archbishop of Goa and Daman Filipe Neri Ferrão (CCBI Vice President) was one of the signatories to the CCBI statement, with the other signatories including Cardinal Oswald Gracias (CCBI President) and Bishop Varghese Chakkalakal (CCBI Secretary General).

During the Plenary Assembly, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican enlightened the gathering on the historical background and the thrust of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation 'Amoris Laetitia' (Joy of Love).

Emphasising that the family is God’s precious gift to human society and to the Church, the bishops of India deliberated on various factors confronting these families, which included varied and diverse situations regarding marriage and family across various regions in the country.

They admitted that “part of the problem is that ordained ministers are not adequately equipped to help families cope with the complex problems they face.”

In its Plan of Action (PoA), the bishops emphasised the need for Christian Family Education programmes in schools and colleges, with a view to helping young people discover the dignity and beauty of marriage, without minimising the call to priestly and religious life.

The bishops also recommended that their “priests and religious would keep in touch with families through regular family visits and devise structures for accompanying couples, especially in the first years of marriage.”

“The bishops will enlist the help of experienced married couples, Parish Family Cells, SCC (BEC) networks and the Family Movements and Associations in their dioceses. Wherever needed and feasible, they will establish Family Service Centres with counselling facilities to help couples facing difficulties,” the PoA stated.

“In particular, with a careful process of discernment, we will reach out to those who for several reasons feel estranged from the Church (divorced, divorced and civilly remarried, cohabiting partners, etc.).”

The bishops also agreed to “ensure that priests, religious, catechists and pastoral workers receive better training for family ministry.” In particular, they will insist that seminarians receive a more extensive interdisciplinary and not merely doctrinal formation in the areas of engagement and marriage and will have exposure to family situations under the guidance of their formators.

Responding to the call of Pope Francis, the bishops affirmed the need to “show a respectful attitude to those who have not been provided with adequate pastoral care, such as transgenders, people with different orientations.”

The bishops also recommended the need to support families that need special care, such as those families living in dire poverty, families with spouses of two different religious traditions, single parent families, families with differently-abled children, grieving and bereaved families, migrant families, families with sick and elderly members.