Evangelization In and Through the Family
Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops Conference
Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands
Priests, Religious and Laity
“The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (Evangelii Gaudium, no.1). With these few simple words Pope Francis has ignited a flame that is spreading throughout the world. It is our prayer that Catholic families in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands might be filled with the joy of the Gospel and an ardent desire to share that joy with other families. In this way more and more people will become alive in Christ, disciples of Jesus eager to participate in a new evangelization, which will bring the Good News to everyone in the community.
A Christian home should be a place of joy, love, peace, and mutual support. It is not right that anyone in the family should feel abandoned, sad or lonely and lose hope. The house where the family lives deserves to be called a “home” only when happiness is the air that all in the family breathe and where everyone experiences the joy of living together in harmony.
We encourage our families to search for the joy that comes from meeting Christ in the Gospel. It is there they will find true happiness. With Pope Francis, we urge families to rediscover the Gospel. “Radiant with the glory of the cross, (it) constantly invites us to rejoice. ‘Rejoice!’ is the angel’s greeting to Mary (Lk 1: 28). Mary’s visit to Elizabeth makes John leap for joy in his mother’s womb (cf. Lk 1:41). In her song of praise, Mary proclaims, ‘My Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’ (Lk 1:47). When Jesus begins his ministry, John cries out, ‘For this reason my joy has been fulfilled ‘(Jn 3:29). And Jesus himself ‘rejoiced in the Holy Spirit’” (Lk 10:21) (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 5) But Pope Francis also expresses a sad reality when he says, “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 6). Fathers and mothers, read the Good News with your children and other family members in the home, pray about it and make it part of daily family life. If you do this, joy and peace will surely increase in your family.
After the General Assembly of the Catholic Church in 2013, the Bishops chose a theme for pastoral activity in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands for 2014. It is this: new evangelization in and through the family. Imagine this scene. A little boy, a little girl, out of breath, filled with excitement, bursts through the door into the family home to announce some great happiness just experienced. The family, delighted by the unbounded joy of the child’s sharing, laugh and clap their hands. “Unless you become like little children...” The joy of the Gospel, when it fills the family home and brings peace and happiness in good times and bad times, must not remain hidden but must be shared with others. For those who become true disciples of Jesus, it is a great blessing to feel the confidence and freedom to be able to do this.
Building Healthy Families
Today, many of our families are struggling. There are such great challenges to face, so many problems to overcome in order to build healthy families.
We are grateful for the many Catholic families who believe in Gospel values, follow them in family life, teach them to their children and set an example that other families can see and imitate. Many dioceses encourage the formation of “core group” married couples in the parishes, couples who work with the diocesan family life office and parish priests to help struggling husbands and wives find happiness and stability in their married life. We think this is a very important initiative and we commend those generous couples who work so hard to make their marriage and family life a picture of what God intends and blesses abundantly. Their happiness, when shared with others, will bear much fruit and evangelization in and through the family will become more and more a reality in their Christian community.
In a world where today there are so many distractions, especially for children and young people, it is time to get back to the basics that build unity and a bond of love in marriage and family life. It is so very important that young couples receive good advice from their elders and clear instruction from the teachers of the faith in the parish as they prepare to get married. It is a sign of our tragic failure to pass the faith to the next generation in and through the family when so many couples see no reason to make a real commitment to each other through the Sacrament of Marriage. We would like to see a change in this way of thinking. We call on couples, happily married, to encourage those who are hesitant to marry in church to reconsider their situation, by sharing with them the blessings they have received from the sacrament.
Family and Prayer
The family that prays together stays together. This old saying should be framed and hung in the family room of every home. We recommend daily family prayer and regular attendance at Sunday Mass or Sande Lotu as a family, and also Eucharistic adoration. Scripture reading, the Rosary, the Divine Mercy chaplet, meal prayers, morning and night prayers, devotions to Mary or a favourite saint of the family and other prayers, when said together by all in the family have a powerful effect on the family. Prayer fosters love and forgiveness in the family. It brings unity that binds the family together when times are difficult.
Recognizing that loving God and loving our neighbour should begin within the family, we realize that turning away from God and sinning against our neighbour can also have their origin within the walls of the family home. When there is little respect and love between family members this attitude can easily be carried by them into the community. Regular use of the Sacrament of Penance is the remedy for this. The father and mother should set the example for the others. In families where parents take seriously their God-given responsibility to nurture and support, teach and guide, protect and defend their children and other family members, their duty as Catholic lay people to evangelise in and through the family can be clearly understood and carried out.
Dangers Facing the Family
There is a great danger, a great evil, looming over society in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, and that is the increasing loss of respect for one another and for human life. This manifests itself through the many forms of violence we see in the community these days: murder, abortion, rape, tribal war, domestic violence, child abuse and others. It is what Saint Pope John Paul II labelled a “culture of death”. The great evil shows its face in the cults that promote devil worship, sorcery and witchcraft, in false accusations, torture and killings of innocent people. It is evident in corruption that benefits a few and impoverishes others, and in the wanton destruction of the environment. It is enslaving in alcohol and drug addiction and pornography. It is dehumanising in the promotion of various forms of artificial contraception, said to promote the dignity of women, but in fact having the opposite effect.
It will take a powerful and well disciplined army, a spiritual army, to combat this great evil. True believers and disciples of Jesus from all the Christian churches, along with other people of faith, form this army. Within the Christian communities that form the Catholic Church our spiritual groups of the laity, family people, must be in the front lines of the battle, the Legion of Mary, the Charismatics, Catholic Youth, Catholic Women Associations, Divine Mercy Prayer Groups, Antioch Youth, Catholic Men’s groups, Couples for Christ and others. And from these lay groups more vocations to the priesthood and religious life must come. These dedicated disciples of Jesus serve the Church by building the Kingdom of God and promoting the New Covenant, which Jesus proclaimed and established through his death and resurrection, a reality we celebrate each time we gather for the Eucharist.
Harmful Cultural Practices
There are in PNG and Solomon Islands harmful cultural practices which are not in accordance with the teaching of Jesus Christ. As a result they are detrimental to Christian marriage and family life. We feel compelled to speak out about some of these in this pastoral letter. The first is polygamy. Even though the Good News of Jesus Christ has reached the ears of most people of our Christian countries and touched deeply the hearts of many, still the practice of polygamy continues. This traditional custom violates the meaning of Christian marriage, “the two become one” in an unbreakable bond of love. It demeans the dignity and worth of women who are seen as mere possessions of rich and powerful males. Christian marriage builds on a foundation of mutual love and respect between a man and a woman. “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united with his wife, and they become one” (Gen 2:24). Jesus himself quotes this passage when teaching about marriage (Mt 19:5 and Mk 10:7-8), as does St. Paul when writing to the Ephesians (Eph 5:31) and the Corinthians (1 Cor 6:16).
At a time when society is focusing more and more on child abuse, a second cultural tendency has increasingly come under the spotlight. This is the custom of “sharing” children within the line or extended family. In some cases children are given away or even sold to people outside the family. No, it is not okay to do this. Casual child exchange violates the unique relationship of parents with their children. Parents have a sacred obligation to love, nurture and raise their own children, care for and educate them as the special gift God has given to them, the children born to them, their own flesh and blood. Of course there are legitimate cases where it is necessary for children to be cared for by others who are not the biological parents. In these instances it is extremely important that the adopted child is received into the family with the same love and care as the other children.
Last year the Bishops wrote a pastoral letter about the appropriate care of children. Since then many dioceses have set up diocesan child protection offices and have begun giving awareness about child abuse, about appropriate ways to form and discipline children and how to teach the little ones good Christian values, which will guide them in life. Praise God that many parents and other adults have received this information with joy and enthusiasm. Some questionable customary ways of teaching and disciplining children have come under serious scrutiny and parents are accepting Christian ways of raising their children that are more fruitful, bringing about a greater love, unity and harmony in the family.
New Evangelization through Families
Will we see a new and fruitful evangelization in and through the family in this our generation? Surely God wills it, but whether or not a real renewal of faith takes place in our families and communities depends on us too. As we reflect on these things, let us consider the Holy Family of Nazareth - Joseph, Mary and Jesus. Our Lord and Saviour grew up in a devout Jewish family and clan. His upbringing prepared him to amaze and delight the wise teachers in the Temple with his thoughtful questions and his profound knowledge of the Law and the Prophets, when he was only twelve years old. His family formation gave him the confidence to face Satan and his temptations in the desert. It imparted in him the courage to proclaim the kingdom and to challenge evil. It gave him the will to offer himself on the cross in obedience to the Father for the salvation of the world. Jesus is the ultimate model for evangelization in and through the family, an example we now seek to imitate and to carry out in whatever little and humble ways we can in our time and place.
In October 2014 the Holy Father and Bishops from throughout the world, having consulted widely with Catholic families, will meet for a Synod, which will focus attention on the sanctity of the Christian family and other related issues. Let us prepare for that event as living witnesses to Christ through the Christian joy of our families.
We end this pastoral letter to the clergy, religious, and especially the laity, who make up the largest number of the membership of the Church, with words spoken by the priest to his congregation at the end of Mass. Brothers and Sisters: “Go forth and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”
May 8, 2014