MISSISSAUGA, ONT. (CCN) — The church must rediscover its role in helping and supporting families at this fall’s synod on the family, one of the leading Asian cardinals told The Catholic Register.
More than 360 cardinals, bishops, priests and laypeople are attending the synod of bishops on the family, being held in the Vatican from Oct. 4-25.
This ordinary synod will follow up on the work of last year’s smaller extraordinary synod that became contentious as bishops examined the challenges facing today’s families.
Cardinal Mar George Alenchery, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, said his Indian, Eastern-rite church’s contribution to the synod will be its example of how families are woven into parishes and parishes are centred on families.
“In my personal appraisal of the situation, the most important thing is to have the accompaniment of the family by the church,” said Alenchery. “Which we forgot to do to some extent in the past. I mean, especially in the countries of the West.”
Syro-Malabar parishes are divided into family groupings or units of no more than 40 people. Each group of families meets at least once a month for an evening spent studying essential questions of faith and speaking with each other about family challenges. Twice a year all the family groups come together for a larger catechetical event.
“So there is a sharing,” explained Alenchery. “And then there is a sharing of all these family units together at least two times a year. That kind of uniting together of families is a great help in our church.”
Alenchery doesn’t expect that Roman-rite parishes will begin to imitate the organization of Syro-Malabar parishes, but he believes western Catholics could learn from the close bond between parishes and families in his rite.
“I will say that the Syro-Malabar church can play a great role in this task of evangelizing by the universal church. It’s a kind of sharing of one’s own experience,” the cardinal said. “There are many elements that the Syro-Malabar church can also take from the Latin church.”
Rather than a forced or artificial process, families are more likely to be evangelized by closer bonds within and among families “creating a community of osmosis,” said Alenchery.
While the cardinal expects local churches will be left free to find diverse solutions to the family challenges in their own region and culture, such diversity cannot threaten the unity of the Catholic Church.
“It will be a diversity that can be very much reconciled on the basis of our faith and our witness of charity — faith working through charity and mercy,” said Alenchery.
Mercy will be the basis of church unity at the synod given Pope Francis’ constant call to mercy, the cardinal predicted.
“This introduction of the roles of mercy to the normal functioning of the church will give an added impetus to the families in the future church,” he said.
Inspiration for the church to hold families close together and close to the church can be found in Jesus’ teaching about care for the lost sheep of the flock, Alenchery said.
“He always looked on the sinner, those who failed, with mercy,” he said. “He was ready to see them also as members of his flock. Even if one is gone astray, he asked the pastors to go and search. That kind of embracing all in the flock of Jesus Christ has to be re-established in the church, that’s all.”
Alenchery doubts there can be a single answer to all the challenges families face in different parts of the world and various cultures.
“This kind of approach has to be different in different cultures and in different churches,” he said. “But it is not a diversity making the church different in different countries.”
The church in different parts of the world will be listening to each other at the synod, said the cardinal.
“There is no question of one church alone giving to the other church, or one church alone evangelizing the other church,” he said. “There are many elements which have traditionally come to us which may be of value for others. And there are many other values also in the Latin church which we can take.”