CHALLENGES FACING FAMILIES TODAY
Article 2 of 2
Study Document Authors
The people who were responsible for the Study Document or Instrumentum Laboris for the XIV Ordinary Assembly for the Synod of Bishops, taking place in October 2015, were the participants at the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the previous Synod in 2014.
When treating of the challenges facing families nowadays, the first group last year’s Synod members discussed was the elderly. The media makes frequent references to the declining birth rate in so many countries and the rising numbers of elderly is very obvious. In the religious order to which I belong I was told very recently that eight members are older than 90 years of age and 26 or 27 are jn their 80s out of a total membership of about 150. In families the elderly are obvious but unfortunately it can be noticed how they are not always provided for, are treated quite poorly and family members may try to have them sent elsewhere. This is particularly true if they are not capable of doing anything or not much, if they are sick, requiring special attention, or are incapacitated. Clearly these remarks do not apply to the elderly in all families. Indeed there are so many cases where the family elderly can and do financially support to some extent those with whom they live. They play a most welcome role in baby-sitting, especially where both parents are employed and in forming the children in the faith. Pope Francis has commented, “While we are young, we are led to ignore old age, as if it were a disease to keep away from; then when we become old, especially if we are poor, if we are sick and alone, we experience the shortcomings of a society programmed for efficiency, which consequently ignores its elderly. And the elderly are a wealth not to be ignored” (General Audience, 4 March 2015).
After treating the elderly the Study Document for the Synod looks at the challenges of widowhood. An organisation in quite a few parishes that impresses me is one which assists bereaved persons. The name is not always the same but the title I like is “Senior Citizens”. This does not limited membership exclusively to women or men like other titles could though I am not aware of men joining the few groups with which I had contact. What a pity! The period after the death of a spouse is most traumatic and the mourning spouse needs all the compassioned help she or he can get. The weeks, months and years after a death are a particularly difficult time. Yet there can also be a rewarding new relationship with the children of the marriage. However there may not be children who live near home nor other relatives who could offer support and special attention. This is the opportunity for the Christian community to fill this gap and be willing to bring compassion and companionship to the bereaved. This is particularly true when the bereaved are poor and have few friends who can assist.
The next challenge mentioned in the Study Document is that of disabilities. These can affect members of families of any age from birth to death. Many children have disabilities from birth, others develop them as they advance in age, often through accidents. Older people can develop them in similar ways. In all cases it is most common for one or both parents to alone take care of the person who has a disability which normally has no cure but requires intense care and understanding. The assistance of the Christian community, so comforting and strengthening, is of inestimable value to remove the loneliness of the afflicted family and a sense of being rejected.
A growing challenge these days is migration with 100,000 migrants arriving in Italy each month and more landing in Greece. Campaigns have been established to have some of these migrants dispersed throughout the 26 countries of the European Union Nations, including Ireland. This will be a very difficult situation to confront due to the numbers, language, cultural, social, religious backgrounds, perhaps race and colour and several other differences. I would be bold enough to surmise that this could be the most difficult of all the challenges and requires an intensive preparation on both sides, by those who are coming to a new country and by those receiving the migrants. Already it has been forecast that the best hope of integration will be families, especially mothers sharing about their children and their upbringing.
The Family & Children
In considering the family and children the main challenges are the very large number born outside marriage and subsequently growing up with only one parent, Divorces are on the increase and the children are most frequently a cause of contention during the proceedings, a fact that can affect them for life; They thus become the greatest victims of divorce. It is generally recognised that the gift of motherhood and child-bearing is not esteemed in many places. The sexual exploitation of children is on the increase, as are the numbers of “street-children”
This now concludes Part I, Chapter III and the next section will be Chapter IV, entitled “The Family, Affectivity and Life”. The five sub-headings are “The Importance of Affectivity in Life”, “The Formation of Affectivity”, “Affective Fragility and Immaturity”, “The Bio-ethical Challenge”, and “The Pastoral Challenge”. This chapter I find difficult to synopsise and the space left to me is very short. In addition there is the great danger of developing individualisn and living only for oneself. The full commitment required in marriage can be a strong antidote to the temptation of a selfish individualism.
“People who might try to be of assistance in this matter need to be properly trained with not only a thorough knowledge of Scripture and Catholic doctrine but also pedagogical tools, as well as a suitable number of sociologists and doctors. Knowledge of the psychology of the family will be of assistance in effectively transmitting a Christian conception of affectivity.” (Study Document).