Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
January 26, 2009
Stronger families will heal social ills
Vatican-sponsored Meeting of Families finds common solution to myriad problems
BY DAVID AGREN
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
MEXICO CITY — Deacon Modesto Lule evangelizes to this city of 21 million people, many of whom need a safety net during tough economic times.
Victor Echague, a layman from a Paraguayan border town that is infamous for smuggling, tries to keep young people who lack parental attention away from the clutches of drug dealers and pimps.
Filomena Chow, a young mother from Macau, imparts messages against selfishness and materialism to her young children and their friends as they grow up in a society where Catholics are a small minority.
They were just three of the more than 8,000 participants from six continents attending the Sixth World Meeting of Families Jan. 14-18 in Mexico City.
Each gave differing motives for travelling to the meeting at their own expense, reasons that included the chance to learn better family practices, the need to recharge their batteries and an opportunity for fellowship with other Catholics.
The three listed different challenges — such as the current economic crisis, the exploitation of young people and a lack of Christian values — for their own families and those with whom they interact.
Other attendees interviewed by Catholic News Service listed oppressive governments, rampant alcohol and substance abuse, and lax attitudes toward divorce as the principal threats to families in their home countries.
Yet all interviewed gave the same solution for the social ills they confront on a daily basis: strengthening the traditional family.
The idea of strengthening families as a means of combating social problems is hardly new for Catholics, although Father Jose Aguilar, director of radio and TV for the Mexico City Archdiocese, said the idea gained momentum in 1994, when Pope John Paul II convened the First World Meeting of Families.
“The pope realized that the majority of problems are in the family,” Aguilar said. The pope “said that if we don’t do something for the family, we won’t resolve these problems.”
Like many of this year’s participants, Aguilar noted social problems in Mexico that he said stronger families would help to resolve; he cited “narcotics trafficking, drug addiction (and) divorce.”
Echague said he sees some similar problems with lawlessness in the frontier town of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, where he works in the family ministry of his local diocese. He said he encounters many vulnerable children who are left without supervision because both parents are working “like slaves” in businesses linked with smugglers.
“It’s so easy to corrupt young people. This is our main fight,” he said.
Chow spoke of the challenges of raising her children and being a good witness to others. She described Macau as a materialistic society where “Christian values are not the mainstream” and the Catholic population is small.
“It’s tough to explain to our children why we have chosen this way,” she said. “It’s like swimming against the current.”
Some participants at the Mexico City meeting blamed governments for weakening the family.
Carlos Escalona of Venezuela, where Church-state relations have been icy for the past decade, accused Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of undermining the family by teaching government propaganda in public schools and muscling out traditional values.
He also said a “lack of values” in his country led to Chavez’s election in the first place.”People looked to a politician like him instead of to God.”
Like Escalona, Ela Chihambakwe of Zimbabwe came from a country where the Church leadership and government have been at odds.
FRUSTRATED WITH UN
But she expressed as much frustration with UN programs against AIDS in her country as a government that has plunged Zimbabwe into economic disaster.
“They impose themselves on people . . . and start sex-education programs without the parents knowing,” she said of the United Nations.
Chihambakwe also said poverty is now a major problem in Zimbabwe due to food shortages and runaway inflation, but that extended families have been a refuge for many.
“Family life is strong,” she said, adding, “They’re helping each other.”
Deacon Lule said he understands about helping relatives in tough economic times.
His family runs a metalwork shop that has provided relatives with jobs during past economic meltdowns. And with relatives possibly coming back from the U.S. due to a lack of economic opportunities, this year should be no different.
“We have a lot of relatives in the United States. They’re losing their jobs and can’t pay their bills,” he said.
Such arrangements are common in Mexico, said Aguilar, who added, “Family is the best social program.”