Caribbean Church must get real. By Lara Pickford-Gordon and Kaelanne Jordan
Abuse, infidelity, divorce, miscommunication, deception, poverty, neglect, addiction, incest and pornography were some of the “broken” realities of family life in the Caribbean highlighted by youth and young adults attending the Antilles Episcopal Conference Youth Assembly (AECYA) July 10–23 in Fort-de-France, Martinique.
These issues were identified in response to Fr Matthew Ragbir’s call for young people to “shout” some of the challenges of family life ahead of their breakout sessions last Monday.
In delivering the keynote address on the Assembly’s theme Youth Transforming the Caribbean family Fr Ragbir, the Spiritual Director/Theological Adviser, Archdiocesan Family Life Commission, observed that the sinners’ reflections suggest that there is no stereotype of the ideal family.
On the other hand, he compared Pope Francis’ attitude of thanking God for the many families, who far from considering themselves perfect live in love, fulfilling their call and moving forward even if they fell many times. “In the midst of your own lives, do you think there is hope? Do you think love can last? Is what God has asked of us too difficult?” to which the delegates replied, “No”.
During his presentation, Fr Ragbir invited the audience to think about their own family experience and their thoughts on love, marriage, vocation, and God’s call in their lives. He then discussed the process for developing Amoris Laetita—the result of Pope Francis’ prayerful reflection on the discussions and outcomes of two synods of bishops held in Rome in 2014 and 2015 and his pronouncements on the importance of the welfare of the family to Church and the world.
“If we reflect in the whole process used, the pope is also telling us how to be family as Church. The process teaches us that the Church is in communion, a family of families.” He went on, “It also teaches us that the Church cares deeply about families, marriages, relationships, sexuality, love, for the light and healing power of Christ is meant to touch every aspect of human life.”
Although there is the thinking Church is not supposed to “touch the bedroom”, the gospel of Jesus Christ is meant to touch every single thing that is human, Fr Ragbir said. He noted the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae and the contention it caused concerning the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception. In Amoris Laetitia, Catholics were being invited to love and cherish family life.
Fr Ragbir said: “If we are to allow the gospel to shine there we are to realise it’s not about perfection; it is about recognising God’s love to flow there. Whatever happens in family life, its joy and sorrow is part of what the Church enters into.”
When he asked the youths if they experienced this some responded with a shout of “No!”.
He noted the answers given in the worldwide consultation showed most people in difficult or critical situations do not seek pastoral assistance because they did not find it sympathetic, realistic or include concern for their individual cases. Fr Ragbir asked again, “Do you experience in your life, the Church caring for the brokenness in your family?”
He continued, “…Unless we are real and unless we are being realistic, we will not know how to go forward. Therefore, the Church wishes with humility and compassion to reach out to families and to help each family discover the best way to overcome any obstacle it encounters.”
Fr Ragbir commented that in speaking about transforming Caribbean family, the question that has to be asked is whether you are ready to return to your respective diocese and be part of the body of Christ.
“And what the pope is saying to us is therefore we have a lot of work to do. But the other question that comes up is who and what is the Church. We want the Church to transform family life in the Caribbean but the question is who and what is the Church.”
Fr Ragbir reminded pilgrims that if they are waiting on the bishops, priests and religious to do all the work, it is impossible, because the Church is “you, me, it’s all of us”.