Tag Archives: families

How Strong is Pope Francis (article in the New Yorker)

NOVEMBER 7, 2013
HOW STRONG IS POPE FRANCIS?

by Amy Davidson

On Wednesday, Pope Francis went into St. Peter’s Square, where a crowd had gathered, and saw a pilgrim who has certainly been met in his life with averted gazes, and worse. His skin was covered with hundreds, maybe thousands, of bulbous tumors that contorted his features. Francis embraced him, touched his face, and prayed with him. There is a picture of him kissing the man’s head, where there is no unmarked skin and tumors push through his thin hair. (This is the result of a disease called neurofibromatosis.) The image was electrifying, in a way that mercy can be. But it took on more significance as a stage in what many people are hoping is Francis’s own pilgrimage.

The day before the embrace in the square, the Vatican released a “preparatory document” for an Extraordinary General Assembly, to be held in October, 2014. Francis has asked a synod of bishops from around the world to come to Rome and talk about families. (The official title is Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization.) The bishops are also supposed to answer a questionnaire about modern families, the actual ones in their communities. More than that, they have been asked, according to Vatican Radio, “to share it as widely as possible”—with laypeople, too. A pilgrim can also be a pollster, asking questions along the way. There are thirty-nine of them in the document, including these:

5. On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex

a) Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same-sex and equating it in some way to marriage?

b) What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union?

c) What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?

d) In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?

What Francis seems to be looking for is not a doctrinal or political response to same-sex unions but a pastoral one: taking modern families as they are and live, and seeing how the Catholic Church can be part of their lives. (There is not a question about how best to lobby legislatures.) The synod, according to the document, is meant to address “concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago.” Its summary of these concerns is not in all respects liberal; it mentions “forms of feminism hostile to the Church,” and emphasizes the indissolubility of marriage. And certain situations that it calls novel, like that of single parents and of dowries “understood as the purchase price of the woman,” have been less unheard of than unheeded.

But there are the seeds of something radical here. There is, for one thing, an attempt to get past pretense. It asks how many people “in your particular church” are remarried, or separated, or are children whose families aren’t the kind in church picture books, and how to reach and include them. In terms of abortion, it asks how people could be persuaded to accept the Church’s teachings—but also how good a job churches are doing at teaching them about “natural” means of family planning, like the rhythm method. Mercy was also a word that came up, with regard to families living “irregular” lives.

It’s not too early to wonder if that synod could be a landmark moment for Francis’s papacy, and his Church. Francis has begun a discussion about the Church’s priorities, notably in an interview with a Jesuit magazine in which he wished the Church away from its obsession with issues like homosexuality. Now his bishops will be coming to him. Many of them are making a very different noise than the one we have heard from their Pope. The greetings might be stranger and more difficult ones than any Francis has experienced in St. Peter’s Square. And the synod will likely require a different sort of leadership than we’ve entirely seen from him. Francis has shown that he can come down hard on, for example, Germany’s Bishop of Bling, who was using church funds for expensive flights and to renovate a luxurious residence. But maybe the weight of the Church will defeat him. It won’t be enough to be an example and provocateur, or some humble mendicant.

How strong a Pope is Francis? The picture of his kiss of the disfigured man was called beautiful, because, if one is to be honest, many people who couldn’t look away from it might not have been willing to look at all if the Pontiff were Photoshopped out, and the man were there alone. It is one thing, though, to admire a Pope for living the way most people couldn’t. It is another to have one who looks at the way most people do live, and embraces them.

KEYWORDS CATHOLIC CHURCH; POPE FRANCIS; RELIGION
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Isolation (Beth Britton’s Blog)

Beth Britton

Freelance writer and blogger, campaigner and consultant

Isolation – The Greatest Barrier to Health and Happiness?
Posted: 29/04/2013 0

 When we think about our wellbeing, we think of avoiding major diseases, being financially comfortable, enjoying our daily lives and achieving our goals. Often we never stop to consider those invisible yet vital qualities of support, understanding and love that are provided by the people we keep close to us.

You cannot measure the contribution those individuals make to our lives, but without them the impact can be the greatest unseen risk to our long-term health and happiness. Isolation is no respecter of age or status, nor does it come without side-effects. Changes in our lives, or even just the passage of time, can result in losing that feeling of being needed, wanted and valued, and if you develop a physical or mental health problem, mobility issues or a fear of social interaction, isolation can set in even faster.

In a society that offers more than it has ever offered its citizens, it is a shame on us all that so many people feel cut off from their communities and networks, frequently as a result of becoming very vulnerable through no fault of their own. Neighbours, colleagues and even family and friends can abandon someone who is labelled as having problems that are too difficult to understand or support, just because it’s easier to ignore them than to become involved.

We turn the other cheek and expect someone else to help. Often, however, there is no one else. Many family carers are left to look after their loved one in isolation, without even a shoulder to cry on. For single people of all ages with health conditions that confine them to their homes, paid carers may be the only people that they see in a day, week, month or even a year. Yet those carers may not always arrive, and when they do they are unlikely to have time to chat.

If you are living with a condition like dementia, the stigma alone can see you shunned by those who you thought you could rely on, at the very time when being isolated is likely to make your symptoms worse and your future very bleak. For many people who are isolated, depression and lack of self-worth can see them give up on the basic elements required to get through each day. Without quality of life, purpose and passion, it is easy to see why people who are isolated can lose the will to live, and in the case of many older people with numerous health problems, that is exactly what does happen.

I found it incredibly sad to learn that some residents in one of my dad’s care homes had a social worker or solicitor as their next of kin. So basically not a soul in the world who would want to be notified if they fell ill in the night, or would come to hold their hand and comfort them. Just someone to be notified when they had died so that their affairs could be finalised. Yet at least these people were within the warm and supportive environment of a care home where they were loved by staff, residents and visitors. Imagine the isolation for someone in those circumstances living alone.

These days of course we don’t need to leave our homes to feel solidarity and support in our lives – access to social media can bring friendship and understanding, regardless of how difficult your circumstances are. Like most methods of combatting isolation, however, people need to seek it for themselves, and often those who are the most seriously isolated don’t have the means or the ability to do that.

Isolation is something that can creep up on you very easily, and yet it is incredibly difficult – and in some cases impossible – to escape from. Us humans are wonderful at segregating our fellow citizens, putting them into a particular demographic and leaving them there. Yet extending a welcome, showing an interest in someone’s life and being kind cost nothing except our time. After all, one day we might just need that ourselves.

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Gratitude, Appreciation and Praise

A few years ago a  group of studies was carried out: the “Family Strengths Research Project” It identified six qualities that make for strong families. The first quality and one of the most important to be found in strong families was the quality of appreciation. Families that are strong are strong in part, it was discovered, because family members express to each other their appreciation for what the other members DO and for who they ARE.

In a similar study another researcher looked into the effect of praise in the workplace. His study showed that the ratio of praise to criticism in the workplace needs to be four to one before employees feel that there is a balance – that there must be four times as much praise as there is criticism before they feel good about their work and about the environment they work in. That is pretty staggering information – information that tells us that if we want to do something good, that if we want to have a healthy family, a strong workplace, or any other effective group that we need to be sure that appreciation, praise, and thanksgiving are heard at least four times as often as is criticism. Praise and thanksgiving are important – and not just to our families and our workplaces, but in the end important to us as individuals before God.

God asks us for our thanksgiving – whether we feel like making it or not – so that we might experience the blessings it brings – blessings it brings to us, and blessings it brings to others.. Look around you – find that which is good and thank God for it – find that which is caring and thank God and the person who is doing it – look around – look inside – look outside – and think on that which is noble and true and beautiful and express your praise for it – express it no matter what the bad or the ugly may be up to.. God is hid in the ordinary routine events of our life – our practice of thank-giving will bring him to our sight and in so doing bring to others and ourselves a better world. 

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