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“Grace Filling Families”: Reading Amoris Laetitia in the Context of Syro-Malankara Church

Syro-Malankara Catholic Church is one of the Sui Iuris churches in the Catholic communion.[1] Due to the diversity of ecclesial traditions as well as cultural diversity, “the deposit of faith or the truths are one thing and the manner in which they are enunciated, in the same meaning and understanding, is another” (Gaudium et Spes 62). In such situations, “each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs” (Amoris Laetitia 3). After this instruction from Pope Francis, the Bishops’ Councils of several countries have issued pastoral guidelines and solutions which are suited for their particular culture. Although there were some initiatives, unfortunately, the Church in India where the three rites of the Catholic Church co-exist, was very late to implement the Amoris Laetitia in its diverse pastoral contexts. Other than conducting few seminars or workshops on Amoris Laetitia, no official teachings were given from the part of the Church to implement the guidelines of Amoris Laetitia in the particular pastoral contexts of each church of India.

Taking inspiration from the teaching of the Amoris Laetitia and after recognizing the need for effective service to marriage and family,the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malankara Church has decided to reflect upon implementing the teachings of the Amoris Laetitia in the Church through convening its Major-Archi-Episcopal Assembly. The Major Archi-Episcopal Assembly “is a consultive group of the entire group of the entire Church over which the patriarch [Major Archbishop] presides and which assists the Patriarch [Major Archbishop] and the Synod of Bishops of the Patriarchal Church [Major Archi-Episcopal Church] in dealing with the matters of major importance especially in order to harmonize appropriately the forms and programs of the apostolate and ecclesiastical discipline with the current circumstances of the time, taking into account the common good of its own Church as well as the common good of the entire territory where several Churches sui iuris co-exist” (CCEO c. 140). The Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church has observed various challenges that exist within the Syro-Malankara Church and the society. Having examined those pastoral challenges, the Synod of Bishops has published a Lineamenta (working document) named Grace Filling Families for deep study and reflection of marriage and family and the challenges to them. The Lineamenta has been given to each and every family with a view to conduct workshop and discussions in the parishes and dioceses. The Major Archi-Episcopal Assembly will be summoned as a conclusion on this deliberation on 8-10 October 2019 at the Catholicate Centre, Trivandrum, Kerala, India, not only to practice the teaching of marriage and family but also to respond to the challenges of marriage and family in the particular context of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.

The Lineamenta, through its five chapters, deliberates the mystery of family and marriage in detail. It describes the meaning of family and marriage from Scriptural, Patristic, liturgical and magisterial perspectives. The teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage, family, and sexuality are clearly emphasised in the Lineamenta. Marriage and family as the institution of God, the sacramentality of marriage, unity and indissolubility of marriage, the inseparability of love and life, love as the end of marriage, the gift of sexuality, sexual intimacy, domestic church, holiness of marriage, vocation and family, the gift of life and its sanctity, responsible parenthood, exchange of faith from one generation to another, models of life, etc., are some of the prominent points of discussion.

On the other hand, several problems and challenges are addressed where the immediate focus and remedies from the Church are inevitable. It reminds that the theological ideal of marriage and family is inadequate to solve these issues. They may be abstract and henceforth, the Lineamenta suggests the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families. The Synod of Bishops observed that the families in India, especially that in Kerala, also face challenges such as: cohabitation, trial unions, premarital sex, extra marital sex, free sex, cyber-sex, pornography, same sex union, wrong concept about sexuality, fatherless children, single parent families, violence against women, rape, dowry, sexual exploitation of children, children born outside the wedlock, issues related to responsible parenthood, gender issues, increasing number of divorces and remarriages, absence of proper parenting, mixed marriages, love jihad, honour killing, caste system, marriages involving disparity of cult, the use of contraceptives, artificial reproduction, abortion, euthanasia, murder, suicide, sterilization, health care, migration, drugs, problems of the elderly, problems of widows and widowers, influence by the media, alcohol, migration, etc. The Lineamenta further examines the reasons attributable to these challenges and problems such as wrong understanding of freedom, anthropological and cultural changes, extreme individualism, materialism, modernism, hedonism, secular humanism, etc.

It is said that the families in Kerala, especially the Christian families, are very traditional in nature. Although known for its high rate of literacy, it is rather closed in its approach to any open discussion on marriage and sexuality. The Lineamenta has positively and deliberately discussed these topics in detail in order to emancipate awareness within the Church. A handful of issues which were not seriously discussed in a traditional Christian community are addressed in the Lineamenta. For example, the approach towards the divorced and remarried, persons of homosexual behaviour, trans-genders, need of sex education, sexual intimacy and pleasure in the spousal life, birth control, etc., are some of the topics of concern. The discussion regarding the ecclesial life of the people in irregular situations as well as a compassionate approach towards those people are also appreciable.

The Lineamenta is not an official teaching. It is only a direction for discussion and study. But, the essence of the Lineament gives the pulse of Amoris Laetitia. It assists the faithful to think about the various dimensions of the issues. The faithful of the Church consider the discussion in the Lineamenta rather seriously since the topic is essentially related to their common life. Although, there is a mention about the ‘sense of the faithful,’ i.e., “the whole body of the faithful … cannot err in matters of belief” (CCC 92), how far the sensus fidelium is accepted in the policy making of the Church is a different question. Whether the assembly brings any guidelines in the debated issues like sacramental reception of people in the irregular unions is yet another matter of discussion.

In this context it is appreciable for the Syro-Malankara Church to observe the Universal Church, the manner how the particular churches in different continents have reflected upon Amoris Laetitia and have applied it in their own pastoral challenges. For example, the Bishops of Malta and Gozo issued guidelines under the title, “Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia” for a responsible accompaniment of their faithful. The Bishops of Buenos Aires drafted a document named, “Basic Criteria for the Application Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia,” for the pastoral care of their faithful. The Catholic Bishops of the Alberta and North West Territories prepared “Guidelines for the Pastoral Accompaniment of Christ’s Faithful who are Divorced and Remarried without a Decree of Nullity.” The Archdiocese of Philadelphia issued a “Pastoral Guidelines for Implementing Amoris Laetitia” for the pastoral discernment. The Polish Bishops issued “Pastoral Guidelines for the Exhortation of Amoris Laetitia” for the ministry of accompaniment. The Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon published “Pastoral Guidelines for Implementing Amoris Laetitia” for their effective pastoral ministry. These are some of the living examples for the Synod of Bishops and for the Major Archi-Episcopal Assembly of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church to prepare pastoral guidelines for implementing Amoris Laetitia especially the VIII chapter in the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.

The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church has its own legacy and heritage through its liturgical antiquity. It develops its own theology on Trinity, Christology, Pneumatology, Eucharist, Mariology, Marriage, Eschatology, etc. through its liturgical tradition. But, so far the Church has not developed an ethical system which can guide its faithful to solve the challenges they face especially in their family life. Reading Amoris Laetitia in the particular context and traditions of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church through the Major Archi-Episcopal Assembly is an indomitable opportunity to draft its own theology of marriage and sexuality and ethical responses. It will enable the faithful of the Church to address the contemporary challenges of their time and solve those issues of their context. Reading the signs of the time through reading the Amoris Laetitia will be a new chapter in the history of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church on the verge of its centenary of Re-Union in 2030.

[1] For a detailed history of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, see