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Religion and Society

Middle Eastern families: engaged in surviving, then philosophizing

The questions presented by the Western media as relevant to the debate of the Synod on the family that has just finished, such as the re-admittance of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to the sacraments and homosexual relationships, are not a subject of discussion in Lebanon. In the Middle East the family has other priorities: above all, survival.

Interview with Jocelyne Khoueiry, Director of the John Paul II Center.

 

 

“Above all their first concern is to survive, then they will try to face the many economic, social and cultural challenges before them. Their problems have nothing to do with the questions posed by the newspaper headlines on the Synod.” This is the experience of Middle Eastern families as described by Jocelyne Khoueiry, who was invited by the Synod as collaborator of the special secretary. She was a commander of the Christian women’s militia during the Lebanese civil war, but, after years of activity in the front line, decided to put down her weapons, devote herself to God and dedicate herself to the care of families.

 

 

Every year contact is made between the John Paul II Center and hundreds of families needing all sorts of help, from financial help to pay for food, clothes and bills to educational help for the children and medical help. But not only that. The Center also specializes in marriage, family and individual counselling and about 100 individuals and 30 couples every year. “I follow the works of Synod carefully and have noticed that questions such as readmitting remarried divorcees or relationships between homosexuals are presented as if they were the only problem of families today, but in fact are not a subject of discussion in Lebanon. These are European, western questions. But the Church is more than Europe. It is also the Middle East, Asia and Africa. We will never accept this homogenization.”

 

 

Lebanon has been living an economic crisis for thirty years. After the disastrous civil war there are once again signs of a resurgence of the regional wars that are being felt in the country in terms of intercommunity difficulties and grave dangers in daily security. Of course, the influence of western lifestyle can be seen, especially among young people, according to Jocelyne, but she explains “families resist, separations are still a minority problem, and when they happen, they are not made public and people do not talk about various rights. On the subject of gays: we know that there individual gays and gay couples, that they have an organization but they are very reserved”. For the ‘resilience’ of the traditional family depends on a healthy faith among Christians and Muslims. “In a sense we have to be grateful to Muslims: thanks to them the care of the traditional family is still alive.

 

 

Secularization has not fragmented the solid values on which Lebanese society is built. We would like to build a common front of Christians and Muslims to defend the family, but the threat of war hanging over us is forcing us to defer this project to more peaceful times.” Daily work with families and couples in difficulty consists in “proclaiming the teaching of the Church, fostering the values of acceptance and openness that are indispensable for building a humane and responsible society, preparing young couples for marriage and promoting widespread pastoral care of mediation and conjugal reconciliation.” Another important question for the ex-fighter is the education of the younger generation, which necessarily involves passing on the parents’ belief in and practice of values such as faithfulness, integrity, coherence, spiritual and moral commitment. The fact that marriage is still considered in Lebanon to be a social good and not simply a private matter has something to offer to the West. For this reason Jocelyne never tires of asking the Synod fathers for urgently needed support at the political. diplomatic and socio-economic level “to help the family not to flee from the Midde East.”

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