Introduction to Part Three

Globalization has ushered in a complex era of new demands for labour and resources that impact on families in many ways, both as opportunities for change and threats to stable social systems. Globalized markets have not only enabled the expansion of the middle classes in many countries but they have also increased inequalities between the richest and the poorest people. Harsh new environments have been created in which women are often in the frontline of the struggle to defend themselves and their children against new forms of economic, sexual and social exploitation. The more pluralist, transient and cosmopolitan societies that are developing in many parts of the world in response to globalization present many challenges to the Church, including the increasing number of interfaith marriages and the significant growth of single parent families – often led by women.

The essays in this section explore some of these issues, once again demonstrating that local Catholic communities can be rich sources of solidarity and support among women as they seek to express their faith in Christ, sometimes in extreme conditions of poverty and suffering. All of the essays in this section describe families that are far from the idealised model of the nuclear family found in official church teaching, yet each of them, in their very diversity, their struggles and their bonds of connection and love, points the way towards a more inclusive and pastorally responsive and responsible approach to families.

Ana Lourdes Suárez and Gabriela Zengarini offer a moving insight into the lives of three women in a poor neighbourhood in Buenos Aires. Each of these women has endured unthinkable suffering in the context of family life and motherhood. They have drawn upon their experiences of violence, poverty and loss and their hope in Christ to help others, “forming families of God where every son and daughter is equal, and where leadership takes the form of accompanying.”

As a Catholic woman married to a Hindu man, Astrid Lobo Gajiwala describes the situations she encounters among women in India in the context of both poverty and interfaith families. She points out how many of the assumptions in the Lineamenta distributed in preparation for the 2014 Synod on the Family had no bearing on the lives of poor, illiterate women for whom marriage is often “a prison sentence, replete with marital rape, domestic violence, isolation, subservience to the point of slavery, and unplanned pregnancies that have fatal consequences for both mother and child.” Alongside these challenges of extreme poverty and violence, the Church must also formulate an effective pastoral response to those in interfaith families, in a subcontinent where Catholics constitute less than two percent of the population. Gajiwala appeals for a more inclusive appreciation of the riches that Catholic women in interfaith marriages bring to the Church, offering models of dialogue and understanding that emerge from “their daily encounter of the unfathomable mystery and immensity of God as revealed in another religion.”

Nontando Hadebe also identifies problems with the model of the nuclear family in the 2014 Lineamenta, drawing on her pastoral and theological work with African families. Like Anne Arabome in Part One, she appeals for a contextualized African theology that might produce “more liberating interpretations” of church teaching. Focusing particularly on the problem of maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa, she argues for a more positive approach to reproductive rights, informed by “the voices and experiences of those who are affected by maternal death – namely, the world’s poorest women and their family communities.”

Agnes Brazal discusses the challenge posed to Filipino families by the migration of women to seek work abroad, in the context of growing economic pressures produced by globalization. She argues that the migration of mothers has been shown to have a more profound impact on children than the migration of fathers, not least because fathers are seldom prepared to take over the work of raising children and managing households. Brazal shows how church teachings on family life have adapted to new situations over the last century, and she appeals for a further adaptation which would encourage men as well as women to develop “the capacity for the other” that is entailed in raising children and managing a household.

The essays in this section suggest that, if Pope Francis’s vision of a poor Church of the poor is to become a reality, then it is essential to recognise the many ways in which poverty has a particular impact on women. Such recognition requires setting aside doctrinal absolutes in order to engage with the realities of women’s lives. That means listening to and learning from poor women’s stories of faith in the context of their experiences of violence, marginalisation and domestic and social breakdown.