Caritas President on the Role of Family

Interview With Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga

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By Gilberto Hernández García

MEXICO CITY, FEB. 6, 2009 ( With all of the importance that families have for individuals and society — including in the economic realm — the decision to form a family should be made with ample preparation, says the president of Caritas.

Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga affirmed this last month when he spoke with ZENIT at the 6th World Meeting of Families, held Jan. 14-18 in Mexico City.

In this interview, he considers the impact of poverty on family relationships and the Church’s response.

Q: You have a broad vision of social issues and their repercussion on families. In this regard, what is the issue that most concerns the Church today?

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: The family itself — that is the principal point, the most important option in the life of the human being; as a consequence, it is on the list of the concerns we have: what to do so that people are ever better prepared for this life option. All big things are prepared for, they are not improvised, but many times the greatest decision of life, which is love and family, is improvised in a frightful way. Sometimes we have families that start off because of a mistake and not because of a decision made freely. To prepare this life option is perhaps the biggest objective of all evangelization of family ministry.

Q: What do you think about the evident process of poverty and inequality that Latin America suffers and that in many cases restrains the integral development of families?

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: In the World Meeting of Families, a specialist in economics presented to us the consequences that a lack of families has for economic development, for poverty itself. With studies and statistics, she showed us that physical and mental health is much better in united families than in single-parent or disintegrated families. Poverty is much worse in broken than in united families. In this regard, they looked at distinct aspects, for example, higher education and the obstacles when parents are divorced. These are elements very little considered by the press and it’s worthwhile to give them attention.

The educative role of the family is spoken of; some reduce it to school education. Here it was made clear what moral education in the family means, spiritual education, economic aspects and the testimony of the father of the family, when in the midst of life’s vicissitudes, he is capable of heroically accompanying the family. These are unexplored riches and it’s worthwhile to make them known, because there are people who suffer and hearing these cases gives them strength.

Poverty is a reality that is increasing in our countries, instead of diminishing. Now we have this very grave financial crisis and it is foreseen that it will have many consequences.

Q: Some say poor countries are poor because they don’t regulate births. Many governments focus their strategies against poverty with policies of birth control.

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: These birth control policies are in reality the elimination of the birth rate. They consider only one of the perspectives. It is thought that we are poor because we have a large population and this is a sophism. Population is necessary for economic development; there is a country in Latin America that was the first, already in the 50s, to apply reductions of birth rate. What has happened to that country? It cannot grow and, as a consequence, it doesn’t have consumers so that there are prosperous businesses. They have to import everything from other large countries and barely have a subsistent economy — not a development as there should be.

The Church speaks clearly of responsible paternity and maternity; the transmission of life is a great responsibility of the parents, not a product of some disorder. It is a great responsibility. In the same way governments have the grave responsibility to procure the common good for all citizens, and if there are citizens that should be privileged, it should be the poor and not those who have more. And that is why the Church, that is Mother, heavily insists in its social doctrine that the family is not like an element that doesn’t play a part in the social problems.

In the social doctrine of the Church, a very important chapter is the family, because it is very linked to everything that refers to social problems. The Church has always made the appeal to governments to concern themselves with poor families.

Q: What merit has the idea that the Church only gives privileges to the rich?

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: One who says this doesn’t know the life of the Church. In the first place, the Church is not reduced to the hierarchy; every baptized person is the Church. If we look at all the pastoral developments in the continent, we see that the Church has made a preferential option for the poor.

In Mexico there is a unique case for our continent: businessmen and people of the high economic class sustain the Instituto Mexicano de Doctrina Social (Mexican Institute of Social Doctrine), which educates the people precisely in the conviction they have that one of the best ways to relieve poverty is through education. The institute has given scholarships to students from poor countries, including Cuba, who have come to Mexico with full scholarships, to go deeper in the study of the social doctrine of the Church. So this judgment cannot be generalized. One who examines the life of the Church understands that the preferential option for the poor is not poetry, but reality.

Sometimes Catholic morality is criticized because it is opposed to the use of condoms as a solution for the problem of HIV-AIDS. Well I want to say that 27% of the organizations in the world [that work] in favor of patients with this illness are from the Catholic Church and they receive barely 2% of the Global Fund for aid for HIV-AIDS patients. If we move to programs of housing construction, we realize what it means when, during natural disasters, I speak as president of Caritas Internationalis, the most respected institution in the preferential option for the poor.

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