'Couples for Christ' movement strengthens tribal families in India

2016-09-24 Vatican Radio

Evangelization, renewal of families and care of the poor are part of the mission of a Filipino lay group called Couples for Christ (CFC) that visited Odisha, eastern India, from 13 to 18 September. The Vatican-approved CFC lay movement began their unit in Odisha's main Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Archdiocese in 2013.

Hector Poppen, leader of the movement in India,  along with his wife Garnet and a team from the Philippines conducted the week-long program in state capital Bhubaneswar.   "Most parish priests who have seen the difference in couples have started units in their own parishes," said Poppen.

The movement has taken hold in Kandhamal district, where more than 70 percent of some 50,000 Catholics of the archdiocese live. Majority of them are indigenous people depending on farming in the hilly district.

The movement began in the area five years after a major wave of anti-Christian violence hit the area killing some 100 Christians and displacing thousands.

Though language is a barrier, as most members in Kandhamal speak only their native tribal dialect, this has been overcome with the help of members who are bilingual in English and native languages. The process of translating the teaching from English into Odiya language is in progress so that the programme can be extended to remotest parts.

Suchita Toppo, who belongs to the Oraon tribe and who attended the retreat in Bhubaneswar, said the movement has helped her "renew and enrich the responsibility and unity in married life."

A. Tikey, from the same tribe and member of the movement in Odisha, told ucanews.com that Couples for Christ gave him "an opportunity to know that Christ is the head of the family" and that "the blessings for life are possible only through Christ."

Denzil D'Cunha, a member of the movement in Odisha, said the retreats and other programs made "a great change" in his prayer life. It helped him realize "family life should build up a strong relationship with God."

Couples for Christ programs include retreats, household prayer meetings and monthly prayer assemblies.

The movement that began in Manila in 1981 stresses renewal of Catholic parish life working through couples. The movement now works in some 100 countries including India.

Poppen said “the movement has moved from a family renewal movement into social ministries” As a truly Christian mission, CFC metamorphosed from a family renewal movement into a force for social renewal giving birth to ANCOP (Answering the Cry of the Poor), with Social ministries to reach out to different sectors of society with programmes on education, health, housing and food-sufficiency.

In 1995, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines approved the movement as a national private association of lay faithful and in 2005 the Vatican approved it as international private association of lay faithful, making it the first lay group in Asia to get Vatican approval.

A marriage enrichment retreat (MER) for member couples was conducted at the St. Vincent’s Pro-Cathedral Bhubaneswar on 17th and 18th September by a team consisting of 5 CFC members from the Philippines and 2 members from Bangalore. Eight couples from Bhubaneswar participated. The programme consisted of teachings and intense personal sharing between couples and was highly appreciated by the participants as it gave them a true perspective of a Christian marriage and the great responsibility on the shoulders of couples and parents in building strong Christian families. The two-member team from Bangalore will be conducting marriage enrichment retreats in Baliguda, Raikia and Daringbadi, Kandhamal region, in the coming weeks.

The social aspect of the movement has been introduced in Odisha with educational sponsorship for 240 students, financed by CFC Canada. The number of students being sponsored will be gradually increased in the coming years.

(Source: UCANews, AsiaNews)

(from Vatican Radio)