The family, the Church, the world Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar, is pictured in a 2017 photo. (CNS photo/Nyein Chan Naing, EPA)
Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, the first cardinal ever in Myanmar, laments that “Love is a commodity now,” one more challenge young people face in a materialistic, technocratic world that neglects the inherent dignity of each person.
Cardinal Bo is one of the four cardinals appointed by Pope Francis as presidents delegate for the Synod of Bishops on young people, which started Oct. 3 and continues until Oct. 28. The other three presidents delegate are Cardinal Désiré Tsarahazana, archbishop of Toamasina, Madagascar; Cardinal John Ribat, MSC, archbishop of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea; and Chaldean Patriarch Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako of Babylon, Iraq.
During the synod, the four presidents delegate share the responsibility of presiding over the assemblies on behalf of Pope Francis, guiding the work of the synod, distributing tasks to other members and signing documents.
The choice of Cardinal Bo and the three other cardinals, who represent small countries not often at the center of Church affairs, acts as a reminder that the Church is universal, and that the question at hand of young people in the Church is one that all countries must address. Cardinal Bo spoke with Our Sunday Visitor about the role of family in the Church, in doing so acknowledging the different views between countries in the East and the West.
Our Sunday Visitor: Many people think that today is a phase of crisis for the family. Is this true anywhere?
Cardinal Charles Bo: The family is in crisis more in the West, though there are signs elsewhere too, but not so acute. Family is not a negotiable issue. In my country and many other Eastern countries, building the family is the lifetime ambition of most of the people. Money, status and other issues take back stage. In the East, we must avoid the mistakes of the West with reference to the family.
OSV: However, it is undeniable that the Church’s teachings on marriage, family and life are the most difficult to accept for many people today, even in countries of strong and long Catholic tradition.
Cardinal Bo: The market economy has a price for everything. Love is a commodity now. “I love you because you supply such and such thing.” These values are mainstreamed, and each of us has become a cog in the big economic wheel. We need to produce for consumption, to make money to feel good. In some countries the female child has no “stock value,” so they are not preferred.
But on issues like abortion or contraception, the rights of the women and the children are involved, not only moral issues. If everything is commodified and nothing is sacred, this should be an issue of concern not only for the Church, but for the whole humanity. Look at the aging population in some rich countries of the world. … This is a concern, even if it is acceptable to many people.
OSV: The West tends to impose its family and marriage vision by force or coercive means, the ideological colonizations that Pope Francis so often blames. Are they really so dangerous for developing nations?
Cardinal Bo: Yes. The West has far too long saw the world through its own lens with disastrous consequences. But the West will continue to impose because subduing people is built into the DNA of the western culture, or at least of its ruling class.
Political and economic hegemony is now compounded by cultural wars, exported from the West to the “Third World.” Insensitivity coupled with arrogance is counterproductive. The West must be cautious when its lectures are [about] family, different kinds of family, same sex marriages, etc. Some cultures do not accept that and their refusal should not be equated with ignorance.
OSV: Today more and more often people talk about “traditional” family alongside other types or family models. Pope Francis has reiterated that the family is only one. How is it possible to dialogue if there is no clarity from the beginning on what is the family?
Cardinal Bo: I come from a traditional Buddhist country. Catholics come from very strict families. Respect to elders is a cardinal virtue among all the people. For us, family means father, mother and children. Mother plays a great role, and a child that grows with two men is denied the basic right to a mother. We bring the rights of the child first before any right for same-sex alliances. In our country, we do not need dialogue with any different type of family.
OSV: Today many families are not able to accomplish this mission of passing on the Faith. This is a big challenge for the Church. How should one approach this dilemma?
Cardinal Bo: This brings with it a bigger question of lay participation. … We are deeply worried when the parents shirk this responsibility. In Myanmar, we have worked out a program of empowering mothers to be evangelizers first to their children, next to their neighbors, etc. In the next five years, we will see the Church empowering the woman as “the evangelized becoming the evangelizers.” Family evangelization will become our core agenda.