|Conference attendees agree that the family must be valued by everyone|
Catholic News Services photo
Attendees hold hands while singing the closing song on the final day of the Asian Conference on the Family in Manila, Philippines, May 16. As the conference closed, conference attendees released a message emphasizing that the family is precious to God an d must be "highly valued" by everyone.
Catholic News ServiceMANILA, Philippines — The first Asian Conference on the Family closed with a message from the 551 attendees emphasizing that the family is precious to God and must be "highly valued" by everyone.
Retired Bishop Teodoro Bacani, Jr. of Novaliches in northern metro Manila read from a declaration adopted May 16 by conference attendees.
"Because the family is so valuable and because God wants the future of humanity to pass through the human family, we must safeguard, foster, protect and promote the family," he said at the conclusion of the four-day conference. "We, each one of us, all of us, must individually and together, do this, for what is at stake is the future of humanity."
The conference explored the challenges that traditional families face with the growing acceptance worldwide of same-sex marriage and the ready availability of contraceptives and legalized abortion.
Hosted by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, the gathering gave participants the opportunity to discuss the Charter of Rights of the Family and its impact on Asia 30 years after its promulgation by the Vatican in 1983.
Young adults, including a Philippine basketball star, also weighed in on what they value about their families and shared the positive contributions they have made to help keep a "happy home."
For basketball point guard Chris Tiu, 28, it was giving time to his family.
"When I was in college ... I would enjoy so much the company of my friends, we would go out at night, party. ... As I got older, after I got married ... I felt a shift. After a long day of work, I always looked forward to having meals with the family," Tiu said.
The player recalled the familiar comfort of arriving home late after college practice and sharing late dinners with his parents. He said his mother and father always waited up for him to ask how his day went.
Justina Aurea Da Cost Belo of Timor-Leste said that to help keep a happy home, she obeyed her parents by taking care of younger siblings, handling chores such as cooking and studying. The 24-year-old engineering student said she experimented with numerous recipes and her parents were impressed.
"They said, 'Wow!' One thing is, I know exactly how to make them happy," Da Costa Belo said. "How to make them happy is to make them proud. I could study hard to be top in school, just top five or something like that and my mom would be so happy, because she's just like that."
Sharing the values they learned was also a highlight of the young people's family life. Renelyn Tan, 32, said she learned about faith from her mother, especially through difficult times when the family was temporarily split because of work schedules and arguments between her parents.
"All throughout that, I always saw in (my mother) a very strong faith," Tan recalled. "Even if it was good times, even if it was bad times, she always showed to us that God is number one."
Tan explained that she has drawn strength from her mother's example especially in her work as a youth advocate. She said she shares with young people who "think God is not with them" that her own faith makes her stronger and allows her to be a "channel" of hope to them.
Earlier in the conference, same-sex marriage and what some speakers described as the "culture of death" were recurring themes. Several sessions May 15 highlighted the increasing number of countries that have legalized same-sex marriage or are considering legalization.
Sixteen countries allow same-sex marriage, according to the New York-based Freedom to Marry same-sex marriage advocacy group.
"Eight of them in the last two years, eight of them in the last two years," said Bishop Jean Laffite, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family.
The issue was discussed during the 2012 Synod of Bishops on new evangelization, the bishop told the conference. At the root of the church's concerns is the fact that the family is central to bringing people closer to their faith as well as the evangelization of others, he said.
"There will be no new evangelization without strong pastoral action in the direction of the family," he said.
In one session, speakers highlighted legislation and policies in their homelands that affected families. A participant from Taiwan, with a Catholic population of 1 percent, said pending legislative proposals would promote same-sex marriage and polygamy and recognize legal partnerships between unmarried couples. In overwhelmingly Buddhist Thailand, population control measures have been in effect for years.
Attorney Luisito Liban of Manila charged that the family as an institution is under attack in the Philippines. He cited the 2012 passage of a reproductive health care law in the Philippines that mandates family planning services and government-funded contraception for people living in poverty.
The law also calls for both public and private schools to include sex education for middle and high school students. Opponents voiced fears that the availability of contraceptives would promote promiscuity and a permissive mindset that could lead to choosing abortion.
The United Nations lauded the law saying it would help lower maternal mortality during birth and move the country toward its Millennium Development Goals of significantly reducing poverty by 2015.
Liban called upon attendees to educate themselves about the provisions of such laws in their countries.
Pope Francis sent a message to the conference and it was conveyed to attendees by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.
"Recalling that the 'family is the fundamental cell of society where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another,' His Holiness calls upon all the lay faithful gathered to deepen their experience of faith and communion, under the guidance of the successor of Peter and the bishops, so as to be a leaven of Christ's love in the midst of humanity," the archbishop said.
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