Indian Cardinal: Families Are Called to Holiness

During the recently concluded synod on the family, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, the major archbishop Catholicos of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, spoke with the Register about the importance of outreach to families and the importance of mercy.


From your point of view, what issues are the most important regarding the family? What needs to be looked at, both universally and for your people?

The call for this universal communion for family and so on. It is being lived in the local area. That is a vocation; that is a challenge. The sacrament of marriage in the Catholic Church and family life in the Church has always been held in high esteem because that sustains everything, the whole Church and all society, without which one cannot proceed. We need to keep the dignity, or the Christian pattern, of the sacrament of marriage. The sacrament of marriage … how can we describe it — if not in terms of the Church and how the Church looks at it, how the Church views the challenges and how the Church tries to solve the challenges present today, but everything based upon a strong tradition which has been followed, of course, with an act of understanding of what is the mentality of the people living today? We should be considerate. We should be merciful, but we should also be challenging them. Mercy always demands a reciprocal attitude of becoming aware or realizing the need of being converted. Jesus said, “Do not sin anymore. Be converted. I don’t judge you, but be converted.” That means, on the part of the recipient, there should be an adequate sign of being closer to the mainstream of the Church. So when I say, “The Church is not at all merciful to me,” I should also ask myself, “How can I live the mainstream of the Church, being converted to that mindset of the Church?” That’s an important aspect.


Your Eminence, what do you find to be the significance of Pope Francis having called this holy Year of Mercy, which will begin on Dec. 8, and its timing?

I see the Holy Father’s call for the Year of Mercy as an invitation for all of us, all the Christians, all Catholics, to feel that virtue of mercy. On the one hand, we are being mercifully considered by God, all the time. In due turn, we have to express the sign of mercy to our brothers and sisters who are in need of that. But this should also be lived in every aspect of our human life.

Somebody who is in need of God’s mercy should be challenged, through my intervention, communication or conversation, to see what a difference that has meant for him and should feel interested in living life as a gesture of mercy.

Also, as a Church, we should be able to express this solidarity with our brothers and sisters: that of the important parts of the Church, the members of the ecclesial family, all of the domestic church. [But] at the same time, we have to look at: “How are you going to preserve the virtues and keep this attitude of caring for the people who are not really healthy now?” — offering those lives an act of mercy.

We are doing that act of mercy for what? To genuinely situate them again into the mainstream of the Church. That fact should be realized by both: the doer and the recipient. This is not to put a condition on the act of mercy, but Jesus always expressed his acts of mercy, his signs of mercy to different people in his time and always demanded something from him or her: to not sin anymore, but to go and show someone, or go and tell someone; or sometimes he said, “Don’t go and tell anyone about it.” So there is always something attached to that. It is also very significant to say that the giver and recipient have to fulfill that divine intention of being merciful.


From your point of view, why are the canonizations of St. Thérèse’s parents significant?

This is also a significant gesture: of combining the canonization of the two [parents] of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who is the patron saint of our mission throughout the world. And that her parents are being canonized demonstrates how a family can be seen as a place, a particular space in which the children grow up and the parents grow up. … It enhanced the life of the children as well, in this life of holiness.

I am really happy to see the parents being made [canonized saints] because it shows the saintly parents and the saintly children. It will be a significant history in the life of the Church, that parents and children are all called to be holy people. It’s beautiful. It’s also an invitation for all the families to be holy, to be called to holiness. That’s what the synod wants to tell the families: They are called to holiness.


What is required for the family to do this? How can they transmit the faith in a world which sometimes doesn’t accept it? How has attention been given to families being persecuted for their faith?

The Holy Father had called for all of us to dedicate a special prayer to the families, particularly those being persecuted in the Middle East. That was a lively gesture of being aware of those families who are still with us, though in pain. That is a good sign. ... I also believe that this suffering and persecution, of course, is very hard for those who are facing the tragedies, but that, in itself, in a way, is a sign of proclamation of the Gospel.


Regarding the family, what needs to be said?

Regarding the families, how did the Catholic Church survive through all the centuries keeping the sacrament of marriage? I think we should keep respecting and paying homage to our great, great grandparents and parents, because they lived the faith with a sense of pain, sacrifice, everything it involves. The present tendency is that whenever I have pain I leave that subject, or whenever there is a difficulty with anything in the family, the next decision is you abandon someone and choose someone else. And this is not the way in which the family has been strengthened throughout history. I must say, there are painful situations … and also they are lived [through] as Christian spouses. Also, parents can give hope to their children that the grace of God is with us because we have been united through a sacrament. The grace is already there. We experience that. Small things [are required] — a little pain, a little sacrifice on our part — but that is not the ultimate end. The ultimate end is that we live together as a family. ... And that type of taking pain, taking sacrifices, for a sacramental grace to sustain the families is in need [today]. That cannot be substituted by any other act. That’s why Jesus said, “What God has united let man not divide.”

Deborah Lubov is a 

Vatican correspondent

 for Zenit News Agency.

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