What do you do at 35? For Couples for Christ (CFC), the largest Philippines-based global lay organization in the billion-strong Catholic Church, the answer is the same every year of CFC’s faith- and family-focused apostolate: embark on new missions.
Over the decades since its first gatherings of married couples for spiritual and marital enrichment, CFC, now with 750,000 members in 110 countries, has added programs for the youth (Kids and Singles for Christ), young couples, women and men over 40, senior couples, migrant families, integrity in government, education and housing for the poor, among others. The last spawned the Gawad Kalinga movement, which became a separate entity in 2003.
New missions keep sprouting. This year the Couples for Christ Center for New Evangelization opened in the Vatican to handle the mission in Europe. The new office at the center of Catholicism signals CFC’s rising stature in the Church.
“Old new” is Project ReForm, its drug rehab program. With hundreds of thousands of drug addicts surrendering and seeking treatment amid the anti-narcotics crackdown, CFC has revitalized ReForm to apply its family-centered approach to fight addiction.
Faith and family to free addicts
Partnering with Church and State, ReForm aims to help addicts return to normalcy, family and community. That requires not just working with users, but also with their kith and kin, who must learn to accept them and give them wholesome, supportive homes and villages — a must to kick their habit.
This mission addresses the two paramount CFC thrusts of “Building the Church of the Home” and “Building the Church of the Poor.” Many addicts come from poor and broken families, and rehabilitating them means addressing poverty and family ills.
Project ReForm can also save lives — literally. If families and faith communities are tapped in the anti-drug campaign, there would be less violence and death.
CFC is perfect for this family- and community-centered approach to drug rehab. But the sheer number of addicts — with estimates of between 1 million and 3 million — clearly outstrips CFC’s own numbers.
Still, it will forge ahead, says chairman Jose Tale, whom this writer met when the lawyer was a deputy executive secretary in the Arroyo administration. And what CFC may lack in warm bodies, it more than offsets with its faith and family focus.
For one big thing missing in President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, is the harnessing of church and home in liberating addicts. As noted earlier, if family and community were harnessed in making arrests, there would surely be less resistance and killings.
From its first ReForm program in Novaliches, CFC can cascade its methods to other rehab groups and facilities. Then its approach can go far beyond the places where its limited personnel can serve.
Many addicts turn to banned substances because they felt no God or family loved them. CFC’s faith and family thrusts help restore both for narcotics victims, while serving the neediest and kindling faith.
The challenge of morals in flux
The other challenge for CFC may be one that has yet to be squarely and publicly acknowledged and addressed: the controversies in family and sexual morality spawned by worldwide social change and the Vatican’s response to it.
Given the divisiveness of debate, CFC is wise to avoid contentious issues, including the present arguments over Pope Francis’s pronouncements and promulgations on family, the environment and other religions.
The organization has also had its share of painful break-ups. In 1993 CFC severed ties with the Ligaya ng Panginoon movement in which it began in 1981. In 2003, Gawad Kalinga spun off to focus on poverty alleviation without Church links. Four years later, a faction led by Francisco Padilla, CFC executive director until 2007, left and established CFC Foundation for Family and Life.
So it’s understandable that amid moral and theological tussles, CFC may let the Church hierarchy sort things out, and just abide by whatever tenets and practices the Catholic global leadership propounds.
Still, its decades of work, expertise and experience in strengthening families according to Church doctrines and commandments, can contribute much in addressing social concerns challenging Catholic principles, and in resolving controversies without compromising fundamental tenets, especially those decreed by God Himself.
Hence, in its 35th year, CFC may wish to undertake activities for divorced and remarried Catholics and their children. It may also include counseling on homosexual issues in its youth programs, and in marital problems involving such issues.
And in our time of lurid lifestyles and media, CFC can be a beacon of Catholic values, with sexuality accorded its rightful place as decreed by God. In this effort imbued with faith in Christ and loving understanding for others, there is much guidance in the Catechism and Saint John Paul II’s seminal book “Theology of the Body.”
Such initiatives not only help address family and sexuality concerns while holding fast to Church tenets. They also yield helpful knowledge for moral authorities constantly facing claims that Catholic edicts are not in tune with modern realities.
CFC shows that with divine grace and human faith and perseverance, God’s way can bring joyful, upright family life to all believers of our time.
Of course, that has always been the mission of Couples for Christ since three-and-a-half decades ago: bringing families to joy and love in Christ through Catholic prayer, life and charity. In short, a new old mission.
Affirming and strengthening Catholic family values is apropos as another anniversary approaches: the centenary of Our Lady’s apparitions in Fatima, Portugal, next year.
In her six appearances from May to October 1917, our Blessed Mother urged a return to Christian values and living in a world losing faith and morals even then.
In its own anniversary, CFC affirms and strengthens human life, the Catholic faith, and Christian family living, as Jesus Christ and His Mother Mary have commanded. God bless Couples for Christ.