Bagladeshi Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi talks to a Catholic couple during the Family Convention held April 7-9 in Rajshahi. (Photo by Liton Das)
Married back in 1979 at the age of 13, Alo Rozario dreamed of having a happy family, but within a year her world came crashing down when her husband left her for another woman.
"My husband was not with me when my first child was born and baptized. In my lonely and frustrated life I seriously felt the need of the bond of love and mercy between a husband and wife," said Rozario, now 50, and a housewife and mother of five.
With support from local priests and nuns, Rozario was able to reconcile with her husband three years later. They have lived happily ever since and have had four more children together.
"We are a happy couple and would like to help and encourage more couples to overcome their challenges and live a happy life filled with love and mercy," she said Rozario.
The woman was among a group of clergy, religious and laypeople in Bangladesh who have taken vows to promote love, faith and acts of mercy among Catholics men to protect families from trouble and rifts during the "Year of Mercy."
The vows were taken at an April 7-9 Family Convention in the northern Rajshahi Catholic Diocese, titled "Mercy in Families."
The gathering drew 115 participants including priests, nuns, selected couples and laypeople representing about 15,000 Catholic families in the diocese.
Participants listened to presentations by marriage and family life experts and shared their own experiences of marriage and family life during the program.
They were then assigned to arrange similar activities at parish level during the "Year of Mercy."
The gathering coincided with Pope Francis' highly anticipated post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), in which the pope affirms church teaching on family life and marriage, but strongly emphasizes the role of personal conscience and pastoral discernment.
In the Year of Mercy the church needs to offer special attention to families, said Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi, chairman of the Bishop's Justice and Peace Commission and diocesan Family Life Commission.
"Families are the life of the church but various modern and complex challenges of modern life put families in dangerous situations and breakdowns. It's high time to assess conditions of the families and relationship between husband, wife and children to help them to overcome the challenges they face," Bishop Rozario said at the gathering.
The prelate lamented that often husband and wife don't follow their wedding promises, which gives rise to family disputes and negatively affects the lives of their children.
"We must work with families to see whether they are able to play their role properly following church teachings. We need to mend the wounds of suffering families, in order to bring them out of their crises situation," the prelate added.
Responsible Christian family life is founded on love, care and mutual understanding, says Father Mintu L. Palma, a marriage expert and convener of the Family Life Commission in Dhaka Archdiocese.
"For a peaceful marriage and family life, husbands and wives needs to spend quality time with each other, support each other in performing duties and offer gifts occasionally. Relationships see setbacks when they are no longer able to do these to each other," said Father Palma.
"In this special year, we can take better, concerted efforts to help our couples to live a responsible family life, which would benefit the future generation of church members," the priest said.
According to church sources, about 7 percent of some 350,000 Catholics in Bangladesh have a troubled marriage and family life.