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SD couple to speak at family meeting in Rome

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SAN DIEGO — When the World Meeting of Families convenes in Rome, a Catholic couple from San Diego will be among the presenters.

Dr. Christauria Welland-Akong and her husband, Michael Akong, will share their expertise on the issue of domestic violence during a panel discussion June 24.

The couple’s biggest challenge will be taking a wealth of knowledge accumulated over a quarter-century and compressing it into a 15-minute speaking slot.

Welland-Akong has been a licensed clinical psychologist for the past 25 years. With her husband, she is the co-founder of Pax in Familia (Peace in the Family), an international Catholic ministry dedicated to the prevention of abuse within Catholic and other Christian families.

The World Meeting of Families, which the couple will attend as invited speakers for the Diocese of Rome and as delegates of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, will take place from June 22 to 26.

In their  presentation, she said they plan to discuss how widespread domestic violence is, why it occurs, how to identify it, common misconceptions about it, and how it affects both victim-survivors and abusers.

Most importantly, their presentation will reflect on how Catholic communities can provide “an effective and compassionate pastoral response” to those who have experienced domestic violence, said Welland-Akong, who previously delivered a 45-minute speech at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in 2015.

Michael Akong, a practitioner of Oriental medicine and acupuncturist, said he and his wife are “honored” to be part of the upcoming World Meeting of Families and “to share our knowledge and provide some ideas … to reduce violence in the family and to help families have a closer spiritual connection as well.”

The couple has traveled to many countries to make presentations on domestic violence at episcopal conferences as well as at individual parishes.

Welland-Akong said that statistics show that one out of every three women will be a victim of domestic violence at some point in their lives, and she noted that men are not immune from being victim-survivors either. Because domestic violence can be a taboo subject, she said, many victim-survivors suffer in silence.

First exposed to the effects of domestic violence while serving as a social worker in Mexico City from 1976 to 1982, Welland-Akong said she was “blown away” by the widespread suffering she encountered there.

“It really shocked me. I was not prepared for it. … I really felt helpless,” she said.

Not only were resources unavailable, she said, but there were priests who unhelpfully advised women to view their abuse as a “cross” they had to carry, suggested that they might have done something to anger their spouses, or ruled out marital separation as an option.

The experience inspired her to go back to school. In 1999, she earned a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology, with a specialization in Family Therapy, from the California School of Professional Psychology in San Diego.

In 2014, Welland-Akong and her husband founded Pax in Familia, which offers workshops, conferences, online courses and educational materials. The organization seeks to integrate the Church’s pastoral ministry and psychological knowledge.

It might seem obvious that domestic violence is incompatible with Gospel values. But, she said, the Church hasn’t spoken out as forcefully as it might have on the subject.

While domestic violence isn’t any more prevalent among Catholics, she said, it regrettably doesn’t seem to be less frequent either and it “undermines everything that the Catholic family is supposed to be about.”

She said that, even today, the topic of domestic violence rarely comes up in homilies. Yet, priests and bishops have “the moral authority” to change hearts and minds when they do speak about it.

If you or a loved one needs help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233.

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