Natural family planning as “gesture of peace”

This, in essence, was the underlying philosophy of the Natural Family Planning (NFP) program of the Prelature of Ipil that is now gaining headway especially among devout Catholics, according to a pastoral signed by Bishop Antonio J. Ledesma, S.J. in 2004 and circulated throughout the 19 parishes of the prelature.

In a paper tittled “Natural Family Planning and SDM in the Local Church,” dated August 2004, the bishop wrote that “couples adopting NFP methods, including SDM, are hopefully among those who these gestures of peace – and development – for the good of their families and the common good of the nation.”

Ledesma,  Bishop of Ipil until March 2006, is now Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro,

“Some 1,300 couples in the prelature practice natural family planning method,” Marialuz Castillano, Family Life Apostolate coordinator of Ipil prelature, said.

Of the six methods officially endorsed by the Catholic church which do not contradict the moral doctrines of the Church on family planning, the SDM (Standards Day Method), a calendar-based family planning method, gained popularity and more acceptance among parishioners. Other methods are Basal Body Temperature (BBT), Billings Ovulation Method (BOM), Sympto-Thermal Method (STM), Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM), and Two-Day Method (TDM).

Records from the Office of the Family Life Apostolate of the Ipil prelature show that of all the NFP users prelature-wide, SDM users accounted for 68 percent or 982 couples; BOM, 23 percent or 337; LAM, 8 percent or 118; BBT, 1 percent or 14; and STM, 0 percent or 1.

Castillano notes that especially among grassroots communities, the SDM is widely accepted and practiced than the other NFP methods for the past five years. She adds that SDM’s popularity and acceptability among parishioners lies in its simplicity being not technical and clinical

However, the number of NFP users is still small compared to the number of couples in the prelature. It has reached out to only about a third of the total number of chapel communities in the area.    

But more couples are drawn into NFP each year, Castillano told this writer.

SDM is a calendar-based method of family planning developed by the Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH) of Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic university in the United States.

Through this method, the “fertile window” of 12 days starting from the 8th to 19th days from the first menstruation day has been standard and is applicable only for women whose menstrual cycles range from 26 to 32 days. Population management experts estimated that three fourths of all women are within this cycle range.

To help women track the days of their menstrual cycle, IRH devised a necklace or cycle beads consisting of 32 colored beads representing the day of menstruation (red); the fertile days (white), and the infertile days (brown). The Prelature of Ipil, however, innovated these cycle beads and designed vertical beads with green beads to indicate fertile days.

SDM was first piloted in Bolivia, Peru, and the Philippines and is being introduced in countries like India, Turkey, and Egypt, and several countries in Africa and Latin America.

The pastoral experience in Ipil prelature indicates that NFP is a valid, and vital option for a growing number of couples.

The vision of the prelature, according to Archbishop Ledesma in his paper “Mainstreaming Natural Family Planning in Ipil Prelature” dated June 2006, is to reach out to the majority of couples “who are looking for a family planning method that is effective, suited to their own circumstances and in consonance with the Church’s moral guidelines.”

At the CBCP Plenary Assembly in July 2003, a consensus vote was passed recognizing SDM as a method that “could be used by a diocese in its program of NFP”, provided it was not combined with contraceptives and it was not seen as part of the government’s total family planning program for population control.

It was then, according to Castillano,  when SDM was included as an added option in the natural family planning program of the prelature’s Family Life Apostolate.
“There is much a need to mainstream NFP at present in order to reach out to as many couples as possible,” Castillano said, adding that during the term of Bishop Ledesma, there was an attempt to work closely with government agencies in promoting NFP.
Bishop Ledesma, according to Castillano, was very serious in promoting NFP during his time because he believed that NFP is a “gesture of peace.”

With Bishop Julius Tonel installed last September 11 as the new bishop of the prelature, the priests and church workers are confident that the NFP program will be aggressively pursued.
Fr. Laure Helar, the vicar general of the prelature, said it is very certain that the new bishop will continue working for the promotion of NFP in the area.

“I am very confident that Bishop Tonel will aggressively promote and campaign for NFP just like what Bishop Ledesma did in his time,” Fr. Helar said. (Antonio M. Manaytay/MindaNews contributor)