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Hum do, hamare 11
In a world where two children make for a 'large' family, the Carvalhos of Belgaum are an exception. Members of a neo-Catholic movement, they say having eleven children is not a matter of economics but of faith.
The Carvalho family of Belgaum is always conspicuous by its presence. There are 13 of them. For most working parents living in urban India, anything beyond two children is nothing short of a nightmare, but Antonio and Wilma Carvalho have welcomed the stork eleven times.
The Carvalhos are members of the Neocatechumenal way. The "way" is an evangelical movement within the Catholic church started by Spanish artist Kiko Arguello and Carmen Hernandez in 1964 which focuses on the formation of Christian adults. While the movement has been criticised by theologians on various grounds, it received the approval of Pope Benedict XVI after 15 years of a dialogue.
The Carvalhos are not alone. A little over 50 km away in Bangalore, Antonio's sister Claudina and her husband David share their home with their 15 children. They too practice the Neocatechumenal way.
"Jesus was a Jew and the 'way' is about going back to the roots of Catholicism, " says Antonio, 57. While the way has the blessings of the Catholic church, it is interesting to note certain similarities in their practices with Judaism, particularly the recitation of the Shema (a Jewish prayer), the celebration of mass on Saturdays instead of Sundays and the use of the Jewish candelabra during their celebrations.
More has always translated into merrier times for the Carvalhos, no matter what the bank account statement said. "We cannot explain a family of this size with economics, but we can explain it with faith, " Antonio says. "This one time, we had just moved house and had not found jobs yet. We did not know what we were going to do for food that day when sure enough, Wilma's aunt sent us food to celebrate some occasion. We have always managed to provide necessities to the children. Also, the community we live in is one that helps each other, " says Antonio who also teaches at KLES College.
The Carvalhos are a part of the programme "families on a mission" or families who "offer themselves voluntarily, leaving their homes, work and friends to go wherever they are requested by the bishops where evangelization, implantation of the church is necessary". The Carvalhos have, in fact, changed residence six times. Their current home is a rented, modest three-bedroom apartment adorned with copies of Arguello's paintings.
The Carvalho story has its roots in Mumbai, where the couple met as medical students at a carol singing programme. Despite having no money, jobs or a house they married in 1983. Post graduate examinations were answered while they were expecting their firstborn. "Wilma answered her exam six days after giving birth to our eldest, " says Antonio. He admires his wife for putting her ambitions on the shelf to raise her extra large family.
"I never really liked children. I liked dogs better when I was young, " says Wilma, 55, a paediatrician. "Born into a rich family, I felt that becoming a doctor and being a success would make me happy. As I grew up I saw that many of the rich people I knew were living miserable, sham lives. Also, my running around hospitals to finish my MD led to a miscarriage after my first child. It made me stop and realise life was precious. I gave up my MD, started a general practice at home (in Mumbai) so I could look after my family. It was very difficult, especially when the children were small. Most nights I could not sleep and had to spend the next day at the clinic. But my husband was always supportive, " says Wilma.
The Carvalho children - six boys and five girls - are a talented bunch. Almost all of them have learned the guitar by ear and being around them is like being in the midst of a musical, with any one taking the lead and the rest following. The children are individuals with distinct characters. The eldest, David, 29, is an engineer who lives in Bangalore with his wife Sylvia and son Caleb. Aaron, 26, is an architect and a heavy metal fan. Miriam, 24, has just started her professional life as a school counsellor and is clearly the second matriarch of the family. The "smallies" (as the older children call them) in the Carvalho clan are Anastasia, 11, and Carmen, 8. They are responsible for most of the laughter in the house.
Sunday mornings means it is dada's turn to make breakfast and lead Sunday lauds (morning prayers from the breviary). It is interesting to hear the family members, particularly the younger ones, discuss their innermost insecurities at the lauds. "Family dinners are always a banquet no matter what we eat because we always eat together at a large table. Sunday lauds are a big part of our family as we all get a chance to share our problems and fears of the week in the light of the word of god, " says Aaron.
Their journey has not always been a joyride. "People have told me to my face that my parents were being irresponsible to society by having so many kids. We faced comments like 'your parents breed like dogs'. We learned to deal with such comments, " says Aaron.
Like any other family the Carvalhos have their fights too. "We have problems but we reconcile them. People may talk about money being an issue for large families but I have never felt that we lacked anything. Sometimes we had to wait for a little longer for certain things (never the essentials) but I always felt that it made us value things better," says Aaron.
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