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Africa Will Save the Family

Cardinal Robert Sarah


Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea is Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship. Ordained a priest in 1969, Cardinal Sarah became the youngest bishop in the world 10 years later. Pope John Paul II called him to Rome in 2002 to serve as the Secretary for the Evangelisation of Peoples.

Pope Benedict XVI selected him as president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum in 2010, and in 2014 Pope Francis appointed him head of the Vatican dicastery on the liturgy.

Speaking in Benin at the launch of his book ‘God or Nothing’ Cardinal Sarah gave voice to his high hopes for the future of the  Church in Africa. Indeed he believes that it can bring about the renewal of the family across the globe.

‘I have absolute confidence in African culture,’ Cardinal Robert Sarah told the Catholic weekly La Croix du Benin.

‘I have absolute confidence in the faith of the African people, and I am sure Africa will save the family. Africa saved the Holy Family (during the Flight to Egypt) and in these modern times Africa will also save the human family,’ 

Cardinal Sarah’s book  ‘God or Nothing’ covers numerous topics, ranging from political questions to the sex abuse scandal in the Church to the post-modern world’s relationship to God.   

Reflecting on whether democracy is an inherently Christian system, Cardinal Sarah responded, ‘Without a doubt there is a Christian conception of the equality of human beings,’ adding that a democracy that contributes to the integral development of man cannot subsist without God.’

One chapter of his book, entitled ‘Cornerstones and false values,’ is dedicated to the family and addresses various pastoral challenges such as the defence of life and marriage.

Concerning the divorced and remarried, the cardinal said: ‘(T)hey find themselves in a situation that objectively contradicts the law of God.’

He also voiced concern about ‘gender ideology,’ saying, ‘My worry is that this is due more to certain governments and international organisations that are trying to impose this philosophy any way they can, sometimes forcibly.’



The Family in Africa 

Francis Njuguna


Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is primate of the Ethiopian Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic Church in communion with Rome. Born in 1948, Berhaneyesus Souraphiel was ordained to the priesthood on July 4, 1976, and consecrated a bishop on Jan. 25, 1998. On Feb. 14, Pope Francis elevated him to the rank of cardinal. He is also a member of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral of Immigrants and Itinerants.

In the following interview Cardinal Souraphiel of Ethiopia discusses the challenges facing the family and the Church in Africa.

What is the state of the family in Africa?

The Church in Africa, as any other part of the world, is facing challenges. Families in Africa are facing challenges of 

  • poverty, 
  • migration and 
  • population growth. 

Farmers make up 80% of the total population, and farmers live in a subsistence farming system, where they cannot afford to educate their children. They lack health care, potable water and food to sustain their living, which affects the stability of family [life].

Migration is another challenge, where many young people leave the country in search of a better future elsewhere. In some parts of the country, the dead do not have young people to bury them. Some migrants die on the way, before they reach their country of destination. They could have earned a better living if they worked hard in their own country, and we encourage the young to remain in their country and look for possibilities to improve their living within the country.

Population growth is a challenge, as Ethiopia is the second-most populous country in Africa, with 96 million people. In order to control population growth, the government of Ethiopia is applying artificial methods of birth control, which is distributed in health institutions free of charge. The Catholic Church is aware of the problem and tries to reach the married and those preparing to get married to choose natural family planning and abstain from artificial methods.

What is the current family situation in Ethiopia?

The Catholic Church in Ethiopia is a minority (1%), trying to practice Catholic family values, which are difficult to exercise due to secular media propaganda. The exact situation of the family is difficult to state, but it is undergoing enormous transformation. 

Catholic teaching is not respected in certain areas of family life and marriage, such as artificial natural family planning, cohabitation, divorce, abortion (although illegal, it is practiced in clinics) and same-sex unions (a recent phenomenon in cities, but it affects the whole society).

What are the issues that affect the Church in Africa that the Catholics in the West are not aware of?

In my opinion, 

  • polygamy, 
  • the communitarian aspect of marriage, 
  • dowries and 
  • love for posterity in Africa 

are some of the issues which the Church in the West may not be very familiar.

Today, the issues that affect families all over the world are more or less similar, such as 

  • globalisation, 
  • poverty, 
  • mass-media propaganda against family values etc… 

Because of social media, African families are embracing the Western family lifestyle. Africans living in big cities follow the Western practice on the issues of marriage, such as childbearing, the nuclear family, etc. However, the majority of the population (80%) living in rural areas is not yet familiar with Western culture.

In Africa, the population is still religious, and religion matters a lot. About 90% of the African population practices his or her own religion, Christians or Muslims, whereas in the West religious practice is on the decline.

Establishing marriage in traditional Africa is a celebration done in successive stages, from the time of courtship until childbearing. The upbringing of a child is the responsibility of the entire community and not of the couple alone. A child brought up in a community atmosphere has self-esteem and is ready to assume responsibility when he grows up. 

The issues of polygamy, taking more wives for the sake of having many children and to earn fame in society is another issue

We can combat polygamy, which is against the unity of marriage, through school education and strong catechesis. Young girls who completed secondary school education refuse to enter polygamous marriages, whereas girls who did not go to school easily join polygamous marriage. 

In some countries like Kenya, polygamy is allowed by the constitution, which is devastating legislation for the unity of marriage that has to be challenged by the religious leaders.

Another issue that affects African marriage is the dowry, or exchange of gifts, as compensation for the girl. The more dowry awarded, the more the girl will be respected by the new family; however, it impoverishes the family of the boy.

How can the Church retain its teaching on marriage, the family and human sexuality while reaching out to the marginalised?

The Church has to give marriage preparation to those who prepare for marriage. Those who have received proper marriage preparation succeed in their married life more than those who did not receive any preparation. 

Well-organized, adequate marriage preparation is also an occasion to transmit the value of Christian marriage. Pastoral care for married couples is required. 

The Church has to show compassion to those who feel they are marginalised. In my opinion, catechesis is so fundamental to Christian couples. Sometimes people are ignorant of basic Christian teaching on marriage 

What is the state of Christian-Muslim relations and dialogue in your country?

All three monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — entered the country at their infancy stage and co-existed peacefully. Traditional Christian and Muslim relations were peaceful in the past; however, certain extremists are infiltrating to destroy peaceful co-existence between Christians and Muslims.

What has contributed to the success of the Church in Africa as a whole?

Evangelisation, which took consideration of both social and spiritual needs of the citizens, contributed to maintain the Catholic faith in Ethiopia and in Africa in general.

In Eastern Africa, small Christian communities and, in Ethiopia, the so-called “spiritual associations” contributed to the success of evangelisation. The missionary activities in the 20th century contributed to the foundation of the Church, which is now being taken up by the locals, who are ready to go among the first-evangelised countries. Popular devotions also contributed to maintaining faith in Africa.

What do you think can be done to stop the persecution of Christians in this part of the world?

Christians are not persecuted in Ethiopia, but some 30 young Ethiopian-Christian migrants in Libya were executed by extremists because they did not want to convert to Islam — rather, they died for their faith — and I hope it will not change Christian-Muslim relations in Ethiopia. 

How can the Church in Africa, which is booming in number, best serve the New Evangelisation? 

The clergy, the religious, the catechists (who are the backbone of evangelisation) and the faithful need to work together for effective evangelisation. 

The laity have to be capacitated in the evangelisation mission of the Church in Africa. We have to empower the laity to play a greater active role in the evangelisation ministry.

It is said that while the Church in Western countries is flagging, the Church in Africa is rapidly increasing — what is your reaction to this?

We have to thank the Lord for the growth of the Church in Africa, and we have to work hard, so that the Western secularised world does not engulf the African Church. Through mass media, our continent can easily be influenced by the Western culture. 

We have to work to keep African traditional, positive values from being influenced by Western culture.

What do you think the Church in the West can borrow from the Church in Africa?

The communitarian/extended family aspect is very important in Africa. People in Africa share together what they own in times of celebration and in times of sorrow. 

  • If there is a wedding, it is the feast of the whole community
  • If there is mourning, it is shared by the entire community.
  • Children are seen as a gift from God, and the responsibility of looking after children is the responsibility of the entire community

In Africa, people love to have many children who can cultivate land and continue posterity. A person with many children is respected in the eyes of the community. If bringing many children up is not a burden to the family and if the parents are able to educate their children, the upbringing of children according to their possibility is recommendable.

The elderly are respected in society, and they are not seen as a burden; people of wisdom play an important role in resolving disputes among its members. The elderly are trusted by society members.



Strengthening the Family

‘Marriage is the most beautiful thing that God has created,’ for he created man and woman in His image (Genesis 1:27), says Pope Francis.

In an attempt to draw the attention of the world to the threats directed at the family in Africa, the African Bishops signed a common appeal in September 2015, asking the international community to acknowledge the developments which attempt to redefine the family and inadvertently all of society in Africa. ‘Wake up your conscience! Remember that every human person will have to render an account of their actions before God’. 

Published at the occasion of the Synod for the Family, the Common Declaration of the Bishops of Africa and Madagascar demanded that western powers cease to push their ‘campaigns that promote a civilisation of death on our continent’ under the guise of humanitarian aid. The letter further stated, that Africa is not a market for the pharmaceutical industry of contraceptives: ‘We are all wounded in the depths of our hearts as Pastors by the attacks against life, the family, all that is sacred, the healthy human development of our youth who are the future of Africa, the full blossoming of women and respect for our elderly – realities of which our African cultures have such a keen sense’, says the declaration.

Christine du Coudray, head of the Africa department at Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), confirms the concerns and aims of the African Bishops: ‘The more we support life and the family in Africa, the land that has embraced a revolutionary message, despite the many head-on attacks directed against her, the more the West and the world will reap the fruits in a mysterious manner’.

Each year ACN receives and supports a multitude of request directed at strengthening the family in Africa. Initiatives which sustain the vocation of the family to be a reflection of God´s Trinitarian love and divine order. One of the countries which seeks to answer this call is Zambia, where the Church has initiated a range of family oriented programs.

Located in Southern Africa, Zambia is blessed with natural wonders, wildlife, the Victoria falls, the Zambesi river and vast open spaces, yet is not being spared its share of suffering. Although the majority Christian country has experienced rapid economic growth over the last decade, its over-reliance on copper has made it vulnerable to falling prices. Today health indicators show that poverty is rampant, with about two thirds of the population of 15 million living in poverty. Maternal mortality rates are high, and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is among the highest in the world. All of these factors impact heavily on the family. 

In response to the challenges, young couples in the Mpika diocese in northern Zambia, support each other in pro-family initiatives. Through a variety of courses, diocesan teams encourage couples to live their calling; reminding them that children who see Christian values ​​lived out by their parents have a good chance of becoming themselves an active part of what Pope John Paul II called a ‘civilisation of love’

Participants share and support each other in the common understanding that marriage is not always easy - especially in an environment where the majority pursues a different goal. Pope John Paul II also recognised the challenges of Christian marriage and family, ‘Not infrequently ideas and solutions which are very appealing but which obscure in varying degrees the truth and the dignity of the human person, are offered to the men and women of today’ (Familiaris Consortio). 

In the past the Family Life Office in the Mpika diocese received support from ACN to publish two books on the family in the local Bemba language – thereby bringing the message of life to all parts of the diocese. ACN has recently received a new request for help towards purchasing a vehicle for their mission: ‘Besides the typical family catechesis, seminars and workshops offered by the team, the teams also carry out sensitisation programs on natural family planning and medical information on the problem of fistula, which occurs as a consequence of pro-longed births’, writes Fr. Irenaeus Chimpali, the treasurer General. 

Mpika diocese is sparsely populated with poor infrastructure and impassible roads. Outstations are isolated and extremely difficult to reach. ‘All of the programs demand that the team travel extensively, touching every corner of our vast diocese on very bad roads’ continues Fr. Irenaeus. The Diocese has asked help towards the purchase of a vehicle for their apostolate.



The Family Apostolate in Zambia

‘Marriage is the most beautiful thing that God has created.’ 

As he created man and woman in his own image (Gen. 1:27), says Pope Francis. Years before Pope St. John Paul II made similar statements about the dignity of husband and wife at the 1994 Africa Synod. 

Anyone who does not understand this dignity should ask about the state of their own marriage, or of the married couples around him. Do they all live like Christians? Do they all understand their vocation as married couples? Do they realise their potential for happiness, or the beauty of their vocation? What is motherhood? What is fatherhood? What about the dignity of women? These and other similar questions are being addressed by the 86 married couples taking part in the ongoing formation courses on the ‘Fullness of marriage and family life’ in six of the dioceses of Zambia. The teaching materials are in Bemba, one of the country’s most spoken local languages. All the participants will return home to pass on the knowledge they have acquired to others in their own and neighbouring parishes. 

They will become messengers of the family apostolate, heralds of married love and family harmony. They are the beginning of a movement to promote everything that is beautiful and true, for family life in God – a movement made possible by your generosity.


Youth Formation

The archeparchy of Asmara covers an area of some 23,000 km² in Eritrea and is home to 1,308,200 inhabitants, of whom around 30,900 are Catholics. It includes the deaneries of Asmara, Asmara-Area, Mendefera and Massawa. There are 26 parishes and 40 smaller chapel communities ministered to pastorally by 19 different religious communities and a number of volunteer lay catechists. 

Particular attention is paid to the youth apostolate, since young people‘s lives are very much in danger. Some seek a way out of the seeming impossibility of their situation by joining sects. Others allow themselves to be lured away by the false hope of freedom and wealth in the West and end up making the dangerous and often fatal decision to flee across the desert or across the sea. The young in particular are beset by a sense of frustration and disillusionment.

The Church, which in this case means the Catholic Secretariat of the archeparchy of Asmara, is trying to do something about this. The initial aim is to involve around 500 young people in one-day workshops, repeated three times a year, and help them to re-engage with their faith, encouraging them to believe they are truly the ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’ and live this in their daily lives. By strengthening them in their faith and encouraging their sense of self-worth, the workshops aim to enable them to assume responsibilities in their own communities and themselves become models for their own peer groups.

The activities will revolve around the following themes, with particular relevance to the lives of the young people themselves:

  • How to read, understand and share the Bible
  • The main parts of the dogma which are misquoted and misinterpreted by the sects
  • To live in hope and faith in God, because our situation is always in the hands of God
  • The real joy is found not in the material world but only in God Himself

The young people will be drawn from among the students of various colleges and educational establishments:

  • Halhale Business and Economics: 60 participants
  • Mai Nefhi Science and Technology: 300 participants
  • Asmara Medical and Nursing: 70 participants
  • Mai Habar Technical College: 30 participants
  • Massawa Marine: 40 participants

Unfortunately these colleges are also breeding grounds for Marxist materialism, relativism, and especially for different religious sects. This is why the Archeparchy is keen to organize workshops, retreats and seminars in order to help the young people know their faith well in order to resist the great pressure they encounter in the colleges.

This pastoral programme was first launched back in 2011. We want to ensure that it can also take place again and bear fruit in 2017. To this end ACN has promised 10,000 Euros.