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Bishops’ Conferences in Africa Encouraged to Develop Family Catechesis

CANAA || By Father Don Bosco Onyalla, Nairobi || 01 August 2016

conferences to develop family catechesisDeveloping “a directory on catechesis of the family” was among the 20-point recommendations at the recently concluded Plenary Assembly of Catholic Bishops in Africa.

Having met to reflect on the family in Africa, the dozens of Church leaders who represented the various national and regional conferences of Bishops in Africa discussed challenges facing the family on the continent and recommended pastoral solutions.

In view of addressing “effectively the major challenges confronting the family,” the bishops stated, “we need to elaborate new pastoral perspectives or approaches; we ask the Episcopal Conferences to develop a directory of family catechesis, essentially biblical catechesis, which will be assessed every three years.”

The challenges the family in Africa faces, which the Bishops highlighted their final message include: the precarious conditions and poverty, social exclusion, impact of the new Information and communication technologies on family life, gender ideology, monoparental family, divorce-remarried couples, contraception, sterilization, abortion, polygamy, dowry, widowhood rites, migration consequences of war and conflict situations, internal family crises, belief in witchcraft and absence, at times of one of the couples due to studies and work.

The Bishops also encourage governments in Africa to “invest heavily in the promotion of the family.”

“We appeal to them to implement social policies that respect African Cultural values, justice, fundamental human rights of persons and families,” the Bishops stated in reference to governments on the continent.

The Bishops reelected Archbishop Gabriel Mbilingi of Lubango, Angola, as President of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) for a second term and confirmed Archbishop Charles Gabriel Palmer-Buckle of Accra, Ghana, as Treasurer.

Bishop Mathieu Madega Lebouakehan of Mouila, Gabon, took the place of Bishop Louis Portella-Mbuyu of Kinkala, Congo Brazzaville, as SECAM first Vice President since the latter declined re-election.

Bishop Anton Sithembele Sipuka of Umtata, South Africa, replaced Archbishop Gabriel J. Anokye of Kumasi, Ghana, who wants to concentrate on his office as President of CARITAS Africa.

The weeklong meeting of the bishops from July 18 to 25 had the theme: the family in Africa: yesterday, today, and tomorrow – in the light of the Gospel.

Below is the full text of the Bishops’ message and recommendations.

MESSAGE OF THE 17th PLENARY ASSEMBLY OF SYMPOSIUM OF EPISCOPAL CONFERENCES OF AFRICA AND MADADGASCAR                              

TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD AND MEN AND WOMEN OF GOOD WILL

Introduction

1. We, Catholic Bishops of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), having met in Luanda (Angola), from the 18th to 25th of July 2016, for our 17th Plenary Assembly, and having reflected on the theme: “The African Family, Yesterday, Today andin the light of the Gospel”, give thanks to God our Father, through Jesus Christ, the Lord in the Holy Spirit for his ever continuous blessings for the people in our dear continent. Having come to the end of our meeting, we would like to address this message of hope and solidarity concerning the future of our families and communities, to the Church-Family of God in Africa and Madagascar as well as to all men and women of good will.

2. We are grateful to the Holy Father, Pope Francis for the two Synods on the family, for his pastoral visit to Kenya, Uganda and Central Africa, and for his fatherly solicitude towards African families. We express our fraternal and sincere gratitude to the Church-Family of God in Angola and to the Government and the people of this beautiful country; land of great hospitality and of a long Christian tradition, for their warm reception and generosity in making this Plenary Assembly a success. We are very much touched by their spirit of sympathy and the importance they attached to this event. They did all it takes, from the point of view of logistics, material and spiritual to ensure a successful Assembly.

3. The memories of the visit of Holy Father Benedict XVI, in March 2009, for the Commemoration of 500 Years of Evangelisation of Angola remain vivid in the minds of our people. The holding of this 17th Plenary Assembly in Luanda is an expression of our profound communion with the people of Angola. We extend our greetings to all the people of Africa and we pray for them, especially those who are going through difficult moments, particularly Sudan, Somalia, Lesotho, Burundi, Nigeria, Mali, Cameroon, Central Africa, Chad, Egypt and Libya. We equally remember the sufferings of refugees, particularly women and children who are most often the principal victims of this phenomenon. We urge factions engage in conflicts to work for peace through inclusive and constructive dialogue.

4. We are grateful to all delegates from Episcopal Conferences of Sister Churches of Asia and Europe as well as to the representatives of various Catholic organizations for their presence here among us, which is a clear sign of their solidarity with and generosity towards the achievement of our mission.

Importance and beauty of family and marriage

5. In line with the two Synods of the universal Church on Family and the Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis Amoris Laetitia, we wished to pursue our reflection on some concrete pastoral issues concerning the family in response to the Synod expectations as entrusted to us by the Synod Fathers and the Pope. We reiterate the importance of the Family which constitutes the Domestic Church and the basic foundation upon which every society is built. As Pope Francis said, « the health of any society depends on the health of its» (Homily at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, 26th November 2015). Indeed, it is into the family that the human person is born, grows and accomplishes his/her destiny. It is in the family that he/she receives the first education and acquires the values of his/her integration and fulfilment both in the communities and the Church. The two Synods enjoin on us to protect and defend the family “in order to render to the society the services expected of the family, which is to raise men and women capable of building a social fabric of peace and harmony” (SECAM, The Future of the Family, our Mission, 74)

6. Marriage and family are intimately linked together. We reaffirm the teaching of the Church, based on the Word of God: “Man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife; both become one body” (Gen 2: 24). Marriage binds a man and a woman together. The Lord proclaims this true nature of marriage, which in the mind of God, excludes divorce (Mat 19: 3-12). In Jesus Christ, marriage acquires its true meaning. Inseparable link of love between a man and a woman, marriage is open to life and procreation, as means of renewal of the society and the Church, therefore it cannot concern persons of the same sex.

Pastoral Challenges

7. Due to our love for the welfare of the family in Africa, here we are with some urgent challenges for consideration: the precarious conditions and poverty, social exclusion, impact of the new Information and communication technologies on family life, gender ideology, monoparental family, divorce-remarried couples, contraception, sterilization, abortion, polygamy, dowry, widowhood rites, migration consequences of war and conflict situations, internal family crises, belief in witchcraft and absence, at times of one of the couples due to studies and work.

8. These different challenges destabilize the life of couples and families, especially when there is no strong pastoral strategy in place. As pastors, we cannot but be committed to renewal of and to reinvigoration of our pastoral approaches for the families. We are convinced and believe that the Family cannot be subdued by the crises and situations that confront it. Therefore, in the proclamation of the Gospel of Family, we are to be the witnesses of hope.

The joy of loving

9. We reaffirm, with Pope Francis, the beauty of marriage. It is not a burden, but a community of love, joy and enhancement of couples and the family: ¨The beauty of this mutual, gratuitous gift, the joy which comes from a life that is born and the loving care of all family members, from toddlers to seniors are just a few of the fruits which are the response to the family unique and irreplaceable” (Amoris Laetitia, 88). We repeat that the human person is fundamentally called to love. According to the teaching of the Pope, Saint John-Paul II, “God created man in his own image and likeness” (Gen 1: 26-27) and called him to existence by love and to love (Cf. John-Paul, Familiaris Consortio, 11). It is within the family and in a more privileged manner that the vocation and the mission of family are realized.

10. We congratulate and encourage families that bear witness to the joy of loving and are faithful to their marriage. We share the pains of those who live in difficult situations and those who are profoundly wounded in love. We pray and encourage them not to be discouraged nor

The Family, “sanctuary of life”

11. In a holy family life, members share experience of certain aspects of peace: “Justice and love between brothers and sisters, the role of authority expressed by parents loving concern for the members who are weaker (...), mutual help in the necessities of life, readiness to accept others and, if necessary, to forgive them” (John-Paul II, Africae Munus, 43).

12. We invite all African families, the Domestic Church, to be a place of deeper human and spiritual development so as to become communities of life, prayer, love as well as agents of transformation for our societies. In this way, they can respond faithfully to their vocation to educate, reawaken and inculcate missionary consciousness among their members.

13. We exhort all the Christian associations and pastoral organizations for the family to implicate themselves more in accompanying couples before, during and after the celebration of the marriage. We encourage them strongly to help promote Christian marriage and family values, especially for the youth.

14. In the same vein, we urge all the member States of African Union to resist all pressures from governments and organizations who want to impose anti-family policies on Africa. We are grateful to governments who, in the name of moral values and our culture have dared to oppose such policies (cf. SECAM, The Future of the Family, our Mission, 146).

15. We do appreciate the efforts of public authorities in our various States for the promotion of the family. We solicit governments to promote policies that respect African cultural values, justice, fundamental rights of persons and families, including good management of the common good and to improve the life conditions of our people, especially the less favourable. We expect the governments to “pass laws and create employments to ensure the future of young people and help them realize their plan of forming a family” (Cf. SECAM, The Future of the Family, our Mission, 14).

Conclusion

16. The Future of the Family is at the heart of our Mission. The Family is and remains the sanctuary of life, of growth and enhancement of the human person. The family is a gift of the merciful love of God. It guarantees the future of our societies. We are to protect and defend it against all that could destroy its integrity.

17. African Christian families do not be afraid of making Christ the centre of your lives! Have confidence in him! Peoples of Africa, our mission to the family is a noble one! Let us commit ourselves to the cause of the family! Long live the family!

18. Holy family of Nazareth, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Sustain the commitment of families! May they overcome selfishness, division and violence! May they be communities of reconciliation, justice and peace! May they radiate the joy of loving!

Amen!

Given at Luanda, 24th July, 2016,

For the Plenary Assembly of SECAM,

+ Gabriel MBILINGI, Archbishop of Lubango,

President of SECAM.

Recommendations

Having strong hope in the future of families a hope based on the Lord's love, we make the following recommendations:

1. Restructuring the pastoral care of the family. In the various Episcopal conferences, there exist various types pastoral approaches in favor of family. We ask to harmonize and restructure them by providing human and material resources needed for a better accomplishment of their mission. To achieve this, it is necessary to create and support the function of family committees within SECAM as well as in different National and Regional Episcopal Conferences.

2. Ensuring better marriage preparation. Such preparation should be done in several phases: remote preparation in the family, youth movements, in the university chaplaincies; Immediate preparation in view of engagement. It must be ensured jointly by a team of family members, priests and the laity who are involved in the pastoral care of the family. We ask priests to seriously pay particular attention to the preparation of marriage

3. Accompanying couples. The celebration of marriage is not only the summit of the process but equally a vocation of accompanying couples in the Church. Hence the importance of structures that valorize sharing and mutual support among married couples as well as enhancing the pastoral role of witnesses to the marriage. It is important to pay particular attention to young couples particularly those in mixte marriages, disparity of cult and in difficult situations.

4. Educating to love. Given the contemporary context marked by selfishness, utilitarianism and hedonism, special emphasis should be on love, agape, that is self-giving and gratuitous love, characterized by sacrifice, forgiveness and reconciliation. We need to intensify our support for parents in inculcating family values that build a strong and balanced personality in their children and other family members.

5. Training of pastoral agents. Promoting pastoral structures to support couples requires training of pastoral agents. We propose that where it does not yet exist, a course on marriage and family should be introduced into the seminary curriculum to equip future priests to better fulfill their vocation as the messengers of the Gospel of Family, in the Church Family of God. We exhort Regional Episcopal conferences to establish a formation centre for pastoral care of the family.

6. Formation for families. Family life is not improvisation. Hence the importance of formation for families about human formation, which helps to know oneself and live a harmonious relationship with each other; socio-anthropological formation which also helps to understanding the cultural, social, political and economic environment; Christian formation, for the understanding of biblical, theological and moral sources of our life of faith. Parents often feel helpless as regards the mission of evangelization of families. We ask pastoral agents to offer them the necessary assistance for the realization of true school, the family.

7. Education of children. Parents are the first and principal educators of their children. The family is the first school of values which is indispensable to every society. This education requires the effective physical presence of both parents in the family. It involves affective and sexual education. We encourage parents to educate their children to know and respect their bodies.

8. Making the Youth responsible. Young people will be educated to take care of themselves; to love a job well done; to develop fully their potentialities and be self-confident. In this way they will develop in them a true missionary consciousness which will enable them to become true witnesses to the Christian faith in the face of ideologies which threaten it.

9. Promoting spiritual life in the family. The spiritual life in the family is based on the four pillars as proposed by the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2: 42-47): Assiduity in listening to God's word, read and meditated upon in the family and in communion with the Church; regular participation of all members in the Eucharist; prayer that brings together all family members, while maintaining the link with the parish; communion, service, sharing, exchange. We need to make families places where we share together joys and pains.

10. Fighting against discrimination within families. Women, youth, children, the elderly, widows and orphans, persons with disabilities, are oftentimes victims of discrimination and even violence in both the family and society. The pastoral care of the family, with the support of the commission "Justice and Peace" must fight to eradicate such discriminations.

11. Revisit the dowry. Originally conceived as a symbol, the dot today has lost its true meaning and is becoming an obstacle to the commitment of many young people. At times, it devalues the dignity of women as a commodity. We ask the Department of “Faith, Culture and Development” of SECAM, theologians, and academic institutions and Universities to help through research studies into the cultures and mentalities of our people to reinstate the initial symbolic value of dowry.

12. Evangelization of the new ways of social communication. Today, none can ignore the new means of social communication, even if their impact is not always positive. The experts in this field should put the media at the service of pastoral and family cohesion, and to introduce children and young people to regulate their use.

13. Resist the Influence of New Religious Movements. Some religious movements continue to wreak havoc in our churches and in our families, sowing divisions and disarray. The pastoral care of the family must ensure the protection of Catholic Christians through catechetical instructions a strong spiritual life and communion that resist the sirens of these movements.

14. Disabuse our minds of belief in witchcraft. In a context of greater economic, social, health, political or emotional despair, belief in witchcraft that seems to destroy people and family cohesion. These beliefs and accusations are often based on ignorance, misinterpretation of African tradition and a fundamentalist reading of the Bible. Hence, the need for a strong human formation that takes into consideration the psychological biblical and spiritual dimensions of formation.

15. Strengthen solidarity between families. With the economic hardships associated with some major social pandemics, families have become too vulnerable economically. These problems often affect the family cohesion. The pastoral care of the family must promote operational management of available resources, and encourage active solidarity among families. The entire Christian community must be encouraged to be more attentive to this situation.

16. Reflecting on difficult matrimonial situation. A greater number of African families encounter series of challenges among which is the problem of polygamy. This challenge should invite the Church to accompany pastorally the polygamous men and to be witness of the divine mercy of God, while exhorting them to conversion. The pastoral agents should avoid all that could lead to the recognition of such marital union so as to keep intact the Christian ideal of monogamy.

17. Supporting Pro-life and Pro-Family Organizations. Several Organizations and Associations are engaged in the promotion of life and families. It is necessary to support their activities and collaborate with them.

18. A Call upon Governments. Governments invest heavily in the promotion of the family. We appeal to them to implement social policies that respect African Cultural values, justice, fundamental human rights of persons and families. We expect from them a proper management of the common good in favor of the development of families, particularly the most fragile.

19. Denounce the ambiguity of the new world (Order) ethic

About marriage and family, the new world order (or ethics) proposes some orientations which are contrary not only to the African traditions, but to the Word of God and the teaching of the Church. The Christian communities and families should therefore be very much attentive and must always be ready to defend the dignity of the family.

20. Initiate a directory on catechesis of the family. In order to address effectively the major challenges confronting the family, we need to elaborate new pastoral perspectives or approaches; we ask the Episcopal Conferences to develop a directory of family catechesis, essentially biblical catechesis, which will be assessed every three years.

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