Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa

Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Sao Tome e Principe, South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe


No 3    (English)     –  August 2013

“Theological Reflection for Pastoral Action”


Family Culture under Threat

On the one hand, we have lovely young families where young fathers share with the mothers in the joint responsibility for the upbringing of the children. In young couples’ associations husbands and wives learn to dialogue and communicate with each other on an equal level. Various lay movements in the Church take a stand against corrosive influences and promote Christian Marriage as a basis for Family Life.

On the other hand, there are also many destructive forces at work, universally. The “One-Child-policy” of China upsets the gender balance between men and women; the dowry system of India which leads to large-scale abortion of female fetuses or even infanticide of girls, also upsetting the gender balance; the rejection of traditional marriage by the most educated young women in Africa; the social acceptance of same-sex unions with the right to adopt children, depriving those children of the properly balanced maternal as well as paternal influence in their upbringing; the genetic manipulation of “designer babies”; the vanishing father and his diminishing presence in the family; the cutting of the link between sexuality and pro-creation; the replacement of the personal love of parents as the origin of new life with biotechnological engineering.

Marriage and family as we knew them are no longer something we can take for granted. From now on the Church has to make a concerted, conscious effort to defend, reconstruct and transform the family.

This enormous effort cannot consist in merely looking backward and nostalgically hanging on to obsolete life patterns. The Church has to produce and forcefully advertise a new type of marriage: an equal partnership between man and woman, sharing in all responsibilities, based on trust and open communication even about their sexual intimacy, and on mutual respect and love, spiritually nourished by Christ. New scientific insights help infertile couples, render Natural Family Planning (NFP) more effective and help in the battle against HIV/AIDS.

While the Church can rely on women to play their part in this process, she still has to gain to a greater extent the active and positive cooperation of men. This pastoral effort needs priests who are reconciled to their celibacy, mature in their own sexual development and at ease with women as their keen co-workers and helpers.



Editorial                                                                   page 1                                  

Families in Need of Appropriate Environment to Flourish (No 7)         p 3

Appendix: What the Church Can Do in Cooperation with Catholic Development Agencies                                                                                                               p. 7

Children Not Our Own Property (No 8)                                            p. 11

The Bishops Speak:                                                                                  p. 16

“Male and Female He Created Them”

Handing on the Faith: God is Love – The Image of God (No 9)   p.18

Appendix: Synod on New Evangelization on Marriage and Family   p. 29


Working Paper No 7


Families need proper homes for privacy, intimacy, communal life

“It is desirable that every family should be able to acquire a home of its own, because home ownership contributes to the stability and welfare of the family which the State has a duty to foster and protect.” (Solidarity and Service, Pastoral Statement ZCBC, 26 November 1989, n. 7)

“The human person ought to have ready access to all that is necessary for living a genuinely human life: for example, food, clothing, housing, the right to….set up a family….”(Gaudium et Spes, Vat Coucil II, 26)

Everyone has the right to “an existence worthy of human dignity” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 23).

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care….” ( art. 25).

When I asked young married couples in a working class district of Harare, “What is your greatest problem? What do you need most?” the unanimous answer was “Housing! A house of our own!”

Traditionally, when a young man got married he would take his new wife for a short time to his parents, but soon he would move away from the old village and start a new home of his own.

A new family needs a new home. Unfortunately this is very difficult in an urban environment. Often young families have to stay with the parent family for a long time. This leads to many difficulties. The young wife and the elderly mother-in-law have to share kitchen and living room which causes tensions between them. The young couple have no privacy, no space for themselves. The young and growing family cannot develop a life of its own.

This has been a great problem ever since men moved to urban settlements and mines. Very often it was the deliberate policy of colonial authorities to discourage African workers from bringing their wives and families to their workplaces. Miners had to live for three years in communal sleeping quarters before they qualified for married accommodation. In many mines wives and families were never allowed to stay with husbands and fathers. Some men never brought their families to town because of shortage of housing or as a matter of choice. This did untold damage to the African family.

Lack of proper housing (e.g. one whole family or even two in just one room) puts enormous strain on marriages even today. “The lack of privacy is felt enormously by women, and when interviewed they were visibly distressed by the effect of overcrowding on their marital relations. Many acknowledged that their husbands stayed out late at night to avoid the overcrowded conditions, generally sitting drinking beer in the beer-halls and ‘shebeens’. They also expressed fear that their husbands may be going elsewhere for ‘sex’…” – A complete break-down of traditional sexual morality and general promiscuity spread HIV and AIDS.

Many female single-parents, finding it impossible to earn enough money in the informal sector to pay the high rents “have turned to prostitution for additional income. Increasing numbers of teenage girls, too, have turned to prostitution to avoid their overcrowded conditions and to provide some excitement in their otherwise difficult lives. These women very often face unwanted pregnancies…” (Diana Auret, Urban Housing: A National Crisis? Overcrowding and Inadequate Housing and the Social and Economic Effects , Mambo Press in association with the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe , 1999, Gweru, pp 90, 107).

But the AFRICAN CHARTER on Human and Peoples’ Rights says, “All people have the right to a satisfactory environment in which they can develop” (Article 24).

The problem is not restricted to Southern Africa and its history of segregation. All the major cities of Africa have huge slum areas, e.g. Nairobi and Lagos. Cape Town, one of the most beautiful cities of the world, has people living in “informal housing”, i.e. plastic shacks and various types of shelters made of wood, plastic sheeting and pieces of asbestos or corrugated iron, without proper sanitation and electricity. “One in six South Africans live in shacks; over half our people have no running water in their homes” (Economic Justice in South Africa, A Pastoral Statement SACBC, May 1999). Has this improved over the last fourteen years?

Latin America has its famous (or infamous) favelas where the drug trade and violent crime terrorize the people. There have been rumours Pope Francis will visit some favelas when he comes to Rio de Janeiro for the World Youth Day. He is of course familiar with the housing problems of the lower classes which he encountered as a diocesan bishop in Buenos Aires/Argentina.

But even the industrialized north has its housing problems. Homeless people can be found in the richest metropolitan cities of the US and Europe.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the lack of housing for the homeless and the lower income groups is a major failure of the world economy.

Experts, e.g. of the UN organization dealing with shelter called HABITAT, have to analyze the reasons for this major failure to meet a basic human need. Shelter after all is considered a basic human right.

How do you explain this notorious shortage? Housing for lower income groups is not profitable and therefore unattractive for investors. Up-market housing promises a better return on investments.

Unmitigated capitalism does not cater for all human needs. It has to be supplemented by social policies. The market alone does not solve the problem. The State (in this case local government) has to come in and provide land and loans for prospective home owners in the interest of families who are the basic building blocks of society.


If the Church wants to save the family she must help create a suitable environment.

If the Church wants to preserve and further develop Africa’s family culture she must help that good traditional customs prevail. The traditional village consisted of separate quarters for boys, for girls, and for the parents. Overcrowded urban slum conditions no longer offer privacy which is essential for marriage and family life. Families vegetating in such conditions cannot be expected to listen to the Church’s Gospel of Life.

If the State and the economy fail to house families the Church must give a lead and speak up on behalf of the poor, reminding the leaders that “the family is the natural unit and basis of society. The State has the duty to protect and assist the family, especially women, children, the aged and the disabled” (African Charter for Human and Peoples’ Rights , art. 18) by supporting the construction of family homes.

First of all, the local Church should find out exactly what the housing situation is for the low-income earners , the un- and self-employed, with the help of Diocesan Justice and Peace Commissions.

The Church can support housing cooperatives and work with local government. One stumbling block in this vital area of national life is corruption, not just in developing countries, but the world over. Distribution of land for building purposes is often a monopoly in the hands of municipalities. Suitable land is scarce. The temptation to gain access to this resource by bribing is great. Officials want their “palms greased”. The Church must use all its moral authority and work against such abuse.

Where the Church herself owns unused land that is suitable for building homes she should make this land available and develop an exemplary distribution policy, fair and honest, without any suspicion of corruption.

The Church should empower homeless “people to house themselves. There are vast reserves of creative energy and alternative resources, which would be harnessed by the people in their desperate need to house themselves”, the Church being a ’ facilitator rather than a housing provider’ (Diana Auret, Urban Housing : A National Crisis, p. 123).   – oWe


Appendix to Working Paper No 7


Example : MISEREOR

Klaus Teschner writes: Misereor Germany has been supporting building projects (housing for families) in several African countries: South Africa, Zimbabwe (“Dialogue for Shelter”), Zambia , Kenya and many other countries in the “South”.

First, you have to find financial support, either subsidies from the State or from private donors (Bill Gates Foundation, Rockefeller, Urban Poor Fund International, Homeless International etc) or indirect subsidies via almost interest-free loans. Secondly, the beneficiaries must do as much as they can themselves in building their homes. Thirdly, they must contribute from their own savings.

You must find adequate and inexpensive construction methods which save a lot of money: using natural stone, self-made bricks, a design fitting the climate, to keep houses cool, keeping the rain out, with an effective drainage system. Here Misereor is happy to act as consultant and provide expertise, normally financed by the agency.

Another possibility is renovating and refurbishing existing settlements set up by the people themselves. People very much care about houses, however inadequate, which they have build themselves as a community. We should not call them slums. We should make use of the existing community spirit and readiness to cooperate. We can add infrastructure (roads and pathways, sewage, tap water, additional rooms, or turning houses into multi-storey buildings, thus saving on land).

One of the most fundamental problems is to find suitable land for building low-cost housing. Here the Church may be able to help, since she may hold unused land which could benefit the homeless. (Translated from the original German by Fr O Wermter SJ).






SACBC AIDS Office builds home for affected family

SACBC AIDS Office supports the building of a house in Thole Location, Thaba Nchu

This was their previous house. House No: 8965 Thole location, near Thaba Nchu Town, Mokatsanyane family. There are 10 people living in this house, the eldest is  an 81 years old grandmother, Mokatsanyane Moselantja;   her two daughters are  on ARV treatment, Madilemo 35yrs , and Matlokotsi 27yrs,  and seven grand children, Tieho 16 yrs, Katlego 14 yrs, Lekgotla 11 yrs, Neo  seven months, Retshidisitwe  8 years, Sello 14years and Tlhohonolofatso 7 years old;   the mother of some of the children has died of HIV and AIDS related causes.

This is their New Complete house:




 Means: creating viable and sustainable living space in the poorest areas of India. Strengthening belief in the power of goodness in all those who commit to helping the villages. Supporting drive and initiative wherever they are demonstrated.


The Mission

The VRO embraces impoverished and disadvantaged village communities.
This includes:

Listening to people and responding to their needs and wants.

  • Identifying their potentials and encouraging them to take action to alleviate their poverty.
  • Challenging the inhabitants and strengthening their self-confidence.
  • Sustainably supporting communities to construct and further develop innovative village concepts.
  • Supporting, guiding and organising the learning and construction processes, so that the inhabitants can build their own homes and create communal infrastructures.
  • Making funding available together with potential donors.

The VRO unites communities locally and globally by establishing connections and contacts, while inviting organisations and people across the globe to contribute and participate.
In this context, caste or religion, gender and nationality are simply expressions of welcome diversity.


The Values

  • We are conscious that we are all learners in equal measure.
  • Through our efforts we experience courage, joy, plus the quality and purpose of life.
  • We make our contribution on behalf of truth, justice and peace.
  • We recognise that families, neighbourhoods and circles of friend are the pillars of human existence.
  • We respect Creation and protect it.
  • We see ourselves as part of a global, all-embracing movement towards a better world.
  • We experience that sustainable aid is possible through partnership style collaboration.


Working Paper No 8


The African family is always prepared to receive children not its own. So many mothers bring up their own children as well as nieces and nephews, often deprived of their own parents by AIDS, other diseases, accidents, migration or divorce and family breakdown. The extended family makes no sharp distinction between my and my brother’s children. His children are mine also, and mine are also his.

The Church actually recommends that parents who cannot have children because of fertility problems receive parentless children in their home and adopt and bring them up as their own. This is considered a much better option than divorcing the wife deemed infertile and marrying another one, or adding a second wife to bear children for the infertile one. There is no shortage of children, but of parents to receive them. “Physical sterility in fact can be for spouses the occasion for other important services to the life of the human person, for example, adoption, various forms of educational work, and assistance to other families and to poor and handicapped children” (Instruction on Respect for Human Life / Donum Vitae, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Vatican 1987).

Unfortunately, childless parents have a problem with children not of their own blood, and are positively scared of “strangers”. Even western parents, with access to sophisticated biotechnology, do everything in their power to have children biologically their own rather than adopt orphaned children who are crying out for parents and a family.

But then again, there are married couples who have given up all hope of ever having children of their own and look around for children they may adopt. In fact, there is a “market” where the “demand” seems to exceed the “supply”. E.g. people from the USA come to poorer countries seeking to adopt children and take them home. There are lively debates whether it is right to deprive these children of their African identity: is that not too high a price for being brought up in a very prosperous environment?

There have even been reports in the media recently that “human traffickers” (the current version of slave traders) are holding girls in captivity and make them pregnant so that the babies born can be sold to parents desperate for children.

All these parents still wish to follow the model of the traditional family. But latest developments show that that model is no longer to be taken for granted. There is even outright hostility to the family.


“Breaking the Bonds of Biological Parenthood”

The following report may sound futuristic and of no interest to us in Africa. But the western world where such developments take place is very close to us. Our people live there as economic and political refugees. South Africa is half a developed, half a developing country. In this global world we must expect that what our neighbour does today, our people will emulate tomorrow.

Bio-technology is no invention of the devil. It offers new and beneficial techniques to cure diseases formerly considered incurable. But what is basically good can be abused and produce harmful results.   “Science without conscience can only lead to man’s ruin” (Respect for Human Life/ Donum Vitae7).


The push to redefine marriage to include relationships between same-sex couples is a movement to abolish the sociological connection between children and their biological parents. It is a movement to destroy the nuclear family. A lesbian journalist and homosexual activist in Australia said,


“I have three kids who have five parents, more or less, and I don’t see why they shouldn’t have five parents legally… I met my new partner, and she had just had a baby, and that baby’s biological father is my brother, and my daughter’s biological father is a man who lives in Russia, and my adopted son also considers him his father. So the five parents break down into two groups of three… And really, I would like to live in a legal system that is capable of reflecting that reality, and I don’t think that’s compatible with the institution of marriage.”

Currently women can receive tens of thousands of dollars as egg donors if they permit their ovaries to be hyperstimulated with exogenous hormones and have the resulting ova harvested for in vitro fertilization procedures. A utilitarian viewpoint sees no problem with making use of the remains of aborted female children as an alternative to satisfy the demand for eggs driven by the burgeoning infertility industry. Yet, contemplate the results of such a procedure: The children produced with these eggs would be the offspring of a woman who was never born.

In 2004 the term “designer baby” was introduced into the Oxford English dictionary and defined as, “a baby whose genetic makeup has been selected in order to eradicate a particular defect, or to ensure that a particular gene is present.”  The child’s genetic makeup is modified and thereby the biological link to his or her parents is modified….. In the future technology will allow parents to pick and choose among possible genes to create their ideal collection of genetic features. Children could be manufactured with a designer genome made to order. 

Great Britain addressed this issue in 2008. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990 (HEFA) does not permit assisted reproductive technology procedures to implant and bring to birth embryos with genetic modifications. However, the committee also strongly cautioned that there were ethical quandaries generated by such therapy. They specifically questioned the impact it would have on the welfare of the child in terms of his personal identity, his social identity, and his reproductive autonomy. The wisdom expressed by this committee in identifying ethical concerns is impressive and actually echoes the concerns about human genetic modifications expressed in the Vatican document, Dignitas Personae, which was also promulgated in 2008:

Apart from technical difficulties and the real and potential risks involved, such manipulation would promote a eugenic mentality and would lead to indirect social stigma with regard to people who lack certain qualities, while privileging qualities that happen to be appreciated by a certain culture or society; such qualities do not constitute what is specifically human. This would be in contrast with the fundamental truth of the equality of all human beings which is expressed in the principle of justice, the violation of which, in the long run, would harm peaceful coexistence among individuals.(27)

It is interesting that a restructuring of both the societal and biological relationships between parent and child are proceeding in tandem. As the sociological bonds between parent and child are perverted through a redefinition of marriage, it seems the resistance to breaking the biological bonds wanes as well. Replacing the marital act with various assisted reproductive technologies dehumanizes children and treats them as commodities to be manufactured and marketed for the pleasure of adults. Genetic manipulations that undermine the humanity and dignity of children turn the noble generosity of parenting into a materialistic self-serving exercise. 

When the marital act is no longer required for the conception of children, marriage itself loses its purpose and is no longer the cornerstone for society. Therefore, the defense of marriage as a unique union between one man and one woman must be merged with the defense of parenthood as the vocation of one mother and one father properly expressed within the marital union. 

(From: ZENIT, Roman news service, report supplied by Human Life International, shortened).

“What is technically possible is not for that reason morally admissible” (Respect for Human Life,/Donum Vitae, 10). All the procedures of bio-technology described in the report experiment with the human embryo which is a “human being to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception” (Donum Vitae, 14).

In our family context we must remember that children can never be the property of their parents or anybody else. Children are gifts of the creator. Parents are not their owners. Eventually parents have to release their children into the freedom of adult life when they will be responsible for their own lives. The family is the space where they are being prepared for this life of freedom and responsibility.

At no time do parents have the right to mould and shape children for their own purposes. As persons they must never be used as “human material” for the pleasure or satisfaction of their parents or instrumentalized by bio-engineers. Children must never be made mere playthings of their parents or of anybody else who happens to have gained control over them at the embryonic stage, regarding them not as persons, but “genetic material”.

Together with the Church Christian parents must be the defenders and protectors of the “dignity of the human person” from the moment of conception. As children grow up, parents must respect them as persons. Human persons must never be instrumentalized or be used as mere means towards some end determined by parents who claim ownership of their children. The Christian family respects the Creator as the real owner of children and their personhood, freedom and responsibility as the Creator’s gift to them. Without this respect children lose their personhood and become merely usable objects.

“Respect for that dignity is owed to every human being because each one carries in an indelible way his own dignity and value. The origin of human life has its authentic context in marriage and in the family, where it is generated through an act which expresses the reciprocal love between a man and a woman. Procreation which is truly responsible vis-à-vis the child to be born “must be the fruit of marriage”[9] “ ( Instruction Dignitatis Personae on certain bio-ethical questions, Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, 2008 , 6).

Not biotechnology as such, but its abuse is an assault on the integrity of marriage, monogamous, lifelong and based on personal love, and the family. It is used as a weapon by those who wish to demolish marriage and family and remove them from their central place in society.

They see marriage and family as stumbling blocks on the path to total freedom. The fail to see that it is precisely in marriage and family that the respect for the human person is upheld, fostered and nourished and the education of children for a life in freedom with a sense of personal responsibility has its place.

Once people lose this respect for marriage and family and destroy them, human beings, bereft of dignity and respect for their personhood, will become mere objects subject to the whims of powerful technocrats and a class of manipulative engineers. The destruction of marriage and family, far from leading us to greater freedom, will in fact turn us into slaves. – oWe

[1785 words]



From : “Male and Female He Created Them”

Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC), February 1996

The integrity of the human person

Fertility is a beautiful gift to be used if and when the parents responsibly can do so, but,       since sex is often used irresponsibly, it is now seen as a threat that has to be destroyed by sterilization.

This threatens the integrity and wholeness of the human person. So often in our day the sexual encounter between man and woman is no longer an expression of commitment, but has been reduced to a consumer good for momentary pleasure. Love is no longer seen as open to fruitfulness. The bodily union no longer signifies mutual personal responsibility for one another and for possible offspring. A basic truth of the created order is denied.

A man and husband should say, “I love you so much that I will love as father even the child that may be the fruit of our love”. Instead he wants to be a lover without the responsibility of a father. The woman can no longer rely on the respect and consideration of her spouse, but feels she has to protect herself against an aggressor.

As sterilization is more and more advertised as a means of family planning, it is our duty to state unequivocally: sterilization is morally unacceptable as a means of family planning. It contradicts human dignity. It disfigures God’s creation. The spouses no longer express unconditional mutual self-giving to one another. Their sexual union, like a promise that is not kept, becomes a lie.

Parents together have the responsibility to decide on the size of their family. They cannot bypass their personal responsibility by some physical intervention. Fertility is an integral part of the human person, and is to be regulated through responsible action, not through mutilation of the body.

Forced sterilization, e.g. by tying the tubes of a woman during surgery when she is not aware of what is done to her, is a violation of her human dignity and a denial of her right to personal integrity. There cannot be any moral justification for causing such grievous bodily harm.

The integrity and wholeness of the human person is at stake. The dignity of marriage as a union and communion of persons is at stake. (ZCBC)


Working Paper No 9


Christian Anthropology: Understanding the Human Person, Understanding Man and Woman

Teaching the young about sexuality, marriage and family is not just one special aspect of “moral education”. It is in the very centre of our Handing on the Faith. Christian marriage and family life is an act of faith, and can only be understood as a direct response to faith in the God of love in whose image Man and Woman are being created.


People have been seeking God because God was said to be “absent” or even “dead”.

Now people must look for Man (in an inclusive sense) or the Human Person because he/she have lost their profile and are no longer clearly visible; Man and Woman no longer know who they are and what they are. If God is absent, his “image” is disfigured.

Traditionally the Church used to teach about marriage and family without great problems because there were good unquestioned traditions people had grown up with and took for granted. (But also a few questionable ones….)

Marriage and Family and what the Church taught about them was visible for all to see in living models. This is no longer the case. Even fundamentals like masculine and feminine identity have become blurred.

We need to face the fact that secular ideologies contradict us, and our language and concepts are no longer understood. Maybe we first have to rediscover for ourselves what the Christian message is as regards the intentions of the Creator in creating the human person as Man and Woman . The consent seems to be growing in secular society that the difference is negligible. And talk about “human nature” is considered obsolete. There is nothing “given” and therefore unchangeable. The human person is merely raw material for re-designing and re-modelling people beyond recognition. We can reinvent ourselves completely. Any “given” blueprint can be torn up. We can re-draw it without reference to any original design that would bind us. We are the gods who re-create the human race. If in the process we lose what we used to know as our humanity, so what?

If this scenario shocks and frightens us then we need to think very deeply about a Christian Anthropology of the Sexes, what the Creator had in mind when he created, not just the human person (something abstract that as such does not exist), but Man and Woman. Is the difference just man-made and as such disposable (as extreme feminists and gender activists maintain), or is it something God-given and as such indispensable, though capable of growth and further development?

The bipolarity of the human person as Man and Woman, and the resulting tension between the Masculine and the Feminine, seem to be unbearable to our contemporaries. So they experiment with a unisex being – a rather boring creature because a merely human invention, without the mystery of a divine origin. Woman should not have to remodel herself as semi-masculine and copy Man so as to be able to share in his power. And Man should not have to emasculate himself and become effeminate if he wants to rid himself of violent manners and brutality.

Attempts to define with precision the Masculine and the Feminine almost always fail. Only so much may be said that Woman is gifted in dealing with persons and seeing everywhere the personal dimension. Man needs to develop his gift of leadership and responsibility (the former never without the latter!). They have to learn from one another, because what the woman is gifted with the man must learn to share in, and vice versa.

The irreducible difference between Man and Woman is not the origin of oppression and discrimination, as is fashionable to maintain, but our inability to accept the otherness of the other in mutual respect and love, while sharing our common personhood. In adoration of God we learn to reverence the totally Other. If we no longer learn this reverence in adoration of the Divine, we unlearn too respect for human beings in their never ending variety.

In educating the young generation towards the Christian vision of marriage and family their faith in God the Creator is challenged. We have to help our children accept themselves as God’s creatures and understand God’s design and purposes. Since they are growing up in a world where everything changes and is constantly redesigned, they cannot fit a Creator said to have made heaven and earth once before all time, and then walked away and left it at that, into their dynamic view of the world. As if the Creation stories were something cast in stone.

Creation is indeed an on-going, never-ending process and every man and woman is being created here and now for a purpose only the Creator knows. Every man and woman is unique and yet destined, each an image of the unseen God, to make what is hidden in God visible. Since God is infinite we never exhaust his creativity and therefore our human potential.

We need a dynamic theology of Creation to start with. The book of Genesis is not history, but a key for understanding ourselves and our own time.


Our heritage, the African Family Culture, is a tremendous asset. But it can only live and as a living thing have a future if we conceive it as dynamic and developing. A fossil is dead and has no future. “Life is change”, and our African Family Culture, too, has to change if it is to have life.

It must have an answer when it is challenged by contemporary culture about the position and creative role of women in society. Or else this inherited culture will just be left behind, even by the women themselves who have always been the guardians of family life. If they abandon this family culture it will vanish altogether.

Secular society does not admit it, but the human dignity of women and their equality with men have Christian roots, so it is ultimately the Gospel that challenges this culture about women, thereby strengthening it.

The dignity of woman and her equality with man is at the heart of monogamy. This is a challenge not only to African culture, but to all male-dominated cultures, by far the majority, in the rest of the word, including our current global culture and technological civilization of western origin. Do not say complacently that polygamy is disappearing because of the changes in traditional culture and economic conditions. There are many other forms of “polygamy” even within official monogamy.

The love of, and commitment to, only one woman is based on love of the wife for her own sake, in contrast to merely accepting her as a means towards an end and a useful tool interchangeable with other women, thereby undermining the union of one man and one woman. The Sacrament of Matrimony makes the marital union a visible sign and symbol of the love of Christ for his spouse the Church. This is the most fundamental reason for monogamous marriage.

Both in the context of African traditional marriage and western secularized civil unions are we confronted with cultures that still need to be converted and transformed spiritually by the Faith. This is a challenge to traditional as well as western men which must be clearly spelled out and articulated. Many priests, catechists and marriage instructors try to play this challenging aspect of Christian marriage down. That is a waste of a great opportunity to reveal the true nature of the unity of husband and wife in Christ. It needs to go together with a renewed proclamation of the mystery of Christ and a faith catechesis.

If a young man accepts monogamy only for economic reasons (“I can’t afford two wives”), his marriage will not be based on Faith. And as soon as the economic situation improves it will become obvious: he will take a second wife, as of old, or exchange the by then middle-aged wife for a younger model.

We really have to have a very serious discussion with young couples over this, challenging young men to look into their hearts and reveal what they really think about Love and Faithfulness to their one and only spouse.


Often sexuality is not really talked about in marriage preparations, or only hinted at. It is a private thing. Everybody knows about it, but it is unmentionable in traditional culture. But newspaper headlines, TV, commercial advertising, the Internet and social media, so immensely popular with the young, scream about it all the time. And the young want to know about it. If we , i.e. Christian parents and marital guides, keep silent about it, the young will get their information from “public opinion” informed by those noisy media.

In African Family Culture children and the continuation of the lineage are vitally important. Offspring makes or breaks the marriage. It must be a very mature and respected person (or, preferably, a married couple) with personal authority to raise these matters.

But depending on their personal development, exposure to western culture and economic status, African young couples are adopting views and behavioural patterns now generally found in western industrialized countries.

They want children, and infertility remains a ground for divorce. Many men only marry in church when a child has been born or is at least on the way. But the number of children is more and more limited to about 2 or 3, at the most 4. Larger families with 5 , 6 or 7 children become rare in urban situations. Unfortunately, even married women use abortion as a family planning method, or use contraceptive devices which very often, unknown to the woman, are abortifacient.

The desire to have children is in line with the Christian conviction that sexual love should be fruitful. We should especially point this out to young people. The love of husband and wife makes them parents, fathers and mothers. Their love for each other finds its fulfillment in the love of children. Love that in principle does not want to be fruitful contradicts itself and refuses further growth and maturity, self-giving and sacrifice. (Such a refusal invalidates a marriage).

This connection between sexual love and fruitfulness has however been severed by the widespread use of contraceptive devices. Sexuality has been separated even from its proper context, marriage. “Population services” and similar NGOs teach our young people to think in terms of “reproductive rights” even though “reproduction” is precisely what they try to exclude by all means. Children cause the “population explosion” and are a danger rather than a blessing in this view now widely propagated and familiar to our young people. But to be “sexually active” is considered a right, as long as pregnancy and infection with HIV are prevented.

However, our teachers of sexuality and marriage must not give the impression that the Church is hostile to any kind of control over family size. In our long-term or short-term marriage preparation we must make the young people familiar with the concept of “Responsible Parenthood”.

The Church welcomes children and commends parents for the generosity with which they accept them. But no one, not even the Church, is to dictate to parents how many or how few children they are to have. They are the responsible co-workers of the Creator in pro-creation, to be guided by proper information and their consciences. Jointly they are to decide about the number of children and the timing when they are to be born. It is neither the wife deciding this on her own nor the husband to dictate to her, but it is their joint responsibility.

Natural Family Planning is to be explained to them by properly trained and experienced married couples. The advantages of this method should be clearly stated: (1) it is an effective method, used to delay or exclude further births altogether, or to enhance the chances of pregnancy in cases where this is wanted and hoped for ; (2) it does not put the burden of birth control by means of hormonal pills on the woman alone, whose reproductive system is being interfered with and who has to put up with side-effects on her body (a greater risk of cancer, high blood pressure, infertility); (3) intimate communication and shared responsibility involve both wife and husband in a new type of marriage.

“Theology of the Body” calls NFP “green sex”: while the “green” ecological movement resents any kind of interference in nature it defends contraception and abortion both of which severely interfere with the “ecology” of the female body – which seems very inconsistent and illogical. NFP does not work, like artificial contraception,   against nature by interrupting and frustrating natural processes, but works with nature, using what nature offers (the monthly cycle of the woman).

The sexual union is an expression of love. While it should always be open to offspring and never sever the link between sexuality and fruitfulness, pro-creation is not its only purpose. The husband is not to use the wife sexually merely as long as he wants children from her, and drop her once he has got the desired male children, or because she does not bear him any children at all. She is not merely a means towards an end, a producer of children who can be dismissed once she has done her duty.

Even a couple who cannot have children give expression to their mutual love through the sexual union.

This is perhaps not so easy to understand: on the one hand the Church welcomes children and insists that love must be fruitful and the sexual union open to offspring, on the other hand she acknowledges that sexual love makes sense and has its dignity as a gift of the Creator even if it does not produce children.

The answer is this : parents, as far as they are concerned, must be ready for children and accept the fruits of their bodily love, though the exact number and time of birth may be determined by the parents themselves as responsible co-workers of the Creator. If however children are denied them their mutual love expressed by the sexual union is still a great treasure, supporting and consoling each other while giving their love to other children longing for parents.

This is a reminder that parents do not have a “right” to children which they can demand as their due, but receive them as gracious gifts.

Love goes together with respect and faithfulness. Christian couples wish to be filled with the love of Christ for his Bride the Church, wish to be in union with Christ who loved his own “to the very end” (John 13: 1).

This view of sexuality and marriage is of course far removed from what young people see and hear in the media, in their own youth sub-culture, even in their own families. In introducing them to this Christian outlook we must openly discuss this often shocking contrast. The young couples must be equipped with solid knowledge and a firm faith so that they can deal with these confusing divergences between popular culture and their faith and its demands.

Some medical expert (doctor, nurse) is needed in every marriage preparation programme to speak on fertility, sterility, contraception, abortion, rape, “marital rape”, sexual abuse, sexual diseases, HIV and AIDS, Natural Family Planning.


Like a garden or an orchard that needs to be fenced in so marriage and family need a legal framework to protect them.

It is useful, even necessary that young couples are given a basic knowledge of the laws, both secular and ecclesiastical, that have a bearing on marriage and family.

State Law: in South Africa, Zimbabwe and presumably also in other Southern African countries the State has two acts regulating marriage, the customary marriage act which codifies traditional (potentially polygamous) marriage and the marriage act which is monogamous. They also tend to differ as regards guardianship and custody of children, divorce and inheritance.

It must be explained to young couples that secular law and Christian ethics often differ. The secular State simply follows the existing customs of the people whereas the Church is guided by the Word of God. The fact that a certain state law exists does not mean that it is morally acceptable to Christians and members of the Church. When in doubt they have to follow the Church.

As in the case of abortion: the fact that for the State the killing of unborn life is permissible and legal (even though it contradicts what most state constitutions say, namely that “every human being has the right to life”), this does not make it moral and acceptable for Christians.

Nevertheless there is a certain cooperation between Church and State, despite the basic separation of the two, in matters pertaining to Marriage and Family.

Both have an interest in stable marriages and the upbringing of children in good families.

In countries where priests are used as marriage officers, acting on behalf of the State at wedding ceremonies, some priests show little interest in State – Church cooperation and fail to become marriage officers or refuse to act as such. This is regrettable. True, as marriage officers they are burdened with extra work. But through this partnership with the State the Church demonstrates its vital concern for marriage and family life. As family life is threatened everywhere the State must be reminded of its duty to protect marriage and family.

Church law (Canon Law) does not add anything to the Gospel. It merely gives legal expression to what Scripture and the Church teach about marriage: marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman for life. Even the State considers it a binding contract for life, though it can be cancelled for serious reasons to be determined in court, in the case of monogamous marriage. Polygamous unions can be brought to an end more easily.

The Church does not allow divorce, but recognizes that some marriages were never entered into properly and can be found to have been invalid from the start. This has to be investigated by an ecclesiastical Marriage Tribunal which may declare such a marriage ‘null and void’.

It must be made clear to our faithful, especially those about to marry, that this is not a divorce.

In cases where a marriage has completely broken down and become dysfunctional, the Church accepts separation of the spouses. But this does not bring the marriage bond to an end, so the separated spouses cannot enter into another church marriage with different partners.

Legal structures are necessary and helpful, but they do not give life. Christian marriage is sustained and kept alive by good communication between the spouses, dialogue, forgiveness, patience, carrying one another’s burden, prayer, the life of the Sacraments and the support of the Christian community and the Church.

In a comprehensive marriage preparation a lawyer should be asked to explain all the state laws that have anything to do with marriage and family: joint property, separate incomes – shared responsibilities, inheritance, maintenance, guardianship etc. Ignorance of these matters can cause unnecessary tension and conflict.


Preparation for Marriage requires a series of seminars, preferably over weekends. Within IMBISA we have great resources. LUMKO in South Africa, with pastoral experience from many African countries, has very good printed material which is suitable especially for the rural parish. The FAMILY DESK of SACBC and MARFAM (Marriage and Family) cater more for the urban context. The Archdiocese of CAPE TOWN has produced its own material. The THEOLOGY OF THE BODY material is available through Marie-Anne Te Brake, Johannesburg SA: their DVDSs are suitable for people familiar with the American style of presentation. However, Marie-Anne, the promoter, has plans to produce material in South Africa for South Africa and its cultural scene.

The expertise of movements like MARRIAGE ENCOUNTER, ENGAGED ENCOUNTER, RETROUVAILLE and COUPLES FOR CHRIST can be made use of partly in marriage preparation, partly in marriage renewal. Marriage renewal benefits the Family: a marriage that has grown tired is no longer able to inspire the family. Couples who have made a new start as husband and wife will also be better parents.

The IMBISA Bishops in various countries have been teaching their faithful about Marriage and Family in pastoral letters which contain many good insights and valuable information. If funds are available this material could be re-printed in small brochures as background knowledge for teachers of teacher/ trainers – formators of marriage instructors.

These resources should be made available in all IMBISA countries. This is what IMBISA is all about: putting dioceses in various places in touch with one another and exchange experiences, useful pastoral material and resources of any kind. We do not all have to re-invent the wheel. What has proved useful in one diocese and country can be made accessible also to dioceses in other IMBISA countries, with adjustments and changes where necessary in terms of languages and cultures.

If more comprehensive and demanding marriage seminars are to be introduced there has to be better training for marriage instructors.

Such training often will be beyond the capacity of individual parishes. Maybe deaneries have the resources to do it. Or diocesan training centres have to take it on. Experts may even be in demand across diocesan boundary lines.

But the local parish must be involved. Marriage instructors must not operate all by themselves in some isolated little corner. They must have the full support of the parish. There must be an atmosphere which is family life friendly. The stress is on life. If parents stop their children from getting married in church because of bridewealth payments not having been made yet then the pastoral efforts of the parish will be for nothing.

If mothers encourage their daughters to be on the pill to avoid embarrassing “unwanted pregnancies” then they sabotage the future married lives and families of their children.

If mothers assist their pregnant daughters to have abortions then they reject the Gospel of Life and corrupt their souls and bodies.

If the teaching of the Church concerning marriage and family is rejected by most parishioners openly or at least in their hearts there will not be fertile soil for the growth of Christian families.

If the Sacrament of Matrimony is ignored the young will not take it seriously whatever the pastor and his co-workers may teach.

The entire parish, including the parents of the young about to marry, needs to be re-educated and be given a new vision of the beauty of the Gospel of Life and the Sacrament of Matrimony.

What the young learn in their own families and in their parishes will be complemented by what they learn in school, at least Catholic schools. The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Catholic Institute of Education, and the Jesuit Institute of South Africa have jointly produced “Life to the Full’ – Pastoral Guidelines for teaching Sexuality Education in Catholic Schools, Khanya House 2010,

Both in the training of marriage instructors and in the actual teaching of couples preparing for marriage, we need to pay attention, not only to content, but also to methodology. In teaching the faith (and Christian marriage is very much a matter of faith!) we must always go where the people are and then lead them step by step to where Christ is. We hear what they have to say and use the positive elements as stepping stones towards the Gospel. We respect their thinking but invite them gently to go beyond, move on and enter a new space. We learn what they desire and long for and show them that what Christ offers them is the answer to their expectations. They long for love, however imperfect, so we show them the love of Christ that is to enter into their married love and family, thereby fulfilling, indeed exceeding, their longing.

The proclamation of the Gospel must be “dialogical, for in proclamation the hearer of the Word is not expected to be a passive receiver. There is progress from the ‘seeds of the Word’ already present in the hearer to the full mystery of salvation in Jesus Christ. The Church must recognize a process of purification and enlightenment in which the Spirit of God opens the mind and heart of the hearer to the obedience of faith, and inculturated, incarnated in the culture and the spiritual tradition of those addressed, so that the message is not only intelligible to them, but is conceived as responding to their deepest aspirations, as truly the Good News they have been longing for (cf. En 20,62).”   (Dialogue and Proclamation, Joint Document of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Congregation for Evangelization of Peoples, Rome, 1991)

This means that we take the African Family Culture as our starting point and lead people from there to a new culture transformed by Christ’s self-giving love. Merely listing rules of moral behavior, without making people understand why these laws are needed, will not satisfy our young people about to marry and have families. The need for various rules must be explained: they are needed to protect Love and enable it to grow.

The people must be invited to speak about their own experience, contribute their own insights and discern for themselves what is good and to be retained for the future, and what may have to be discarded. Young people of today, of course, will start from a neo-African perspective where traditional elements meet recently imported western patterns of behavior which often contradict tradition.

This “dialogical” approach is more demanding than just “monological” teaching. The teachers have to be prepared to speak about their own personal experience as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers in a kind of “faith-sharing”. This has to be learned, and the formation of marriage instructor has to include teaching practice.

Appendix to Working Paper No 9


The Church appreciates the equal dignity of women and men in society as made
in the image of God, and in the Church based on their common vocation as
baptized into Christ.
The Church’s Pastors have recognized the special capacities of women,
such as their attention to others and their gifts for nurture and
compassion, most especially in their vocation as mothers.
Women together with men witness to the Gospel of life through their
dedication to transmission of life in the family. Together they help to keep
the faith alive.
The Synod acknowledges that today, women (lay and religious) together with
men contribute to theological reflection at all levels and share pastoral
responsibilities in new ways, thus carrying forward the New Evangelization
for the transmission of the faith.

Established by the sacrament of matrimony, the Christian family as the
domestic Church is the locus and first agent in the giving of life and love,
the transmission of faith and the formation of the human person according to
the values of the gospel. In imitating Christ, the whole Church must
dedicate herself to supporting families in the catechesis of children and
youth. In many cases the grandparents will have a very important role.
At the same time the New Evangelization should strive to address significant
pastoral problems around marriage, the case of divorced and remarried, the
situation of their children, the fate of abandoned spouses, the couples who
live together without marriage and the trend in society to redefine
The Church with maternal care and evangelical spirit should seek appropriate
responses for these situations, as an important aspect of the new
Every pastoral plan of evangelization should also include a respectful
invitation to all those who live alone, to experience God in the family of
the Church.
It is necessary to educate people in how to live human sexuality according
to Christian anthropology, both before marriage as well as in marriage
The Synod notes with appreciation those families who leave their homes in
order to be evangelizers for Christ in other countries and cultures.

 IMBISA Centre – Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa, Pastoral Department – Social Department, 88 Broadlands Avenue, Avondale , Harare, Box EH 99 Emerald Hill, Harare, Zimbabwe. Tel. 336 775 / 336 908. E-mail:, (pastoral), (social). (director).

IMBISA assists only in matters that individual dioceses or national bishops’ conferences cannot do by themselves (Principle of Subsidiarity).






This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s