Thank you for your prayers during our mission to Tanzania the last two weeks. It was a blessed and productive time with our partners and new friends, though it is good to be home.
As we were completing our pro-life training program in Dar es Salaam, the Catholic Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar gathered in Angola. The meeting produced a strong document in which the bishops emphasized the irreplaceable role of marriage – one man and woman in an exclusive, indissoluble, and fruitful union – and the family.
Caring for the flock
The bishops not only reaffirmed Church teaching on marriage and family, they also stressed that the Church and society must defend these sacred institutions from the ideologies that undermine them:
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. The 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.
Africans have a rich and wonderful sense of the sacredness of life. As HLI’s director of English-speaking Africa, Emil Hagamu, said in a short video we produced not too long ago: “We are a life loving people. We love children. We love life. We are all out to protect life and our families.”
This attitude toward the sacredness of life is evident to anyone who visits Africa. A Tanzanian priest told me during our mission: “Respect for life predates Christianity in Africa. It is deeply ingrained in our societies and cultures.”
When “aid” hurts
The family, or clan, is highly regarded in African culture, which is why the aged and sick are respected and cared for. Africans remember their ancestors and honor their memories through stories — a tradition that made teaching the doctrine of the Communion of Saints easy for Catholic missionaries in generations past. A pregnant woman is widely considered “blessed,” for she carries life within her. Children are welcomed as blessings — the complete opposite of the Western ideology that infects most of the “aid” and “development” projects foisted upon Africa.
To be sure, the various cultures of Africa have problems that do not necessarily originate in the West, several of which the bishops acknowledge in their statement. But these struggles are amplified, not alleviated, by pressure from wealthy countries to devalue life and family.
In spite of great difficulties and hardships, I continue to find that they are a joy-filled people, gracious, and generous. Africans celebrate life!
Coming from our own nation
The violence against marriage and the family has been consistently endorsed by the Obama administration and is official foreign policy. It ensures that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance coincides with the promotion and protection of the so-called “reproductive rights” — contraception and abortion — and “LGBT rights.”
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who as Obama’s Secretary of State threatened to remove development funds unless Africa reversed its defense of life and family, made the administration’s position clear again in a 2015 speech at Lincoln Center in New York:
Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources, and political will. Deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.
Faced with this and other blatant attacks upon their people, the bishops of Africa stand strong:
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.
A response from the heart of Africa
During HLI’s recent pro-life training program in Tanzania, we met with seminarians, priests, consecrated religious men and women, and lay leaders from across English-speaking Africa. At the heart of our discussions was how to confront the aggression of the West upon the life-loving culture of Africa. One of the leaders stated a common sentiment among the group:
We need our religious and civil leaders to protect us from the radical ideologies that seek to undermine our way of life. We need to teach the younger generation about the rich heritage of African culture – a culture that loves and respects life and family. We need to address the root causes of poverty and corruption. Political corruption must be aggressively removed and not tolerated.
Africans need assistance with infrastructure. We need to have good roads. We need to have good hospitals and medicines. We need to have good schools. We don’t need condoms. We don’t need contraception. We don’t need abortion.
We’ve heard for years about how there are many African medical clinics that have little to no medicine but have pallets of contraceptives and condoms. The roads are deplorable and in many places people have little to no access to clean water or genuine medical care or education. Since 1996, the USA and other developed nations have spent over 65 billion dollars on anti-life programs in Africa – 137 billion in countries around the world – with little to show for it except paternalism, exploitation, and violation of peoples and cultures.
Imagine the possibilities
Imagine having this amount of money placed into the right hands. Imagine a change in our policy toward Africa, one in which any funding sent to Africa required government reform that removes power from a corrupt class that benefits from aid while the poor continue to suffer. Invest the funding in African businesses, giving them agency in developing their own nation and fostering laws, policies, and culture that value and protect private property and entrepreneurship and prioritize educational opportunities.
Of course this is exactly what many elites from the West fear the most — an Africa standing on its own, free of corruption and dependency; an economic power, with strong families where every life is seen as precious. Imagine if our support for Africa was based on the truth that every human person is made in God’s image, is called to share in His creative effort to transform the world, and is destined to be with Him for all eternity. Can you imagine how different our policy would be toward Africa, and how after a while our constant “help” would no longer be required?
Sometimes it seems to me that the West, as it gradually dies from its embrace of radical secularism and anti-life ideologies, wants that rest of the world to die with it. Let us pray that the people and leaders of Africa will have the courage to reject this cancer and choose life.