17th PLENARY ASSEMBLY OF SYMPOSIUM OF EPISCOPAL CONFERENCES OF AFRICA AND MADADGASCAR
TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD AND MEN AND WOMEN OF GOOD WILL
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 and Tomorrow in 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.
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.
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.
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
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 families » (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)
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.
Due to our love for the welfare of the family in Africa, here we are confronted 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.
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
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.
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 despondent.
The Family, “sanctuary of life”
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” (Benedict XVI, Africae Munus, 43).
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.
We exhort all the Christian associations and pastoral organizations for the family to engage 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.
In the same vein, we urge all the member States of the 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).
We do appreciate the efforts of public authorities in our various States for the promotion of the family. We appeal to our 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).
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.
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!
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!
Given at Luanda, 24th July, 2016,
For the Plenary Assembly of SECAM
+ Gabriel MBILINGI
Archbishop of Lubango
President of SECAM