THE RECEPTION OF FAMILIARIS CONSORTIO IN THE LOCAL CHURCH IN AFRICA, WITH SPECIAL ATTENTION TO THE FAMILY AS A SUBJECT OF EVANGELIZATION.

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1 THE RECEPTION OF FAMILIARIS CONSORTIO IN THE LOCAL CHURCH IN AFRICA, WITH SPECIAL ATTENTION TO THE FAMILY AS A SUBJECT OF EVANGELIZATION. Note: Below is the Abridged Version of Our Reflections on the Above Topic. One can say with great joy, and without any fear of contradiction that family life in many Christian, and even, in some non Christian parts of Africa has been given the needed spiritual boost since the reception of Familiaris Consortio in their various areas. Indications from parts of Nigeria, where this writer comes from, the Cameroon, Ghana, Cote de Voire, Guinea Bisau, Liberia, Mali, Kenya, Chad Republic, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, etc. show clearly that there has been a tremendous spiritual improvement in family life since Familiaris Consortio was received in 1981 by many dioceses. As we celebrate the 30 th Anniversary of the formal presentation of Familiaris Consortio to the Christian and non Christian communities in the world, one can joyfully say that Africa has been blessed in so many ways, deriving part of its spiritual profit from its wise decision to embrace Familiaris Consortio. There is undoubtedly quite a lot of wisdom in what Blessed Pope John Paul II enunciated in Familiaris Consortio. The Scripture says: Happy is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding for her profit is greater than profit in silver and better than gold in her revenue (Proverb 3:13 14). This is the type of profit the African Church achieved by receiving, embracing and applying the principles contained in Familiaris Consortio. In Africa, family members are seemingly united through the practice of the extended family system handed down to them by their fore fathers as an inviolable, indestructible system. The focus has been for members to deepen their individual faith in order to evangelize family members and inspire them with a great desire to evangelize others. This became another great challenge to Christian families when Blessed Pope John Paul II, the author of Familiaris Consortio, urged the evangelized Christian families during the Fourth World Meeting of Families in Manila, Philippines, in 2003, to be the Good News in the Third Millennium. Faced with this challenge, what came into clear focus for the Christian families has been the need to, first and foremost, develop themselves spiritually, and then go into the world to evangelize others. Everyone involved in evangelization has, however, been guided by the fact that Familiaris Consorio, referring to the 6 th Synod of the Bishops held in September, 1980, has set out very clear objectives, and emphasized further four great tasks for the family (FC. 17) which are: i. Forming a community of persons ii. Serving life iii. Participating in the development of society and iv. Sharing in the life and mission of the Church Page 1 of 5

2 The Episcopal Conferences in Africa preparing for the first Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, devoted enough time, energy and resources to get themselves together, some through their representatives, to exchange ideas, at various venues, on meeting the challenges confronting the African family in the area of practical family evangelization within the continent. In their interactions, many other challenges were also identified, including poverty, diseases and illiteracy as some of the militating factors. The bottom line was: With what resources will the Church in Africa succeed in meeting the challenges just mentioned? (Ecclesia in Africa; 53). In response to this, Blessed Pope John Paul II in his Synodal Apostolic Exhortation pointed out very clearly that the most important [resources], after the grace of Christ, is the people. The whole people of God in theological understanding of Lumen Genitium this people which comprises of the members of the body of Christ in its entirety has received the mandate which is both an honour and a duty to proclaim the Gospel. (Ecclesia in Africa; 53). Having been so encouraged, the Church in Africa through its many created organs, such as Family Commission, Family and Human Life Committee and/or through pious societies, such as the Holy Family Society which are recommended by the Catholic Bishops Conferences in different countries have been in the field to play their roles in evangelizing families. The synod, you may want to know, was intended to be an occasion of hope and resurrection, at the very moment when human events seem to be tempting Africa to discouragement and despair ( Ecclesia in Africa ; 1). The word of Blessed Pope John Paul II at the synod emboldened the Episcopal Conferences in Africa to give moral, spiritual, and in some cases, financial support to virtually all the evangelizing agents in their jurisdiction. The fruits of their efforts since Familaris Consortio came into the scene 30 years ago and after the first African Synod can be said to be quite monumental and highly encouraging when one takes a look at the development of family spirituality, especially within the extended family system in Africa. One other important issue the document draws attention to is the urgent need to recover an awareness of the primacy of moral values, which are the values of the human person as such. The great task that has to be faced today for the renewal of the society is that of recapturing the ultimate meaning of life and its fundamental values (FC. 8). In the last thirty years of the existence of this Papal document, it can be seen that the application of the teachings of the document has helped tremendously in evangelizing members of the family, especially in Africa, in the following ways: 1. The Family as a Domestic Church: Familiaris Consortio number 49 reiterates the teaching of the second Vatican council in her dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Genitium; number 11, where the family is referred to as the church in Page 2 of 5

3 miniature. This teaching finds good ground in Africa where from the traditional religious worldview; the family is taken as a little church with the father of the family as the chief priest. The papal teaching agrees with the long standing cultural practice of Africans. This indeed has strengthened the role of the family as a tool for evangelization. In the Scriptures, a young man asked Jesus: Master, what shall I do to receive eternal life? (Mark 10:17). He replied: What is written in the Scripture. It is written: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength.. (Mark 12:30). Agape love must be known and practised in the family first, with a continuous burning desire to extend this to everyone with whom one is brought in contact. The issue is this, if we cannot love our family members whom we see (I John 4:20) possibly every day, how can we truly and genuinely love God who we cannot see? Familiaris Consortio invites us to, first and foremost, put this into practice with our family members at home. 2. The Plight of Women in Africa: We also see the document effective in promoting the dignity of womanhood in Africa. It should be mentioned here that for many centuries, African women were basically seen by their spouses as hewers of wood and drawers of water. But things began to change as more and more women were educated in the continent. Women then formed a formidable force to change this wrong perception. The Church gave its solid support to the women. Familiaris Consortio can therefore be seen as a re awakening of the perennial efforts to promote the dignity of womanhood in Africa. 3. Growth in Vocation: The growth which the Church in Africa is witnessing, in terms of vocation to the priestly and religious life, is partly due to Familiaris Consortio. Parents have been awakened to their role of discerning and directing the vocation of their children. They are gradually getting away from their old role of preventing their children from answering such call. In fact, they are now in the forefront, urging their children to answer the call to the priesthood and/or religious life. This explains why the Church is flourishing in Africa today, ready to send missionaries to other parts of the world. Nigeria, in spite of its many negative draw backs, takes the lead in this direction, thanks to the new family evangelization efforts, which took its bearing mainly from Familiaris Consortio. It is a thing of great joy to find that Nigeria which used to be a home base for many foreign missionaries is now in a position to export its own well groomed missionaries to different parts of the world to re evangelize those countries that are turning away from God. Quite recently, the Holy See addressed a specific call to the Church in Nigeria to embark more vigorously on mission than it has done until now. In a letter dated 22 nd April 2010 and directed to the President of the CBCN, the Apostolic Nunciature in Nigeria made a special appeal to the Church in Nigeria: Page 3 of 5

4 With regard to the staffing of new mission territories (Missiones Sui iuris and Apostolic Prefectures and Vicariates) the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples wishes to ascertain whether suitable personnel are available. It has therefore asked the Apostolic Nunciature to find out if there are Religious Institutes, Societies of Apostolic Life, or even dioceses which are in a position to help out in this field, or even accept a lus Commissionis and so be responsible for staffing and evangelization of such a territory. I will be grateful if you let me know whether there are any dioceses in Nigeria which in the spirit of Fidei Donum, could undertake such an assignment. 4. Strengthening The Marriage Institution: As earlier indicated, the emergence of Familiaris Consortio has also greatly strengthened the Institution of Marriage in Africa. In paragraph six of the document, the Pope lamented that there is a mistaken theoretical and practical concept of the independence of the spouses in relation to each other. Thirty years following the promulgation of this document, the above fear has even gone overboard in several parts of the world such that we even hear of same sex marriage; the practice of homosexuality; and lesbianism as the order of the day, and other ways of thwarting the natural institution of marriage. In spite of the practice of polygamy in certain homes in Africa, there is no gain saying the fact that Christian marriage and its added values to the society have spiritually and morally helped the continent to grow in the right direction. As a result, Christian marriage is growing by leaps and bounds because of the acceptance of God s plan for the institution; that a man must leave his mother and father to be joined to his wife for the two of them to become one (Genesis 2:24). The growing acceptance of this Gospel message is making many to abandon the practice of polygamy as well as condemn same sex marriage, and other evil practices in the name of living partnership. In many countries in Africa, the issue of homosexuality is hardly of any concern. Many see it as a waste of energy to dwell on it because it is virtually regarded as a taboo as anyone found practicing it would be ostracized from the community. The National House of Assembly in Nigeria, for instance, has advanced its plans to enact an edict before the end of the year to ban single sex marriage in Nigeria. 5. The Role of Pious Societies and Lay Apostolate Groups in Promoting Life, Marriage and Family Spirituality: Our reflection on the reception of Familiaris Consortio as it relates to the evangelization of the peoples of Africa cannot be complete without highlighting the positive roles many pious associations and lay apostolate groups have been playing in the last thirty years. To the glory of God, there have been many seasoned, dynamic groups since the emergence of Familiaris Consortio which have been on the forefront, promoting marriage and family institutions, while there are others which have devoted their time, energy and financial resources to wage war against prostitution, HIV/Aids, abortion, assassination, murder, modern forms of Page 4 of 5

5 slavery, etc. These efforts are all directed towards having loveable, peaceful and progressive families. There are still others which are completely focused on deepening the faith of individual members of the family, with a view to helping the families to reconstitute their households into domestic churches. Many of such pious societies sprang up even years after the emergence of Familiaris Consortio. An example of such is the Holy Family Society which this writer founded in Nigeria following the inspiration he received from Blessed Pope John Paul II. All the spiritual programmes of the Holy Family Society for family evangelization centre on God. They seek to create a very strong desire to get family members to put them into practice, following the examples of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Holy Family of Nazareth. This is the type of perspective that has caught up with many agents of evangelization in Africa. This, in a nutshell, is our humble submission. SIR DAVID E. DAME MARY JOAN OSUNDE Members of the Pontifical Council for the Family Representing the African Continent. Page 5 of 5