VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The African family is being undermined by violence, AIDS and Western ideas that upset the traditional relationship between men and women, some African bishops warned.
Support for parents, better attention to the moral education of children and resistance to modern ideologies that diminish Christian family values are necessary, they told the Synod of Bishops for Africa.
Guinean Archbishop Robert Sarah, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, said Oct. 7 that the Western concept that biological gender identity “is not intrinsic to the person but is a social construct” is contrary to African culture.
The ideology also “denies God’s plan” for humanity in creating people male or female and has a negative impact on the centrality of traditional marriage and of motherhood and fatherhood, he said.
The new Western gender model, he said, “allows woman to reach an equality of social power with man and for the individual to ‘choose’ their sexual orientation,” making homosexuality “a culturally acceptable choice.”
The ideology influences culture and politics, and puts pressure on lawmakers to pass legislation favorable to “contraceptive and abortive services as well as homosexuality,” he said.
In African culture, the archbishop said, “man is nothing without woman and woman is nothing without man. Both are nothing if the child isn’t the center of the family created by a man and woman.”
“Africa must protect itself from the contamination of intellectual cynicism in the West,” Archbishop Sarah said, adding that it was the church’s responsibility to inform Africans about “the threats of this lethal ideology.”
His concerns were echoed by Italian Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, who spoke at the synod Oct. 8.
Cardinal Antonelli said that the so-called First World was working to spread the admirable concepts of equality, health and liberty, but in an ambiguous fashion that confuses differences between men and women.
This promotion of the “uniformity of all individuals,” Cardinal Antonelli said, cancels differences between the sexes and treats all sexual orientations as equally valid. “Each individual has the right to freely practice — and change, should they wish — their choices in line with their drives, desires and preferences.”
Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg, South Africa, told the synod Africa’s traditional cultural values “are threatened by the new global ethic which aggressively seeks to persuade African governments and communities to accept new and different meanings of the concepts of family, marriage and human sexuality.”
In the cultural challenge, “Africa faces a second wave of colonization, both subtle and ruthless at the same time,” he said.
Archbishop Philippe Ouedraogo of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, said that most Africans continue to cherish traditional values regarding the family and human life, but they feel besieged by messages from the media casting doubts on their deeply held beliefs.
“Today’s means of communication have made the world a single village,” he said. Television, radio and Internet sites in Africa “deliberately broadcast programs that try to impose” Western values.
Bishop Peter Musikuwa of Chikwawa, Malawi, said that African families struggle to be the “places of pardon, reconciliation and peace” that they should be because of the difficult challenges they face.
The challenges, he said, are posed by the HIV-AIDS pandemic, globalization, “the deterioration of the cultural value of marriage, political influence and the lack of role models.”
A Madagascan archbishop spoke of the essential role children play in families and in society and said that parents and the surrounding community need help to better transmit values to the young.
Keeping the family together is important, said Archbishop Fulgence Rabemahafaly of Fianarantsoa, because children who do not live in a family “will not have enough of the sense and value of sacrifice and obedience” that living in harmony requires.
Children learn behavior quickly, so it is essential that parents be good role models from the very beginning and the church must support them, he said.
Bishop Maurice Piat of Port Louis, Mauritius called special attention to the problems faced by parents, particularly in times of war or social conflict.
“When war tears their families apart, parents may ask themselves what meaning is there to their lives, and what values can they still transmit to their children,” he said.
Those parents need the church to denounce the violence and its causes, but also to help them resist a sense of fatalism and work for justice, he said.
Even if the parents are not successful, he said, “they could at least transmit the taste for struggling and suffering for justice to their children.”
“Parents who are victims of violence need to be accompanied on their healing path, which necessarily passes through the narrow door of nonviolence, which is the only thing that can restore their taste for life, and enable them to transmit a reason for living to their children,” Bishop Piat said.