NAIROBI, Kenya — October’s synod on the family should take on a global perspective, rather than sticking to isolated issues found primarily in Western society, African Church leaders have said.
The chance that voices of the European Church could dominate synod discussion is “a danger of a Eurocentric synod without strong input from Africa,” Father Joseph Healey of the Maryknoll Society told the Catholic News Agency for Africa (CANAA), in an article published July 16.
African bishops and Church leaders recently gathered in Nairobi for the final phase of a three-year evaluation of the Catholic Church on the continent, during which discussion largely fell to topics surrounding the Oct. 4-25 gathering in Rome.
The meeting, titled “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Modern World,” is a follow-up of last year’s extraordinary synod on the family, which focused on the various challenges facing family life today. It also is a direct reference to St. John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World).
An unnamed participant in the colloquium sympathized with Father Healey’s concerns, pointing to perceived gaps in last year’s synod discussion, particularly when it comes to issues surrounding the Church in Africa.
In the final relatio of last year’s gathering, no mention was made of “HIV and AIDs, not one reference. No mention to female genital mutilation. No mention of children-headed households,” the participant noted.
However, the participant observed that a reason Africa’s voice is seemingly missing from the discussion is that the continent’s bishops haven’t yet developed a strategy to clearly present these issues in Rome.
“Unlike other continents, which plan together and then come with clear priorities, our African interventions are often scattered and not planned together.”
The German bishops’ conference is known for its unified push to change Church doctrine when it comes to access to the sacraments for Catholic persons who have been divorced and civilly remarried.
In late May the German conference paid for the plane tickets and hotels of German journalists traveling from abroad to Rome to cover a closed-door meeting set to coincide with the ordinary meeting of the Synod of Bishops, a source in a Vatican congregation revealed.
While the Synod of Bishops met with Pope Francis, participants in the “shadow council” gathered to speak on the most contentious issues of the synod, which include discussion of approval of same-sex unions and Communion for the divorced and remarried.
According to the German bishops’ conference, the largest part of comments dealt with the issues of the divorced and civilly remarried, cohabiting couples and same-sex unions.
Last month, Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, brought the topic of Africa’s disorganization up in a June 9 address to African Church leaders gathered in Accra, Ghana, for a consultative meeting ahead of the October synod.
He encouraged Church leaders in Africa to speak “with one credible voice” on the family.
Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa, gave a presentation at the Kenya gathering, explaining that rather than focusing on mainly Western issues, synod discussion should instead center on “hurting and struggling parents and families.”
He said discussion ought to address “all the systemic issues which threaten relationships between people in societies and make it so hard for parents today to nourish their relationship with their own children and so bring them up in wholesome and life-giving ways.”
“Instead of individualism, anthropocentricism and the capitalist concept of a development that cannot be sustained, Africa and other indigenous communities offer the world a more wholesome and holistic value,” he said.
The bishop identified the disconnect between religion and culture as a challenge the secularized Western world is currently facing.
Although the challenges to the Church in Africa are generally of a different nature, Bishop Dowling said Church leaders can’t pretend that the secularized world still won’t affect or have an impact on youth, families and African society as a whole.
“In some places, it is already having an impact,” the bishop remarked, and he encouraged further reflection in the days ahead.