Families in the West face problems certainly different in respect African countries, Australian, Asian, etc.
Often we focus on what feels closer to our culture, or what media in our respective countries considers more important and highlights.
This is the risk we run in a moment such as the concluded Synod on the Family. The danger is that too much focus will be on certain aspects, forgetting thus the universal significance of the Synod.
We are happy to have had the opportunity to speak with Msgr. Anthony Borwah, Bishop of Gbarnga (Liberia), who has participated at the Ordinary Synod on the Family. Due to the Ebola outbreak, causing numerous deaths in African countries and even reaching Borwah’s diocese, he was prevented from taking part in the preceding Synod. Msgr. Borwah, who lost two brothers in Liberia’s first civil war (1987-1990), has always been greatly concerned about the role of media in conflicts. In fact, his Licentiate thesis in the Communications School , at the Pontifical Cross of the Holy Cross, was titled: The Role of Journalism in the Promotion of Peace. An Analysis of News Coverage in the Liberia, Sierra Leone and Rwanda Conflicts. The scope of this interview, regarding challenges of the family and the Synod, is broader in comparison to what much of Western media presents as hot button issues concerning these matters.
Could you tell us what are the principle challenges that families face in your country?
The challenges that afflict families in Liberia are enormous ranging from the socio-economic to the cultural-anthropological, among others. Within the cultural-anthropological context, there has been a lot of changes in the traditional philosophy of the typical Liberian family: the family viewed as a locus of communion for human beings; a place where one turns to for acceptance, love, care and safety; a hearth within and around which family members – often extended – sit to tell young people wisdom tales recounting the heroism of the ancestors and the connectivity between human beings and animals and the rest of Creation, a harmony that was set unbalanced by human beings because of their refusal to obey God or norms of society; a community in which life, fecundity and children were regarded as gifts from the Eternal Creator that dwells beyond the high clouds; and an oasis of peace where all conflicts – no matter the nature – were settled; among others. The trends are turning the other way. This vision of the family is fast disappearing due partly to the indiscipline of the elderly to instill discipline in the children and partly by Western media and cultural impositions. Life, for example, is no longer sacred as thousands of abortions are performed, with impunity, even by many Christians; ritualistic killings are common too. Contraceptives are all over the place so much so that some school going kids are inserted with some stuff that would prevent them from getting pregnant for five years. Sex is no more sacred therefore. As individualism creeps in, the sense of community is fast disappearing and loneliness settles in. The sacredness of the human person, that was at the heart of the family philosophy, is waning. In short, families in Liberia are slowly but gradually sinking into the cultural and moral decadence that the West is already experiencing.
Looking at Europe, we see it’s experiencing a phenomenon in which the youth are less inclined to enter into marriage, or at least it’s a commitment, which is being postponed. In your country, does the institution of marriage have a central role in the life of the people and society, or is it in crisis as well?
As mentioned above, sadly, the institution of marriage that was a universe of civility is no more or no longer the same. The majority of young people are suspicious of marriage life, which they see as the restriction of their freedom to have many sexual partners and treat their body as they choose. For some who come from homes with serious domestic violence, it is conclusive: they will not attempt marriage. For some who are married, separation or divorce is a desirable option.
The Church is called to announce the Good News to all people, embracing the different cultures. How should the Church announce the Gospel of the family in Liberia? What issues bear more leverage on pastoral ministry to families in your country?
We need to go back to the origin. No sound evangelization and inculturation have ever been done in Liberia. This is a problem as the average Liberian dreams of being American rather than a Liberian just as it was the dream of our founding fathers, that carved our constitution, flag and way of life based on American models. One can understand that they were ex-slaves from the sugar cane plantations in America and America is what they knew. What we need to do is to improve the quality of education for our young people to one that would propel them to have a sense of self-respect, acceptance and belief in themselves and in God. Evangelization must help to recreate or redefine our culture and permeate it with Gospel values and virtues. Until we succeed in proclaiming the Gospel of the family in our various cultures I do not see any future.
Poverty, war and violent intolerance under the guise of religion, affect family life in many countries throughout the world. The Pope has reminded us of this frequently, even recalling it at his recent meeting with families in Philadelphia. Do you see the centrality of these themes at the Synod?
At the Synod participants come from diverse back grounds and this reality is reflected in the interventions. Many speakers – including me – spoke about violent conflicts that have reduced people to paupers, sex slaves, unwanted migrants and refugees. The plight of the poor is at heart of many speeches given in the synod hall. In our world we do not only have wars, violence and intolerance created and perpetrated under the disguise of religion, we also have situations in which wars are created by the powers that be for economic, political, ideological and other reasons. We also have the phenomenon called “false flag”, wherein violent acts are created and are blamed on some individual, groups or nations, a recipe to get even with the perceived enemy or to steal their resources. How many families are now been destroyed in these orchestrated wars! Many synod fathers are aware of these unfortunate realities.
The Pope has spoken of cultural colonization in some countries being linked to the issue of the family. At the Synod, some African bishops have denounced contraceptive policies promoted by international agencies, the exposition of “gender ideology”, etc. Why is it that these arguments do not seem to appear in international media? What positive aspects has Africa offered to enrich the debate?
You know who own the international media, who are the hidden faces and the real setters of the agenda. Journalists and other media professionals are paid by them. They would not dare to contradict what the invisible and shadowy uncles demand. These hidden powers are the gods of contraceptives and everything that is an affront to the dignity of the human person, especially as proclaimed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and instituted by the Roman Catholic Church. In Africa, almost all the bishops are unanimous: we denounce gender ideology, the cultural of death that is being imposed on us, homosexuality ostentation and the continuous exploitation of our resources and the creation of wars by the powers that be to steal from the poor. We are presently engaging the United Nations and leaders of Africa to express our concern and rejection of a plan that the UN is harnessing to impose these vile practices on every African country with a threat of imposing economic and other sanctions on the countries that would not comply. For the Church, this is a sophisticated persecution. It is time the spirit of martyrdom rise in the Church again for the cause of God and humanity.
Looking at the family in general and not only the situation in your country, what are the problems linked to the family, which, according to you, require particular attention? What do you consider especially urgent, on a universal scale?
The quality of love (feeling, gratification or an act of the will?) between couples even before marriage needs proper examination. There is a void of emptiness coupled with the absence of God and the loss of the sense of meaning that are eating deeply at the heart of many in our world today. People have come to realize that money, materialism, sexism, etc. widen this void. With these realities people are becoming less and less spiritual and godless. This situation is the intrinsic recipe for the exploitation of others with impunity and the loss of meaning in everything even love and marriage. Human beings must return to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the only Truth. Western civilization was built by monks, priests, nuns, other churchmen and women for a thousand years. They did so on the basis of the Gospel. The reason for the Western and global decadence is many people’s abhorrence of the Gospel that was once the rock from which they were hewn. Ours, therefore, is a spiritual problem that only the finger of God can heal. RETURNING TO THE GOSPEL IS THE BURNING URGENCY FOR HUMANITY.
By now, we are nearly at the end of the Synod. If you had to describe it in a few words, the climate and experience, what would you say? In your view, does the image of it match that which the media offered? Do you see any differences between mainstream media and Catholic, or specialized?
The synod, chaired by a very patient, discipline and listening Pope, is really a collegial experience despite the diversity it portrays. In fact, it is really enriched by its diversity. Most secular media hunger for sensationalism, pro-gay stuff and other polemics. This is reflected in the way they report about the synod. The secrecy nature of the synod may give room to speculations, rumors and lies. The secular media and other unscrupulous Catholic media may feed on these rumors and lies. But let it be known that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, all is on course at the synod.