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Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, Rev. Fathers and Sisters, ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure, on behalf of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference, to welcome you all to this Consultative Meeting for African Synod Fathers being organized by SECAM (the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar) in preparation for the upcoming Synod in Rome on the Family.  This Consultative Meeting, which is being held at GIMPA, Accra, from 8th to 11th June 2015, is being attended by about 50 participants, made up of five Cardinals, 38 Bishops and Priests.

As you are all aware, the 3rd Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops took place in Rome from 5 to 19 October 2014 on the theme “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelisation”.  As a follow-up to this Synod, the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will be held in Rome from 4 to 25 October 2015 on the theme “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World”.

The theme of this Consultative Meeting is “The Family in Africa: What Experiences and What Contributions to the XIV Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?”  The point of departure in addressing this theme must be the Christian understanding of the family and marriage.  This understanding is that God, by forming the first man and woman and commanding them to be fruitful and to multiply (Gen. 1:28) definitively established marriage to be a permanent union between one man and one woman.  Consequently, the family becomes the sanctuary where life is born, nurtured and welcomed as a gift of God.  By matrimonial covenant which the Lord Jesus raised to the dignity of a sacrament, a man and a woman come together to establish between themselves a relationship of love which by its very nature is ordered towards the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring.  This covenant of love consequently takes the character and effect of unity, indissolubility, fidelity and openness to life. Marital love also requires the fidelity of the spouses flowing from the gift of oneself to one’s lawful spouse (cf. Eph. 5:32).

However, today the family is undergoing significant challenges that rock the very foundation on which God has set the human society. These crises manifest themselves in very many ways. They include the dangers posed by the philosophy of relativism, a new ideology that defines man as a free individual with the licence to do whatever he or she pleases.  Unfortunately, this ideology has crept into the traditional Christian concept of the family, redefining marriage to be a free union between any two people who are attracted to each other whether they are of the same sex or not. The new ideology exhorts human beings to give free expression to their sexual feelings in all manner of ways.  In the light of this philosophy, some people suppress the words, “husband” and “wife,”,“father” and “mother” in favour of words such as “partner”, “companion”, etc. The attempted redefinition of these words distorts and clouds the true meaning of marriage.

Marriage has also been affected by the negative media portrait of it, as the media tend to amplify failing and failed relationships between males and females and further celebrate their separation.   Marriage today has been affected by the infidelity of couples, domestic violence, the pressures of work and urbanization, the problem of childlessness, inequality in marriage, polygamy, issues posed by bridewealth, etc.  I would also like to draw attention to the practice of cohabitation or concubinage in which couples that have performed the customary marriage see no need to go ahead to regularise their marriages, thus cutting themselves off from the Eucharist as the source of their spiritual sustenance.

African families today are also beset with the nagging problem of polarization along political and tribal lines, as they experience the politicisation of almost every national issue, and a growing religious and political intolerance.  I would also like to draw attention to the issue of the radical and faceless culture of death which promotes, among other things, the supply and use of the condom in our schools, the in vitro fertilization and the contraception agenda of some national and international institutions in Africa.  Painfully, some African homosexual and pro-abortion groups overtly and subtly support these international organizations.

It is my hope that the Consultative Meeting will look into some of the issues mentioned above.   I would like to suggest that this Consultative Meeting addresses the issue of the role that the family can play in the New Evangelisation as a place where the gospel is transmitted and from which the gospel radiates.  The family can and does play a vital role in both the Church and society.  It is, therefore, urgent, as part of our Christian duty, that we engage in a more careful pastoral reflection on the Family during this Consultative Meeting to let the right understanding of it influence whatever decision we take regarding the family.

At the end of this Consultative Meeting, I hope that we will come out with concrete and practical recommendations on how the African society and the Church as a whole can resolve the problems surrounding family and marriage so that the family can play its role as intended by God – the source of all life.

It is also my hope that the Consultative Meeting will affirm the traditional teaching of the Church on the family as contained in Scripture and in the Church’s Magisterium  so that the family can continue its role as the vital cell of society while playing a useful role in the Church’s New Evangelisation.

It is also my expectation that as a result of this Consultative Meeting the African participants at the forthcoming Synod in Rome will be able to speak with one voice on important issues relating to such matters as the indissolubility of marriage, same sex unions and the issue of whether divorced people who are civilly married should be admitted to the sacraments.

With this brief reflection on the theme of the Consultative Meeting, it is my singular pleasure and privilege, on behalf of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference, once again, to welcome you all to this Consultative Meeting being organized by SECAM in preparation for the upcoming Synod in Rome on the Family.  I wish you fruitful deliberations during the Consultative Meeting and a very pleasant stay in our dear country Ghana.