Plight of Single Mothers in Southern Africa Part of Synod on Synodality Topics: Priest

Fr. Rafael Baciano Sapato. Credit: IMBISA

The challenges single mothers face as members of the Church in the region covered by the Inter-regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) are among the topics of the ongoing Synod on Synodality, a Catholic Priest has said. 

In an interview with ACI Africa, the Coordinator of IMBISA Pastoral Department, Fr. Rafael Baciano Sapato, expressed his awareness of the plight of single mothers in Southern Africa and that he had shared his reflections with participants in a consultative session on the ongoing preparations for the Synod on Synodality.

“I chose the theme ‘Church, the family, and the Pastoral Care of single mothers’, in response to the question posed in the preparatory document for the Synod 2023,” Fr. Sapato told ACI Africa last week referencing the question in the Preparatory Document for the Synod 2023, The Call to Journey Together: What people or groups are, expressly or effectively, left on the side-lines?

The Mozambican Priest expressed his concern about the “tendency to marginalize” single mothers in the countries of IMBISA, which comprise Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Sao Tome & Principe, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe.

“I have had a lot of time to reflect on this truth and I have seen that there is a tendency to marginalize this category because according to society, they are those who have given birth to their child through illicit means, not through marriage,” the official of IMBISA told ACI Africa in reference to single mothers.


“In my priestly experience as a Christian, I have seen that single mothers are part of this group of people who were left on the margins, especially in my country,” he added during the March 8 interview, moments after he had made his presentation.

In his presentation shared with ACI Africa, the Coordinator of IMBISA Pastoral Department made reference to Pope John Paull II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis.

Pope John Paul II condemned discrimination against members of social categories, including that of “single mothers”, Fr. Sapato indicated in his presentation, making reference to the November 1981 Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio.

Discrimination against single mothers, the Harare-based IMBISA official said, “is paradoxical for Church - Family of God and for the church in Africa, with very strong sense of family. It is absurd.”

“During his apostolic visit to Cagliari, Italy, in September 2008, Benedict XVI revealed not only that he has in his heart the 'single mothers' but also acknowledged their heroism”, Fr. Sapato said in his March 8 presentation.

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He went on to cite Pope Emeritus’ message “during the Angelus at the Shrine of Our Lady of Bonaria” saying, “Benedict XVI said, ‘We ask Mary, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother, to protect all the mothers who, together with their husbands, educate their children in a harmonious family context, and those who, for many reasons, are alone in facing such a difficult task.’"

Pope Francis, the member of the Clergy of Mozambique’s Lichinga Diocese said, has continually defended “acceptance and mercy.”

“The pastoral line of Pope Francis is very clear and known to most. From his gestures and documents, Pope Francis defends acceptance and mercy and not the pastoral 'of the customs of faith,'” Fr. Sapato told participants during the March 8 IMBISA session.

For Pope Francis, he added, “There is no 'single mother', because 'single mother' is not a marital status, so there is only a mother.”

The Holy Father, the Catholic Priest continued, “is well known for his 'revolutionary' doctrine of the 'outgoing Church'. An outgoing Church is one that crosses the torrent of Cedron, as Jesus did during his passion, one that comes out of the safe environment, accepts the risk to search for the greater good.”


In the March 8 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Sapato shared about the reaction he received from participants in the IMBISA online session earlier in the day saying, “I was pleasantly surprised with today’s reactions, especially from participants from Mozambique who showed their support, and concern regarding the matter.”

He added, “One of the participants proposed that Bishops throughout the continent find a common pastoral line to respond to such cases of marginalization.” 

The Coordinator of IMBISA Pastoral Department continued in reference to the challenges single mothers undergo in South Africa, “The overall sentiment is to overcome this phenomenon.”

“It is necessary to re-address the pastoral attitude that some Christian communities take towards 'single mothers', because (it) is not aligned with the theological vision of the Church as Family; it’s important that we put Pope Francis words of ‘welcoming’ into action”, Fr. Sapato told ACI Africa March 8.

Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.