South Africa’s Cardinal Napier Sends Out Strong Message about “assault on the family”

Wilfrid Fox Cardinal Napier

The family is facing the “biggest and most serious crisis” in the world today, Wilfrid Fox Cardinal Napier has said, and warned that attacks against the family seek to decimate procreation.

In his presentation during a recent online conversation on the Synod on Synodality, Cardinal Napier observed that the family hurts the most when attacks are waged on the marriage institution.

“In the world of today the biggest and most serious crisis is precisely in the family. It starts with the all out attack on marriage, which is the basic and most fundamental element of human society,” the South African Cardinal said at the virtual event that brought together African theologians and experts, who seek to deepen the understanding of the Synthesis Report of the Synod on Synodality ahead of the 2-29 October 2024 session in Rome.

He said that the “assault on the family” goes further by “trying to deprive it of its most basic rights and duties.”

“We see this in the key areas of procreation, the nurturing and education of children. In our eyes, children are willed by God to be the creatures whom He wants to be most like Him, indeed His own image and likeness!” the Catholic Archbishop emeritus of South Africa’s Durban Archdiocese said during the June 14 event.


Participants at the virtual conversation that the Pan-African Catholic Theology and Pastoral Network (PACTPAN) organized in collaboration with the Conference of Major Superiors of Africa and Madagascar (COMSAM) explored the topic, “The Synodal Missionary Face of the Church Family of God in Africa”.

It was the second in a series of weekly conversations that the two entities have organized. Participants spoke of how the Church in Africa as a family of God is “coming of age”, and singled out African values that are enriching the synodal conversations.

In his input, Cardinal Napier said that Africa has a lot to teach the rest of the world what it means to be a family of God. 

He challenged those representing the Church in Africa in the second session of the Synod on Synodality to show others what it means to be full members of the Family of God, “precisely because they are from Africa.”

“If there is anything which I would love to see the African members and delegates at the Synod doing, it is that they take every opportunity to be radical images of God, who mirror God to others, by reflecting what it means to be full members of the Family of God, precisely because they are from Africa,” the 83-year-old Cardinal said.

More in Africa

He added, “Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict made a special point of underlining the fact that the two sessions of the Synod for Africa were occasions when the whole Church was engaged in prayerful reflection on what the Church in Africa is able to contribute most effectively, namely, how to be the Family of God at a time when the Family of Man is in deep crisis!”

He said that the weekly PACTPAN palaver series that is set to conclude on September 6 had already raised fond memories he has of the two Special Sessions of the Synod of Bishops for Africa in 1994 and in 2009. 

“Those Synods left an indelible mark on the mind and heart of most participants,” Cardinal Napier recounted, adding that the two Popes involved, St John Paul II and Benedict XVI, “often made fond references to the Church in Africa coming of age in itself and holding out the torch of hope to the universal Church.”

“For me those two Synods marked the coming of age of many African Church leaders themselves, especially in the courage which they showed by defining the Church which they were leading in a way that show how it would reflect their dreams and aspirations, but also the realities from which that Church was emerging in the different countries and peoples in which it was increasingly a force for good, not only for Africa but in the world,” he said.

He also clarified the meaning of the phrase “Church in Africa” saying, “Note that it is the Church in Africa, not the Church of Africa or the African Church, as if the Church which we are is confined to Africa! No!”


“This is the Church of Christ in Africa; Christ being manifested by the People of Africa who are His members. Christ in Africa, its countries and its People,” the Cardinal, who started his Episcopal Ministry in February 1981 as Bishop of South Africa’s Diocese of Kokstad said.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.