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Family is all we have, Catholic Bishop Says at Southern Africa’s Marriage Campaign Launch

A poster announcing the Marriage Awareness campaign Weeks in South Africa. Credit: Courtesy Photo

Everything, except family, seems to have been taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic, a member of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) has said at the launch of the marriage awareness campaign in the three-nation ecclesiastical region.

In a message that was obtained by ACI Africa ahead of the Sunday, August 22 launch of the campaign organized by SACBC, Bishop Joao Rodriguez of the Catholic Diocese of Tzaneen in South Africa underscores the need to strengthen marriages and families, which he says are all that people have left.

“The role that we have even during these difficult times is to support families. Family life in particular is an important place for formation and faith growth. It is the one place that has remained with us,” Bishop Rodriguez says.

“Even during the pandemic, we are always confined to our homes. I would say that in a way, this is a blessing,” the Liaison Bishop for Marriage and Family Life says, and adds, “It would be good for more and more Catholics to spread the word and to make it known that there are these Sundays coming up now for marriage awareness that can help for married couples and also the family life in general.”

The Marriage Awareness Campaign in the Church in the Southern African region that comprises Botswana, Eswatini, and South Africa started on Sunday, August 22 and is expected to run until October 9.

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Information provided by the SACBC website indicates that the program is scheduled to run on Sundays on Radio Veritas between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. and on Thursdays on SACBC Facebook Live respectively, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Bishop Rodriguez said that his office’s pastoral encounter has established the gap in families, which the marriage campaign intends to address.

“Most of us who are involved pastorally with families and marriages are aware that there is always a need to support, to help, and especially to give marriage couples and parents the help that they need to be faithful to the vocation because to us as a Church, marriage is a vocation; it is a calling of God. It is celebrated as a Holy sacrament,” the South African Bishop says in a message that was shared with ACI Africa on Friday, August 20.

He added, “We understand that marriage is not something that is finished and some will be on the wedding day. In fact, one should see it the other way, that marriage is only the beginning of a lot of work and growth to be done in the marriage life and family life.”

In an August 19 report, the SACBC leadership highlights modern challenges facing families and the resulting break-ups and acknowledges that there are still successful relationships that act as a source of hope in the marriage institution.

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“While the statistics on marriage and family wellness may not be so encouraging nowadays, there are still marriages and families that are a shining example of hope; of what can be achieved. This is despite the problems and challenges they come across,” the Catholic Bishops of the three-nation Conference say.

They add, “Some marriages though are in trouble, believed to have ended, while some are about to collapse and that goes for families in general too.”

The Catholic Bishops in Botswana, Eswatini, and South Africa have pledged to provide their pastoral guidance to the institution of marriage through the SACBC’ Marriage and Family Life Office “as a sign of their firm belief and support of the institution of marriage and family.”

Themes for the campaign that have been spread across the various weeks through which the program will run, will include God’s purpose for marriage, choosing a right partner, and marriage as between a man and a woman.

Other themes for the awareness include marriage as a sacrament and the importance of matrimonial ceremony, procreation and rearing of children, reconciliation in marriage, and till death do us part.

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“The Sunday sessions will focus on Scriptural passages whose reflections and intercessions will be offered by various Priests and Bishops,” the information on the SACBC website indicates.

The Thursday sessions, SACBC members say, “will be offered by different speakers in different marital statuses and a Priest.”

“This awareness will conclude with the celebration of a Holy Mass on October 9,” members of the three-nation Conference say.

Meanwhile, Bishop Rodriguez has called upon the people of God in Southern Africa to adapt to new channels of communication, including those through which the marriage campaign will run.

“We live in very difficult times. This pandemic has really hit us hard. Even as a Church, it is really a challenge to us,” the native of Cape Town says, and adds, “Certainly, using radio, internet and zoom has been very helpful and I would certainly encourage Catholics to make use of the available means we have just to strengthen, to encourage and to support our faith.”

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“We have been tested, our faith has been tested. I would say that this is a purifying time for us where you either become better or worse after such challenges. My prayer is that we will always become better people, better Catholics because of the pandemic rather than worse,” the South African Bishop who has been at the helm of Tzaneen Diocese since April 2010 said.