‘God Himself is the author of matrimony’, we read in Gaudium et Spes (48.1) and Saint John Paul II tells us: ‘The family is the way of the Church and of humanity’. But we have to learn to live together in marriage and in the family. In Africa the family apostolate is a major topic, not least because of the forthcoming Synod.

Working together with the archdiocese of Gitega in Burundi, the African Family Life Federation (Fédération Africaine d’Action Familiale) has developed a two-year programme to help young women and men to come to see the great dignity of the married vocation and the happiness that can grow from this for the family – despite living through warfare and crises in this country in the heart of Africa.

A year ago the first course welcomed 1,495 participants – this year there were 7,624. It attracts young people and young couples who want to know why life is sacred, why women possess no lesser dignity than men, why the Church recognises natural methods of family planning as good and artificial methods as contrary to human nature; why fidelity should not be beyond the capacity of any person, and why marriage and family represent the ‘masterpiece of God’ as Pope Francis puts it.

The answers are delivered by 60 fully trained catechists. The cost of running the training sessions and meetings is an investment in the future. But it is one that the archdiocese itself cannot bear alone. We have promised to help. Now the programme is due to launch in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well.

In six dioceses in Zambia the African Family Life Federation is running a programme that goes still further. Here 216 married couples are being trained as moderators to answer questions about marriage and the family. In doing so they make use of ‘Living Marriage and Family Life to the Full’, a handbook especially devised for this course.

Among other things it contains suggested questions for discussion in small groups, for example: ‘What is freedom in the context of married love?’ Or: ‘What are the reasons why some couples want few children or none at all?’ The handbook places sexuality in the context of marriage, celibacy and virginity; it emphasises the significance of parenthood as co-creation with God; it seeks to promote stability within families, the avoidance of risks to health, the exclusion of violence within marriage, the strengthening of fidelity and responsibility, the eradication of child prostitution, forced marriages, and child labour.

There is no topic that is not addressed in this handbook. It is like a user’s manual for the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which states: ‘Married love particularly reveals its true nature and nobility when we realise that it takes its origin from God, who “is love”.’ (No. 8). We have promised to support the training courses based on this handbook, which is also intended for use in other countries.

This article can be found in Mirror 0615.