Among the Liberian victims of the Ebloa epidemic last year were scores of
single mothers who left young families behind. Photo: Plan UK


Families in the West face problems different to those in African countries, as some of the African participants in the recent Vatican Synod on the Family pointed out. And yet the mainstream media paid very little attention to these voices. At the end of the three-week event, Bishop Anthony Borwah of Gbarnga, Liberia (pictured below), spoke with Fabrizio Piciarelli of Rome-based Family and Media about the challenges facing the family in his country.

Bishop Borwah, who lost who lost two brothers in Liberia’s first civil war (1987-1990), wrote his Licentiate thesis in the Communications School of the Pontifical Cross of the Holy Cross on the media and  conflict. It is entitled: The Role of Journalism in the Promotion of Peace. An Analysis of News Coverage in the Liberia, Sierra Leone and Rwanda Conflicts. Last year he could not attend the first session of the Synod on the Family because of the Ebola outbreak which devastated Liberia.

Could you tell us what are the principal challenges that families face in your country?

The challenges that afflict families in Liberia are enormous, ranging from the socio-economic to the cultural and anthropological. Within the cultural-anthropological context, there have been a lot of changes in the traditional philosophy. Typically, the family in Liberia has been viewed as a locus of communion for human beings; a place that one turns to for acceptance, love, care and safety; a hearth within and around which family members – often the extended  family– sit to tell young people wisdom tales.

These recount the heroism of the ancestors and the natural relationship between human beings and animals and the rest of Creation, a harmony that was disrupted by human beings because of their refusal to obey God or the norms of society. The traditional family was one in which life, fecundity and children were regarded as gifts from the Eternal Creator that dwells beyond the high clouds; and it was an oasis of peace where all conflicts – no matter the nature – were settled.

The trends are turning the other way. This vision of the family is fast disappearing due partly to the failure of the older generations to instil discipline in the children, and partly to Western media and cultural impositions.

Life, for example, is no longer sacred as thousands of abortions are performed, with impunity, even by many Christians; ritualistic killings are common too. Contraceptives are all over the place, so much so that some school kids are having implants inserted that would prevent them from getting pregnant for five years. So sex is no longer sacred. As individualism creeps in, the sense of community is fast disappearing and loneliness settles in. The sacredness of the human person, that was at the heart of the family philosophy, is waning. In short, families in Liberia are slowly but gradually sinking into the cultural and moral decadence that the West is already experiencing.

Looking at Europe, we see that youth are less inclined to enter into marriage, or at least it’s a commitment which is being postponed. In your country, does the institution of marriage have a central role in the life of the people and society, or is it in crisis as well?

As mentioned above, sadly, the institution of marriage that was a universe of civility is no longer the same. The majority of young people are suspicious of marriage life, which they see as a restriction on their freedom to have many sexual partners and treat their body as they choose. For some who come from homes with serious domestic violence, it is conclusive: they will not attempt marriage. For some who are married, separation or divorce is a desirable option.

The Church is called to announce the Good News to all people, embracing the different cultures. How should the Church announce the Gospel of the family in Liberia?

We need to go back to the beginning. No sound evangelization and inculturation have ever been done in Liberia. This is a problem, as the average Liberian dreams of being American rather than a Liberian, just as it was the dream of our founding fathers who carved our constitution, flag and way of life based on American models. One can understand that they were ex-slaves from the sugar cane plantations in America, and America is what they knew.

What we need to do is to improve the quality of education for our young people to one that would propel them to have a sense of self-respect, acceptance and belief in themselves and in God. Evangelization must help to recreate or redefine our culture and permeate it with Gospel values and virtues. Until we succeed in proclaiming the Gospel of the family in our various cultures I do not see any future.

Poverty, war and violent intolerance under the guise of religion affect family life in many countries throughout the world. The Pope has reminded us of this frequently, even recalling it at his recent meeting with families in Philadelphia. Were these themes central at the Synod?

At the Synod participants come from diverse back grounds and this reality is reflected in the interventions. Many speakers – including me – spoke about violent conflicts that have reduced people to paupers, sex slaves, unwanted migrants and refugees. The plight of the poor is at the heart of many speeches given in the synod hall.

In our world we do not only have wars, violence and intolerance created and perpetrated under the disguise of religion; we also have situations in which wars are created by the powers that be for economic, political, ideological and other reasons. We also have the phenomenon called “false flag”, wherein violent acts are created and are blamed on some individual, groups or nations, a recipe to get even with the perceived enemy or to steal their resources. How many families are now being destroyed in these orchestrated wars! Many synod fathers are aware of these unfortunate realities.

The Pope has spoken of cultural colonization in some countries in connection with the family. At the synod, some African bishops denounced contraceptive policies promoted by international agencies, the promotion of “gender ideology”, etc. Why is it that these arguments do not seem to appear in international media? What has Africa offered to enrich the debate?

In Africa, almost all the bishops are unanimous: we denounce gender ideology, the culture of death that is being imposed on us, ostentatious homosexuality, the continuous exploitation of our resources and the creation of wars by the powers that be to steal from the poor. We are presently engaging the United Nations and leaders of Africa to express our concern and rejection of a plan that the UN is harnessing to impose these vile practices on every African country, under the threat of imposing economic and other sanctions on the countries that would not comply. For the Church, this is a sophisticated type of persecution. It is time for the spirit of martyrdom to rise in the Church again for the cause of God and humanity.

Looking at the family in general and not only the situation in your country, what are the problems linked to the family, which, according to you, require particular attention? What do you consider especially urgent, on a universal scale?

The quality of love between couples even before marriage needs proper examination. Love is not a mere feeling, or gratification, but above all act of the will. There is a human void coupled with the absence of God and a loss of meaning that are eating deeply into the heart of many in our world today. People have to come to realize that money, materialism and the obsession with sex widen this void. With these realities people are becoming less and less spiritual, and godless. This situation is a recipe for the exploitation of others with impunity and the loss of meaning in everything, even love and marriage.

Human beings must return to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the only truth. Western civilization was built by monks, priests, nuns and other churchmen and women for a thousand years. They did so on the basis of the Gospel. The reason for the Western and global decadence is many people’s abhorrence of the Gospel that was once the rock from which they were hewn. Ours, therefore, is a spiritual problem that only the finger of God can heal. Returning to the Gospel is a matter of burning urgency for humanity.

This interview is an edited version of one published by Family and Media