Cardinal Napier: Pope Can Only Do So Much; Changes Must Happen Locally

South African Prelate Also Shares How His People Know How to Celebrate Their Faith

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Even if Pope Francis’ dedication and efforts have a great impact, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier is convinced that, in order to bring the family to a new level, those on a local level must step it up.

In an interview this week with ZENIT, the South African cardinal and Synod Father for the “B” English discussion group, who was just appointed to the writing committee, representing Africa, shares why movements and individual members of families need to play their part, especially, he says, men.

Moreover, the South African prelate shares with ZENIT what the biggest issues are facing African families and the positive developments he feels can be achieved before the next Synod. He also says he believes the Holy Father is responding to their difficulties, as well as what the rest of the world can learn from Africa’s families.

ZENIT: What do you believe are the biggest challenges to the family in Africa? Is the synod addressing how to best handle them?

The chief problem facing the family in Africa is a global culture which is unraveling the social fabric of African society in general and the family in particular. Economic realities take many fathers, and increasingly mothers as well, away from the family. As a result grandparents, especially grannies, find themselves replacing mothers and fathers as they bring up the next generation. Sometimes this is compounded by the effects of HIV/AIDS when orphaned children are left caring for younger siblings. In such cases not only is the children’s education compromised, but they are also forced to play the role of adults when they are still children.

A second major issue affecting families in Africa is the disruption of life caused by political conflict, wars and other social upheavals. 

I think the Synod is addressing these and other family problems by calling for the initiation or the renewal of family ministries.

ZENIT: At the press conference, you stressed how important it is to already have concrete, positive developments before the next synod [in Oct. 2015]. Which positive developments do you expect to see? How will they be implemented?

Cardinal Napier: In the Southern African Region, we have dedicated 2014 to 2016 as a triennium for the family. We already have special prayers for the family, but we would like to see family prayer become once again the central activity of the family’s day. We are trying to inspire family movements, associations and sodalities to become active in promoting Catholic family life and spirituality. But in particular we would like to lead Catholic men as heads of their families to organize themselves into groups, associations, or even small activist units dedicated to stopping the scourge of abuse in the home and in society. 

ZENIT: How is Pope Francis responding to the challenges of the family, in the synod? How does he/should he respond for African families?

Cardinal Napier: While Pope Francis is making a big impact on all and sundry in the world and in Africa, I think it’s a little unrealistic to expect him to carry forward the initiatives and projects that are needed to lift the family to a higher level. So it’s up to the local Church to take up and do the hard ground work. That’s why we need movements, etc.

Where Pope Francis can help is by continuing to challenge each and every Catholic, indeed every person of good will, to personal repentance and a new way of life, modeled on Jesus and his Church. 

ZENIT: What can the world learn from African families? In what ways, can the families of your continent be role models to other families worldwide?

Cardinal Napier: One of the first and most important features of the African family is openness and love for children. This is certainly something that Africa can show the world — how to value new and young life. 

Another is how to celebrate even when oppressed by poverty and want. 

A third area is how to live one’s real and lived experience of needing God in one’s day to day life. If Africans have something they can share with the world, especially the post-Christian West, it is how to live and celebrate your faith in God. 

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': or

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