A Letter from Africa: “The Church must be a sign of contradiction”

A young Dominican priest in Kenya shares his thoughts on the recent Synod and the challenges facing Catholics in the West and in Africa

Last week, I received a letter from Fr. Leo S. I. Mwenda, OP, a young Dominican who was ordained to the priesthood in April 2014. Fr. Mwenda has a Masters in Theology and is, he told me, “currently doing parochial ministry as a Curate at St. Catherine of Siena Parish and Campus ministry at the University of Nairobi—School of Business in Nairobi-Kenya.” Below is the majority of his letter, which has been edited slightly for readability:

In his interview with Zenit (October 15, 2014 [see, “Card. Kasper denies he gave interview. Journalist posts recording of interview,” CWR, Oct 16, 2014]), Cardinal Walter Kasper declared that the Church in Europe had nothing to learn from the Church in Africa, on matters family. He did not put it exactly that way, but that is the meaning I deciphered from his statements. The Synod was meant to address family questions in the Church (which is universal) but the likes of Kasper wanted to make it “a synod on the European families”. … Cardinal Kasper cannot remain fixated in Germany with little or no understanding of the world outside of Europe and expect us to listen to him.

As a shepherd of the people of God, he is must be willing to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ who did not hesitate to upset the culture and the feelings of his own people to communicate the saving truth. The Church, just like Jesus our Lord and Master, must be a sign of contradiction.

In my country, Kenya, which is probably the second most secularized country in Africa (after South Africa), the media is awash with debates on the possibilities of legally recognizing homosexual associations. Of course, the homosexual activism is being funded by similar groups in North America and Europe. Some of our people have been made to believe that this is what progress means, but fortunately the public mood is still opposed to the homosexual agenda. We in Africa have no apologies to make to anyone about this attitude—not because it is a taboo, as Kasper would put it, but because homosexuality is repugnant to right reason and contrary to God’s intention for human sexuality.

Needless to say, the family in Africa has its own share of problems to deal with. The problems of polygamy, infertility and barrenness, lingering influences from African traditional religions, civil strifes that disintegrate families, and poverty quickly come to mind. As shepherds of the people of God in Africa, we must love our people in their complicated family situations, but this love must not be devoid of the truth of who they are and who God has created them to be. In fact, this would not be love at all, for as Pope Benedict XVI said in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate (par 2), this would be a counterfeit. I agree with the principle of being close to families in difficult situations, not to affirm them in their current situation, but to encourage and even challenge them to stand up and look at the destination that God has ordained for them.

Having said that, let me also make it clear that it is our business in Africa to feel with and offer whatever help we can to the troubled families of our brothers and sisters in Europe, the Americas, and indeed in the whole world. Despite our meager material resources, we still can share the little food we have with our brothers and sisters in North Africa, the Middle East, and wherever Christian families are on the run because of religious persecution. We can offer intellectual and spiritual support to our brothers and sisters in Europe and North America. A lot of people in these countries have become intellectually blinded by a spiritual aridity from a hostile secularist offensive on the Church. Despite great advances in science and technology in the West, a lot of people have been thrown into confusion … Reality has become badly fragmented and people are groping in the dark, searching for the ultimate meaning of human existence.

A lot of people don’t know that this ultimate meaning is to be found in the Catholic Church, which presents Jesus Christ as the answer, and that is why this Synod would do a great injustice to the Christian family (especially in the West), if it joined the reasoning of the world, instead of the reasoning of Christ. Any attempts to conform with the spirit of the world does not improve the Church, but in fact kills her. … The reason why compromise with the world makes the Church deteriorate rather than blossom is because of what Paul describes as “beginning with the Spirit but ending in the flesh” (Gal 3:3). It is a different kind of “gospel” that drives the spirit by the body and not the body by the Spirit. Too much immersion into materialism and fanning of bodily appetites obscures the spiritual end for which man is created: God. This is not Gnostic dualism, because living in the spirit is what places our bodies and the materiality of this universe into their proper place in the economy of salvation. We preach Jesus and him crucified, because it is the Cross that finally becomes the doorway to Jesus Christ glorified.

I do not underestimate the sufferings of people who have found themselves with homosexual orientation (whether acquired by nurture or of biological origin), especially when they want to remain faithful to the Gospel of Christ received through the Church. We do not help them by denying their cross. We deny their cross by falsely purporting that their orientation is not a disorder. We deny their cross by falsifying the eternal truth about marriage as ordained by God and written in the book of nature, so as not to “hurt” the feelings of our brothers and sisters living with this orientation. When we deny their cross, we blind them with an illusory contentment that only frustrates them because in the depth of their being, they know that they are being lied to or they are lying to themselves. On the contrary, when we charitably acknowledge their cross we fill them with a courageous hope that earnestly looks forward to the deliverance of God. Their sufferings become redemptive.

Just a few words about divorced and ‘remarried’ Catholics receiving communion, it is important to note that this too is a situation that many Catholics of good will have found themselves in. … Do Catholics really understand the kind of commitment called for in marriage? Are they coming into marriage with any sense of sacrifice? Do they know where to get the spiritual resources required for sustaining a Christian marriage? Do they understand that the Christian vision of marriage is totally different from the worldly/secular vision of marriage? Does the Church need to change her style of communication and pedagogy for better results? …

To help those who are already divorced and remarried and wishing to be in full communion with the Church, it is good for to be told and understand that God’s love for them is great even in their situations. Their desire for Holy Communion must be born of an authentic spiritual yearning and not from a worldly sense of alienation that our generation calls discrimination. It is in this authentic yearning that the love of God is continuously calling them to take concrete steps to open the door of their lives for God to heal and nurse them. While the Church might be able to help some of her children by easing a bit the process of annulments … the individuals themselves cannot escape the responsibility of making some hard choices. In some cases the real marriage may need to be recovered by forsaking the counterfeit, while in other cases (especially where children are involved), a choice of continence may be made. If this is impossible, the couple may have to remain clinging to the foot of the Cross, praying and hoping for God’s deliverance at the proper time.

As such they are not outsiders in the Church but signs manifesting the brokenness of our humanity, which is part and parcel of the Church. We all share in this brokenness and their lives become a prayer of the whole Church raised up to heaven for deliverance. Their inability to receive Holy Communion then becomes not a death sentence, but manifestation of the holiness of God in contrast to our brokenness. It is more beneficial for them and indeed for the whole Church because it stands as a sign of continued salvation, and a reason for a trusting expectation.

— FR. LEO S. I. MWENDA, OP
A priest of the Order of Preachers, doing Parish ministry (St. Catherine of Siena Parish) in Nairobi – Kenya.

About Carl E. Olson 1048 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind", co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Word on Fire. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.