Praise God! Our pro-life training conference here in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania has been a great success. Dr. Brian Clowes, Emil Hagamu and I have been sharing with regional pro-life leaders what we’ve learned in our travels about the tactics and well-known strategies of the population control industry and what has worked in stopping them.
Getting to spend time with our country directors from the region has been wonderful-Brian and I are uplifted by their energy and inspired by their ideas. We have some powerful partners, who, in collaboration with Mr. Hagamu, are spreading the Gospel of Life and holding political leaders accountable. It is an honor to serve in this mission alongside them, to add the knowledge of the Church’s social and moral doctrine with the reality of the fight for life and family to their already flourishing faith and work.
It was also a joy to meet with Polycarp Cardinal Pengo, Archbishop of Dar es Salaam; a consistent and strong defender of Christ and his Church. When Cardinal Pengo was elevated to archbishop in 1992, he announced his goal of expanding from 25 parishes to 100. There are now 101, and priestly and religious vocations are flourishing as well. We visited one Church under construction that will accommodate over 1,500 people.
Life and Family: Signs of a Living Faith
So, yes, you could say that the Church is alive here! Even large parishes often have several Masses on Sunday, each one filled to the doors. You should hear the singing! Many of the seminaries are overflowing with young men eager to give their lives to Christ in the priesthood. Shepherds like Cardinal Pengo and Cardinal Sarah defend the Church and her teachings openly and without apology. They often take time to personally spend time with the faithful in parishes. Families have more children and there is much less divorce than we suffer in the U.S. There are certainly social problems here, not least of which is the extreme poverty that some suffer. The billions spent annually by the “development” industry to attack life and family have certainly taken a toll, but the Church and many community leaders are putting up a brave fight. Simply put, the Church in Africa is joyful and confident, alive and growing.
Contrast this picture with that of the Church in Germany. A report was released by the bishops’ conference last Friday showing the catastrophic decline in Mass attendance, and sacramental practice. This isn’t exactly surprising, but it is very sad. What was perhaps surprising to some was the statement put out by the head of the German bishops’ conference, which took the bleak report as a sign that the Church in Germany is on the right track, that she is a “strong force, whose message is heard and accepted.”
So much could be said here, and it is important that we don’t leave charity aside as we consider what message is being heard via the Church in Germany. There are undoubtedly a huge number of factors and a lot of history behind these statistics, none of which can be laid at any one person’s feet. But charity does not allow, much less require, intentional blindness.
We’ve heard quite a bit in the last few years from several (not all) German bishops about how, when the Church and the world disagree, it is the Church that must change to fit the world. When settled doctrine makes the world and worldly uncomfortable, the Church must, out of “compassion,” put doctrine aside and devise “pastoral practices” that are more welcoming to people who, understandably, don’t want to change their lifestyles.
In the World, Not of It
Saint Paul tells the early Church and us in Romans 12:
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him.
And this, from Our Lord in John 15:
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
This last passage comes from the famous “love discourse” of St. John’s Gospel. Jesus does not warn of the world’s hatred merely to provoke: He was telling His Apostles and us the cost of loving Him. Can you imagine being among the Apostles when Jesus was preparing them for what would be His greatest act of love, His passion and death on the cross? They were in the presence of God Himself, the Son who was already pouring out His Sacred Heart to His friends, a group who could not yet understand all that was going to happen.
Our Lord was not telling them to develop more “sophisticated” pastoral tools to make their message seem less offensive to a hostile culture. He was telling them to be ready to die for love, because they would be living for Love Himself.
God or Nothing
I’ve been using Cardinal Sarah’s book, God or Nothing, in some of our reflections with the priests and seminarians here in Dar es Salaam. One passage we have discussed comes from page 244:
God is truth; through his Son, he intends to draw us toward this truth. Attachment to and love of the truth are the most authentic, the most righteous, and the noblest attitude that a man could ever want on this earth. Conversely, the absence of truth is man’s real poverty, for the rejection of the truth paralyzes and falsifies his activity. Thus, the man who is not in the truth of God finds himself a prisoner of his own ego. Without truth, we are strangers to ourselves, cut off from the depths of our being, cut off from God, prisoners in our own darkness.
Where the Church insists that love be united with truth, the Church is alive. Where the Church is alive, families can flourish; chastity is joyfully lived, trumping the incessant push for contraception and abortion. The Church does not obsess over how to make the Gospel less offensive, she confidently preaches the truth of Christ in love. She won’t be given billions by the government when she does this; indeed, she will often be hated by worldly powers. But her churches will be full and she will have priests ready to live and die for Christ and His people.
A Church Alive
We raise these points here not to shame anyone or stoke controversy. Rather, we hope to challenge. Faithful Catholics gain nothing when a nation sees a near complete collapse of the faith, and we lose much-all of us. We need to pray unceasingly for conversions inside and outside the Church, and for those souls who, never having heard the truth, go looking for it elsewhere.
But let us learn! Where the Church conforms to the world, she may become wealthy and powerful, but she will hollow out from the inside. That’s not what she was made for. When she keeps her eyes on Christ and our eternal destiny, allowing His love through His word, the sacraments, and loving service to one another, to radiate into our present and transform lives today, she is alive and growing. She will be a sign of contradiction to the world, a beacon of truth and a target of attack. Her sign is the cross, upon which Love died and defeated death, giving eternal life to all who Love Him.
The archdiocese here has grown from 25 parishes to 101 in less than a quarter century. I wish you could see the Church alive here with me. I’ll share more of our mission going forward, and as always I am deeply grateful for your prayers and financial support that makes our mission possible.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Father Shenan J. Boquet
President, Human Life International