The Pro-Life Fight in Tanzania: Signs of Hope

International   |   Father Peter West   |   Jan 13, 2012   |   6:09PM   |   Washington, DC

When I was ordained a priest twenty years ago, I never imagined myself deplaning in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on a mid-December day. Although it was at the beginning of their hot season, it was not very different than a hot, humid summer day in New York City.

While the flight was uneventful, the drive with my new friends to our accommodations was not – the streets are poorly paved, and the drivers consider traffic rules more like suggestions that they are free to ignore.

The harrowing drives notwithstanding, I found the people to be friendly and welcoming, and possessing a formality and dignity that we in the wealthy West would do well to remember. Most of the people speak English, but their first language is Swahili. I memorized a few Swahili words and phrase such as “jambo” for hello and “asante” for thank you. With the help of some new friends, I even managed to memorize the first half of the Lord’s prayer in their native tongue!

This was my first trip to Africa, and my second trip abroad since joining Human Life International (HLI) last September. The objective was to bolster the efforts of our regional coordinator in spreading the Gospel of Life. The pro-family culture in Africa is constantly under threat from Western elites who wish to impose their anti-life agenda, usually in the form of population control (pardon me, “reproductive health”), although increasingly their efforts are aimed at redefining marriage much like they are doing in Western nations. On the positive side of the ledger, however, I found a strong pro-life community on my trip ready to engage the fight for life.

Dar es Salaam is home to HLI’s Regional Coordinator for English-Speaking Africa, Emil Hagamu, who has been a leader in the fight for life and family in his native Tanzania and around Africa for well over a decade. Together, we spoke with many people about the threat to family life posed by population control organizations based in Europe and the United States. Most of those whom we spoke to, especially the seminarians, were very eager to learn more about promoting a Culture of Life in their community.

Since joining HLI, I have assumed responsibility for our Seminarians for Life program, which helps to educate future priests around the world. Speaking with seminarians about how we can help spread the Gospel of Life, I learned that many were already very well organized. One energetic young man in Peramiho, Tanzania, showed me a lengthy educational newsletter that the seminarians themselves produce with the help of HLI’s research. About half of the articles were written in English and the other half were in Swahili. This particular issue had many articles about natural family planning, the gift of life and the case against condoms.

I was also blessed to address pro-life and pro-family leaders from all over Tanzania, along with representatives from Kenya, Zimbabwe and Malawi. They had gathered for a pro-life conference in the city of Bunju, and during the conference I was struck by the faith of the people and their determination to protect their way of life from pernicious outside forces.

Many were surprised and alarmed by the amount of money spent by population control groups to promote abortion, contraception and sterilization – amounts well into the billions spent in just the last decade alone. I assured my new friends that while these anti-life groups have money, pro-life Tanzanians have the power of the people on their side, because the African people believe in God and respect human life. Money does not always assure victory.

Next, we visited the city of Bagomoyo, and I’ll never forget the contrasting visions of life and death present in this small, forgotten corner of Africa. This city was the last stopping point for many slaves on the African continent before they were shipped to Zanzibar and then to Arabian and Asian lands, never to return to the African continent again.

I could not help but think about the history of this place, and how history repeats itself. Western slave traders in the 19th century sought to destroy Africa’s rich culture and society for personal gain and power, and it was Christian missionaries who helped bring an end to the slave trade. Indeed, Christianity has had such an impact in much of Africa that Africa now sends priests to dioceses in America, where we don’t have enough priests to serve in many parishes!

But here is the sad reality – in the 21st century, powerful elites in Europe and the United States are again attempting to destroy Africa’s culture and communities by seeking to impose population control on a continent whose people rely on their children for their social welfare. Western elites use their billions to promote population control, always with the Orwellian language of “reproductive health,” with reckless disregard for the cultures they are attacking.

The West is again pillaging Africa, and today’s Christian, pro-life missionaries are fighting to save these communities from annihilation and enslavement to the whims of the wealthy.

As Pope Benedict XVI said during his recent Apostolic visit to Benin:

Evangelization today takes the name of reconciliation, “an indispensable condition for instilling in Africa justice among men and women, and building a fair and lasting peace that respects each individual and all peoples; a peace that… is open to the contribution of all people of good will irrespective of their religious, ethnic, linguistic, cultural and social backgrounds.” (Africae munus, 174)

Those who run roughshod over the African culture in the name of “development” and “reproductive health” are not interested in peace.

But while there are those attacking the African culture from outside who must be fought, I also reminded those I met about the importance of reaching out to others in the community to sustain their life loving culture.

“Serious threats loom over human life in Africa,” the Holy Father reminded us in the same address. He called on us to directly address the “ethical problem” among the African people – many of whom suffer from the same culture of sexual license that we struggle with in the developed world. This, as the Holy Father stated, requires changes in attitudes to successfully defend life. “The change of behavior that it requires – for example, sexual abstinence, rejection of sexual promiscuity, fidelity within marriage – ultimately involves the question of integral development, which demands a global approach and a global response” in order to be effective.

I left Tanzania recognizing the tremendous challenges facing the people there, but also with hope for the future because of the many good pro-life and industrious people I met there. We pray for Emil, for the seminarians and clergy of Africa and for our new colleagues that their efforts to defend life and family would be fruitful and would be an example to us of an authentic Culture of Life. Note:  Reprinted with permission from Human Life International’s World Watch forum.