The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) have unveiled God’s purpose for love and marriage with a call on the people of God in the West African nation to promote life and family values.

This came to the fore at the national conference of the Family, Health and Human Life Unit (FHLU) which held on 23 May at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Durumi – Abuja, the nation’s capital.

The Auxiliary Bishop of Minna and Committee Chairman, FHLU, Luka Sylvester Gopep who made the position known while delivering a keynote address at the 2023 annual meeting and workshop tagged “strengthening martial love amidst the challenging realities of the modern word,” disclosed that, “The Family and Human Life Unit has been given a huge task by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN).

“It is the duty of promoting the virtue of love and marriage in our communities through the Family and Human Life Committees in our Diocese and Congregations, as well as, in the various organizations we belong.”

According to him, “We are called to defend the institution of marriage and be a source of support to those who are in the vocation of married life.”

In his presentation titled, “”God’s plan for love and marriage,” the Bishop said, “You all will agree with me that the call to duty is urgent because of the state of marriage in our society and world at present.

“We have seen how the virtue of authentic love which supports and upholds marriage is crumbling and in its stead is the rapid rise of the vices of selfishness and destructive ambitions.”

Insulate marriage and the family from modern cancers

On modern viruses destroying marriage and the family, the cleric underlined that, “These are growing fast and spreading like cancer on a mission to destroy the institution of marriage. Today the words of Pope St John Paul II come to mind when he wrote that failing to submit to and believe in the love of another are the first and last failures of humans living in a fallen world (From: Man and Woman He created them: A Theology of the Body 17.5).”

He called for “collaboration with other pro-marriage/life organizations around us to renew the vocation of marriage and strengthen its structures in the society.”

Citing concrete examples of how to slavage the institution of marraige, the Church Father stated that, “We are to help married couples in our various Dioceses, arch diocese and communities to rekindle the flame of the love of their married lives and to fan it to become sources of light to other marriages especially those experiencing difficulties.

“We are to utilize the structures of the Church including parish communities, Church institutions and the various organizations to enlighten people on God’s plan for love and marriage.”

He underscored the fact “that marriage has undergone different variations and mutations down the years in accordance with changes in the society” stressing that “these changes are not for the good of marriage and conjugal love (cf: CCC 1603).”

Approach love, marriage “with a sense of mission”

The keynote address highlighted fostering the core meaning of love and marriage with a sense of mission.

His words: “As those sharing in the mission of Christ, it is our duty to teach and emphasis the true and authentic concept and meaning of love and marriage. We need to do it fast and with an urgent sense of mission before it is too late.”

The Auxiliary Bishop lamented that, “Today there are also many ideologies like the same-sex phenomenon, the craze to legalize anti-life and anti-family unions raging in different countries of the world. They are coming on us gradually but fast.”

Re-echoing the need for effective abd efficient marriage preparation and counselling, the Bishop stated that, “We are to accompany those who desire to enter into the vocation of marriage through an effectively organized marriage preparation system.

“This is to include both the pre-marriage instruction programme and a post-marriage accompaniment programme. Such will aid those seeking to marry to make informed decisions and choices.”

He argued that, “this will also help our young ones especially the females to have a greater access to quality counseling and advice thereby reducing the chances of falling prey to the antics of pseudo-husbands and deceivers.”

Pertaining to the anxiety and fear most young undergo while attempting marriage, the conference keynote presenter observed that though, “marriage is not easy and the many breakdowns in marriage may become a source of anxiety and fear for the young people, it is our duty to become bulwarks of support and guidance to the newly married so that they will be able to find their feet in the early years of marriage which are filled with uncertainties and young couples may be prone to mistakes.”

God’s plan for marriage – Man and woman as focus

Reflecring on God’s plan, the Bishop said, “from the beginning is that man and woman are to come together, form a family, live in conjugal love for their own good and be open to procreation for the continuation and privilege of participation in God act of bringing the human race on the face of this earth. (cf: CCC 1601 & Can 1055 #1).”

Insisting that from the beginning “God created human beings and He made them male and female,” blessed their union, and charged them “to be fruitful and multiply (Cf. Gen 1:27-28),” the cleric emphasized that his “plan is that man and woman are to live as one in the state of marriage and bonded by love.

“The bond of love in marriage flows from the love God has for us which we experience in its fullness in Jesus Christ who came to save us because of love (cf John 3:16).”

He maintained that: “This Divine love is concretely placed before us as a model for Christian love in marriage and family through the everlasting bond and loving relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church.

“That is why St Paul wrote that married men are to loves their wives as Jesus Christ loved His Church (cf: Eph 5:22 – 25). The Church teaches us that God who is Love created man and woman in love. He blessed their mutual love for each other and intended it to be fruitful (see: CCC 1604).”

He buttressed the fact that, “This fruitfulness is authentic and makes meaning in the context of marriage and the formation of a family.

“This means that this love naturally draws them to be disposed to God’s continuing creative work in procreation and the formation/upbringing of children.”

The prelate urged all to utilize the opportunity to entrench God’s plan for marriage and the family.

Empowerment, countering negative narratives as panacea

“Let me encourage all of us to utilize the opportunity provided by this meeting to equip/re-equip ourselves and renew our commitment to the promotion of God’s plan for love and marriage,” Gopep said.

Speaking further, the 57-year-old Bishop underlined that, “There are many resources that will be at our disposal during these meeting including sharing and connecting with one another” stressing that “Such collaborations will make our work easier and less burdensome if we can reach out and make use of the expertise, wealth of knowledge and experiences of those around us.”

On empowering one another, the cleric said: “It is my hope that at the end of this meeting, all of us will be empowered to scale up our work in our various Dioceses, archdiocese and communities in Nigeria.”

He further urged all to change the negative narratives of our time saying, “Let us make our presence during this meeting count positively to the turnaround of the various negative and scary narratives concerning love and marriage in our communities.”

In their separate goodwill messages, the Director of Church and Society, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN), Fr. Dr. Uchechukwu Obdoechina and National Secretary, FHLU at the CSN, Sr. Mary Rosanna Amenusiobi, IHM pledged the committees’ commitment to fostering family values while urging all to take home lessons learnt.

At the gathering which had provincial and diocesan chaplains, other distinguished guests, and friends of FHLU drawn from different dioceses, congregations, communities and organisations across the country, participants left with a commitment “to go back to the source of marriage,” by further reflecting “on the God’s plan for marriage and love which is the force for couples who live in the [state of] marital” bliss.

Justine John Dyikuk, a Catholic priest, is a lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Nigeria, a Senior Fellow, International Religious Freedom Policy, Religious Freedom Institute (RFI), Washington DC and PhD Candidate, University of Strathclyde Glasgow, United Kingdom.