I am searching for the right channed to convey my contribution to the consultation the Pope has invited on matters to be discussed in the coming Synod of Bishops, on marriage and sexuality.
Africa, or southern Africa, which is all I know, has its own problems with Church discipline on mariage. Here, getting married is not an event. It is a long process, concerned with relationships between two families that continue developing throughout the life of a married couple. At what point in this process does a western-style church wedding event become appropriate? At what stage will that wedding be allowed, for example, by a father who is trying to extract the maximum bride price for his daughter?
These questions suggest that a very different way of recognising a developing marriage is called for. Couples are currently barred from communion till they marry in church, which makes the Eucharist into something Pope Francis reminds us it is not: a reward for achievement. If the sacraments are means to spiritual growth, surely young people need the Eucharist most when they are working towards what is probably the most important decision many of them will make in their whole lives?
As it is, those who live together “without the blessing of the Church” but are observing the traditional customs, are not considered sinners. Rather, people consider a church wedding a status symbol supported by some strange foreign church rules. That does no good to either married couples or the hierarchical church.