Representatives from the Pontifical Council for the Family gathered in the Republic of the Congo with over 40 bishops last week to discuss the state of families in Africa, highlighting both strengths and challenges they face. “The bishops are very glad and positive about the family because it is really the structure of African society,” Fr. Andrea Ciucci told CNA July 11, however “there are some problems not typically African but that Africa is learning from Europe and America.” A priest of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Fr. Ciucci traveled last week to Brazzaville, the capitol of the Republic of the Congo, along with the council’s president, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, to meet with the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Central Africa (ACERAC). Bishops from each of the six nations composing the ACERAC, Congo Brazzaville, Cameroon, Chad, Gabon, Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea, met alongside various other international bishops to discuss the theme of the family in Central Africa. “The bishops are very glad and positive about the family because it is really the structure of African society,” Fr. Ciucci observed, “but on the other side there are some problems.” Noting how there are “two typically African problems,” the priest explained that the first “is polygamy and the second one is the difficulty in putting together the three traditional ways of marriage in Africa.” There is “the traditional marriage, the legal marriage and the religious marriage,” the priest said, describing how central African bishops are trying to unite “these three ways of marriage.” Traditional marriage in Africa is less of a religious event so much as a cultural tradition where honor is given to the bride’s parents while the bride herself dresses up in flamboyant colors to impress her groom. Legal marriage is considered to be low-key yet crucially important in order to protect the couple's assets, while the religious wedding is the typically traditional marriage around the rest of the world that takes place in a church with a pastor and a bride wearing white. In addition to these challenges, Fr. Ciucci explained that gender identity is an increasing problem for the family in Africa, and is something that is not a natural phenomenon, but rather is being learned through technology and the internet. “(T)his way of understanding life is not an African problem, but all young African people are connected to the internet, so the younger ones are listening to this” and seeing this “way of humanity, sexuality, and the relationship between a man a woman.” Although the theory of the internet is “just a hypothesis,” the priest explained that questions regarding gender are very common in African youth, and  Church leaders there are “trying to understand this problem and how this culture of gender is penetrating in Africa and in the different generations of Africans.” Regarding current strategies local Church leaders are using to address these issues, Fr. Ciucci observed, “One of the tasks of the meeting of ACERAC is to produce a strategy, but we are waiting for the final document to see and to read the decision of the bishops” following the conference. The conference, he said, was particularly important for the family council because “it was a big occasion for the Pontifical Council for Family to meet this local church and to listen to the bishops and the stories of the families in that nation.” “For us it was a very important meeting, and I think it was also for the local Church, to discuss together and to listen to the perspectives of Rome and of the world on this very important theme, the family, which is also the theme of next year’s synod.”