“Now family planning is included.” One priest’s perspective on changes in his community
The Strengthening Couple-Centered Family Planning Project, supported by the John Templeton Foundation, sought to create a supportive environment for family planning through partnership with faith-based organizations (FBOs) and religious leaders. From 2016-2018, IRH supported FBOs in Rwanda and Uganda to expand their family planning services.
At least 200 million women and their partners around the world who would like to avoid pregnancy are not currently using a family planning method. For those couples who struggle with perceptions of opposition to method use from a social or religious perspective, engaging religious leaders and FBOs in family planning helped dispel that myth. In Rwanda, IRH and Action Familiale Rwandaise engaged Catholic Priests in sensitization workshops on healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies and family planning, and Catholic volunteers offered modern fertility awareness methods.
Interviewer: Can you tell me a little bit about your role as a priest in this parish?
Priest: I am the head priest. As the head priest you coordinate many things, all the activities related to preaching in the parish.
Interviewer: Can you tell me about the family planning sensitization session you attended?
Priest: I participated in that workshop at the diocese. We were many priests from different parts of the diocese. It was something we were prepared to do and that we wanted, especially for me, it was something I wanted since 2000.
We have learned many things. What I did not know is how those modern methods react in the body. I learned some information I did not know. This was like a discovery. When I have time I read the (material) again, and I also do a search on the internet. But in fact, it is the scientific side which was new to me.
[I liked that they] brought us together. Sometimes, you may be struggling with things, and you realize that you are not alone. When I first started to talk about [family planning] I went to the diocese and they told me that it was not possible. But now there is an office in charge of Action Familiale at the diocese whereas before it did not exist. Now [natural] family planning is included in the diocese’s strategic plan. Now we discuss that issue when we meet as priests and we ask ourselves what we can do and how the service is working. I am happy that all people have been sensitized.
Interviewer: How do you integrate family planning into your role as a priest?
Priest: I often try to talk about this topic at least once per month during different teachings such as on Sundays here at the parish or when I go in sub-parishes because most of the times I have many people. In addition, sometimes we have categories of teachings for the youth, men, and women again here at the parish and I talk about this topic. In teachings for young people who want a sacrament of marriage, we include topics about family planning.
We tell [the people about] all the methods, but as the church we end with the natural methods. However, [couples] have to choose among the methods according to their own conscience. Then during the teachings, I do the introduction—especially during teachings on the sacrament of marriage and you often highlight the love between a man and a woman. When I finish the introduction, the [provider] who teaches the natural methods comes to give them those teachings. She also has other sessions when she invites people who have heard what I have said in the church. When they come, I direct them to her.
Interviewer: How do most of your followers perceive family planning?
Priest: When I begin that topic everyone is interested, everyone wants to listen and to know how things work. Even the intellectuals that you think have seen those issues at school and they know them—not at all! When we call them, they come in a big number and we meet here. We give them one or two hours and they go back. What they need is someone who initiates them, who helps them, who counsels them on how it works before they arrive in an unmanageable situation.
Learn more about our work with FBOs in Rwanda and Uganda: