We all know too well that Christianity did not start in Africa but was rather spread by early missionaries to the continent. Basically, before one can address the aspect of a catholic (Christian) wedding in West Africa, to be specific, Gabon, there are a few facts that one has to know first.
Located on the western coast of Central Africa on the equator, Gabon is borders Equatorial Guinea. It is also known as the Gabonese Republic. The state gained its independence from France in 1960 and has had three presidents in the 90’s. Most of the Gabonese are Bantu and has at least forty ethnic groups with differing languages and culture. These ethnic groups include (but not limited to): Fang, Fang, Myene, Kota, Shira, Puru, and Kande.
Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Bwiti, as well as indigenous animistic religion are the most practiced religions in the country. About 73% of the entire population is Christians, 12% practices Islam ( 80 to 90% being are foreigners), and 5% are atheists. There are three times as many Roman Catholics as there are Protestants.
The Roman Catholic Church in Gabon is part of the global Catholic Church with the pope as its leader and Rome its ‘head quarter’ in Rome. Catholics began arriving in Gabon around 1766 and started working with the persons of Loango. Soon they left due to battling with diseases and made another attempt in 1777 but left again. Finally in 1844, the French priests began a permanent spiritual work with the locals.
Basically, a wedding is a ceremony of a union between two people through marriage. Its customs and traditions vary with ethnic groups, religions, culture, social classes and even countries. In the Catholic Church marriage is known as matrimony. It took root since the time of Jesus when marriage was considered a vital passage into adulthood, and greatly supported within the Jewish faith.
Having adopted the religion from the west the Gabonese Catholics pretty much embraced the normal catholic wedding as it is.
Here are some of the common practices one can encounter:
- They are only married in churches. Marrying in churches for the believers is not just a venue for them but rather, a way of life or path that one has chosen.
- A sign of the cross is made when entering their pew as a reminder of how Jesus died on the cross.
- During the ceremony there will be a lot of standing alternating with sitting. If you are non-Catholic you should probably skip the gym that morning. If you are not comfortable however with a certain practice you can ‘abstain’. In most cases no one will bother you.
- There will be a holy communion for those who are baptized.
The ceremony itself will be well-organized and presided over by a bishop: saying of vows, asking if there is anyone opposing, joining of the couple, a prayer, ring, kissing, and presentation of the newlyweds to the congregation and seeing off the newlyweds. Most of these activities will be provided on paper; so you do not need to hustle.
Just like other weddings after the church ceremony there a reception is organized for friends, family and well-wishers. In some cases however it’s an invites only affair. After this function the couples then leave for their honeymoon if they have organized one. That is what you can expect in an average Catholic wedding in Gabon.