Pope Benedict sees changing hearts as ultimate challenge for African Church


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Vatican City, Oct 5, 2009 / 02:15 pm (CNA).- The Synod for Africa held its first full meeting on Monday morning at the Vatican, with 226 of the Synod Fathers and the Pope present. The Holy Father told the assembly that while it is important to gather statistical data to understand the problems facing the African Church, the most important analytical approach is to "see everything in the light of God."

The Pontiff began the session by making some brief opening remarks in which he referred to the problems of Africa and to the goals of reconciliation, justice and peace.

"It is right to carry out empirical studies," he said, "yet practical analyses, though conducted with precision and competence, do not indicate the true problems of the world if we do not see everything in the light of God."

However, Pope Benedict cautioned, "our analyses are deficient if we do not realize that behind the injustice of corruption, and all such things, is an unjust heart, a closure towards God and thus a falsification of the fundamental relationship upon which all other relationships are founded."

The assembly was then addressed by Cardinal Francis Arinze, followed by Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, who explained the activities of the council of the secretariat general since the last synodal assembly (First Special Assembly for Africa of 1994) and illustrated the preparations for the current synod.

Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana, then took the floor and gave a report on the current state of the Church in Africa. Cardinal Turkson is serving as the relator general for the synod, which involves facilitating and moderating the discussions.

Cardinal Turkson recalled the history of the last synod on Africa in 1994, saying that the meeting "inspired a message of hope for Africa" when it was confronting a dark chapter of its history.

Fourteen years later, the cardinal said, "the Church still bears some of the 'lights and shadows' that occasioned the first Synod, it has also 'changed considerably. This new reality requires a thorough study in view of renewed evangelization efforts, which call for a more in-depth analysis of specific topics, important for the present and future of the Catholic Church on the great continent.'"

The leader of the Church in Cape Coast described the positive growth of the Church but noted that it is confined to the 48 Sub-Saharan nations of Africa. In addition, the Church is being confronted with failures in "fidelity and commitment of some clergy and religious to their vocations," as well as the "loss of members to new religious movements and sects."

Despite the mixed results, Cardinal Turkson noted that there is "an emerging continental desire on the part of African leaders themselves for an 'African renaissance.'" There is, he explained, a radical relationship between governance and economy: "bad governance begets bad economy. This explains the paradox of the poverty of a continent which is certainly the most richly endowed in the world."

Another phenomenon that the Church must vigilant about is the "global emergence of lifestyles, values, attitudes, associations, etc." that destabilize society. "These attack the basic props of society (marriage and family), diminish its human capital (migration, drug-pushing and arms' trade) and endanger life on the planet," the cardinal said.

"It is clear that, although the continent and the Church on the continent are not yet out of the woods, they can still modestly rejoice in their achievement and positive performance, and begin to disclaim stereotypical generalizations about its conflicts, famine, corruption and bad governance," he stated.

"The truth is that Africa has been burdened for too long by the media with everything that is loathsome to humankind; and it is time to 'shift gears' and to have the truth about Africa told with love, fostering the development of the continent which would lead to the well-being of the whole world."

The solution proposed by the Ghanaian cardinal was the same as Pope Benedict's, namely, to pursue "reconciliation, justice and peace, made particularly Christian by their rootedness in love and mercy."

This path, he said, "would restore wholeness to the Church-Family of God on the continent, and that the latter, as salt of the earth and light of the world, would heal 'wounded human hearts, the ultimate hiding place for the causes of everything destabilizing the African continent.'"

The task demanded of the African Church, Cardinal Turkson explained, is to sow seeds of life on a continent where some people "live under the shadow of conflict and death." "She must preserve the continent and its people from the putrefying effects of hatred, violence, injustice and ethnocentrism. The Church must purify and heal minds and hearts of corrupt and evil ways; and administer her life-giving Gospel message to keep the continent and its people alive."