First General Congregation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops


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VATICAN CITY, 5 OCT 2009 (VIS) - The first General Congregation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops was held this morning in the Synod Hall. The meeting was presided by the Pope, and 226 Synod Fathers were present.

Benedict XVI made 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".

"Hence", he explained, "our analyses are deficient if we do not realise 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".

Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and president delegate on duty, also pronounced some brief words at the beginning of this morning's session.

Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, then 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, relator general of the Synod, then read out the English-language "Relatio ante disceptationem", (report before the discussion) of which extracts are given below:

"Pope John Paul II described the 1994 Synod, which he concluded with the promulgation of his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation 'Ecclesia in Africa', as a 'Synod of resurrection and hope'. That synod assembly, which had been convoked against the background of a predominantly pessimistic world view of Africa, and against a background of a peculiarly challenging and a 'deplorably unfavourable' situation of the continent for the evangelizing mission of the Church in those closing years of the twentieth century, was nevertheless expected to mark a turning point in the history of the continent".

"The situation on the continent was as harshly ambivalent as it was paradoxical; and the close succession of such events as the collapse of apartheid and the sad outbreak of the Rwandan genocide typified this paradox very well. In view of this paradoxical blend, in which evil and distress seemed to prevail over good and virtue, the Paschal setting of the First Special Assembly for Africa inspired a message of hope for Africa".

"This post-synodal period is now in its fourteenth year; and while the situation of the continent, its islands, and of 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 evangelisation 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 Cardinal then listed some ecclesial data concerning "the exceptional growth of the church in Africa: ... The ascendancy of African members of missionary congregations to leadership positions and roles: council members, vicars general, and even superiors general. The pursuit of self-reliance on the part of local Churches. ... An observable growth in ecclesiastical structures and institutions" He also listed some of the "formidable challenges" facing the Church in Africa: "The talk about a thriving Church in Africa conceals the fact that the Church hardly exists in large parts north of the equator. The exceptionally growing Church in Africa is to be found generally south of the Sahara. The fidelity and commitment of some clergy and religious to their vocations. ... The loss of members to new religious movements and sects".

"In 1963, at a meeting of the Organization for African Unity, African leaders decided to retain a vestige of the colonial rule, maintaining the colonial boundaries and descriptions of states, regardless of their artificial character. That decision, however, has not been followed by a corresponding development of a sense of nationalism that makes ethnic diversity mutually enriching, and that extols the common national good over parochial ethnic interests. Thus ethnic diversity continues to be a seedbed of conflicts and tensions, which even defy the sense of belonging together as members of a Church-Family of God.

Slavery and enslavement, which the Arab world initiated on the East African coast, and Europeans, with the collaboration of Africans themselves, took over into the fourteenth century and extended over the continent, represented forced movement of Africans. These days, the voluntary migration of Africa's sons and daughters to Europe, America and the Far East for various reasons, land them in servile conditions, which require our attention and pastoral care".

"The period after the First Special Assembly for Africa, namely, the dawn of the Third Millennium, appears to have coincided with an emerging continental desire on the part of African leaders themselves for an 'African renaissance'. ... African political leaders appear determined to change the face of political administration on the continent; and they have spearheaded a critical self-appraisal of Africa, which identified poor and bad governance on the continent as the cause of Africa's poverty and woes. Accordingly, they have charted the path of good governance and the formation a political class, capable of taking the best of ancestral traditions in Africa and integrating them with principles of governance of modern societies. They have adopted a strategic framework (NEPAD) to guide performance, and to set the tone for Africa's renewal through transparent political leadership".

"The radical relationship between governance and economy is clear; and it demonstrates that 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. The spin-off of this 'governance-economy equation' is that there is hardly any African country that can meet its budgetary obligations, namely, its planned national financial programme, without outside assistance in the form of grants or loans. This continual underwriting of national budgets by means of loans inflates a bludgeoning debt burden. The universal Church joined the Church in Africa in a campaign to eradicate it during the Great Jubilee Year".

"There are also certain global phenomena and international initiatives, whose impact on the African society and some of its structures, are worth assessing, and which pose new challenges to the Church. While the prominence, which is increasingly being given to the place and role of women in society is a happy development, the global emergence of lifestyles, values, attitudes, associations, etc., which destabilize society, is disquieting. 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".

"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. The forty-eight countries that make up Sub-Sahara Africa show great differences in the situations of their churches, their governance and their socio-economic life. Out of these forty-eight nations, only four: Somalia, Sudan, Niger and parts of Democratic Republic of Congo are presently at war; and at least two are at war because of foreign interference: the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. Indeed, there are fewer wars in Africa than in Asia. Increasingly, war mongers and war criminals are being denounced, held accountable for crimes and prosecuted".

"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 G8 countries and the countries of the world must love Africa in truth! Generally considered to occupy the tenth position in world economy, Africa is however the second emerging world market after China. Thus, it is as the just-ended G8 summit labelled it, a continent of opportunities. This needs to be true also for the people of the continent. It is hoped that the pursuit of reconciliation, justice and peace, made particularly Christian by their rootedness in love and mercy, 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'. Thus, will the continent and its islands realize their God-given opportunities and endowments.

"Peace does not have just a secular sense, it being the absence of conflict, the presence of harmony in the home and within the family, individual and communal (national) security and prosperity. Peace, is not just when human beings and their societies fulfil their respective duties and recognize the rights of other persons and societies; and it is not just one of the results of working for justice. Peace essentially transcends the world and human efforts. It is a gift of God bestowed on the 'righteous/just'. ... Peace is an activity that goes beyond strict justice and requires love. It derives from communion with God and is aimed at the wellbeing of man".

"When the Synod exhorts the Church in Africa to be 'servants of reconciliation, justice and peace' as 'salt of the earth'", it is "making use of a polyvalent symbol to express the multiple tasks and demands of being a disciple and of being Church (family of God) in Africa. ... On a continent, parts of which live under the shadow of conflict and death, the Church must sow seeds of life: life-giving initiatives. 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".

"At this Synod, the earth and the world, for which Catholics on the continent and its islands must be 'salt' and 'light', as servants of reconciliation, justice and peace are Africa of our day. ... It is there that, Jesus Christ, after revealing Himself through Scriptures as our reconciliation, justice and peace, now calls and commissions His disciples in Africa and its islands to expend themselves, like salt and light, to build the Church in Africa as a veritable family of God through the ministries of reconciliation, justice and peace, exercised in love, like their Master".