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African Synod’s First Week

10/09/2009 Comment

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Cape Coast, Ghana (CNS)

So far the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, taking place at the Vatican until Oct. 25, has extensively covered core issues facing the continent, from the problem of ethnic conflicts and sects, to poverty, poor governance and the Church’s role in fostering justice, peace and reconciliation.

As well as his comments already reported here, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana, and relator general of the Synod, opened proceedings by noting that “ethnic diversity continues to be a seedbed of conflicts and tensions,” and that African migrants to the West often end up in “servile conditions, which require our attention and pastoral care.” Cardinal Turkson praised the determination of many African leaders to address poor governance, which has been identified “as the cause of Africa’s poverty and woes.”

Echoing Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks in his opening homily, the cardinal drew attention to the “disquieting” effect of modern Western values, saying they “destabilize society” by attacking the “basic props of society (marriage and family), diminish its human capital (migration, drug-pushing and arms’ trade) and endanger life on the planet.”

He also criticized the widespread negative perception of his continent portrayed in the media.  “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,” he said.

Referring to the synod’s exhortation that the Church in Africa be “servants of reconciliation, justice and peace” as “salt of the earth,” Cardinal Turkson called on the Church “to sow seeds of life” and to “preserve the continent and its people from the putrefying effects of hatred, violence, injustice and ethnocentrism.” The Church, he said, “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.”

Patriarch Abuna Paulos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church addressed participants during the synod’s third congregation, reminding participants that apostleship and social works cannot be treated separately. “Apostleship is the root of a real and compassionate social work,” he said.

In his response to the patriarch’s words, the Pope reminded the synod fathers that in Christ “we know that reconsolidation is possible, justice can prevail, peace can endure! This is the message of hope which we are called to proclaim. This is the promise which the people of Africa long to see fulfilled in our day.”

Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, Archbishop of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, said selfishness, greed for material wealth, and ethnic tensions resulting in conflicts that “are the root causes of lack of peace” in many African societies “must be confronted without fear or favour, and be followed up with specific pastoral directives.” He lamented allegations against some clergy of involvement in the continent’s conflicts, and said the synod “must have the courage” to denounce abuses of authority, tribalism and ethnocentrism, and political partisanship among religious leaders. He called for “unity and communion” among Church leaders in Africa.

Archbishop Fidele Agbatchi of Parakou in Benin said “Africa is afraid and lives in fear,” and “naturally falls into mistrust, suspicion, a defensive attitude, aggressiveness, charlatanism.”

“What I wish for this synod,” he said, “is a Paschal future and, after so much suffering, the resurrection of Africa.” Bishop Maroun Elias Lahham of Tunis proposed including North Africa in next year’s synod on the Middle East, because of the region’s Christian minorities and the local Church’s relations with Islam.

Archbishop Francois Xavier Maroy Rusengo of Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo pointed out that pastoral workers in his archdiocese were being attacked, and that one parish was burnt down on Oct. 2. Its priests were kidnapped for a high ransom that, he said, the Church was “forced to pay.” “Lord may your will be done, may your kingdom of peace arrive,” Archbishop Xavier said.

Bishop Martin Munyanti of Gweru in Zimbabwe said his country was suffering “very difficult and inhuman socio political experiences.” Communities, he said, “need to sit together and discuss their problems” and retributive and restorative justice should be established.

Capuchin Bishop Armando Umberto Gianni, president of the Central African Republic’s bishops conference, noted that the Church is present everywhere in the country. Even in unstable areas, he said, “she has continued to attend to her work in education and healthcare, close to displaced and handicapped people.”

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said the problem of sects in Africa could also act as “an invitation to pastors” to take better care in the transmission of the content of the faith in the African cultural context.

Included in the interventions of other synod fathers were: the need for a “more mature catechesis” to promote a deeper conversion; fostering ‘Living Ecclesial Communities’ to help victims of violence;  improving Church communications to help evangelization; combating poverty in Africa (despite the continent having “almost all it takes to be the richest continent on earth”); tackling stereotypes of Africans as “helpless victims of endless wars and constant famines”; the need for the Church in Africa “to invent new methods of presenting her social teaching”; the importance of the Church questioning systems of governance that lead to poverty; and concern about Africa’s moral values, which are threatened by “new and different meanings of concepts of family, marriage and human sexuality” that are being aggressively promoted.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, the only American bishop present at the synod, spoke early on in the proceedings, saying the American Church continues to benefit from recent African migrants.

“Many of these new peoples bring with them a profound and dynamic Catholic faith with its rich spiritual heritage,” Archbishop Gregory said. “These wonderful people challenge us to rediscover our own spiritual traditions that so often are set aside because of the influence of our secular pursuits.”

Last night the synod fathers attended a concert in Rome called “Youth Against War — 1939-2009” on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II.

Cardinal Turkson will give a second report on the synod on Oct. 14.

Filed under africa, synod

About Edward Pentin

Edward Pentin
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Edward Pentin began reporting on the Pope and the Vatican with Vatican Radio before moving on to become the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register. He has also reported on the Holy See and the Catholic Church for a number of other publications including Newsweek, Newsmax, Zenit, The Catholic Herald, and The Holy Land Review, a Franciscan publication specializing in the Church and the Middle East. Follow on Twitter @edwardpentin