As the first week of the Synod on Africa comes to a close, what has been the main issue exercising the minds of the synod fathers so far?
Archbishop Gabriel Charles Palmer Buckle of Accra, Ghana, gave his opinion at a press conference Friday afternoon. “What is beautiful is that there’s a convergence that reconciliation is a problem all over, and that working for justice and for peace is almost going to be a preferential option for the Church in Africa,” he said.
Said Archbishop Palmer Buckle, “We’ve listened not only to bishops from Africa, but those from the United States, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Oceania, and there’s a lot of convergence.” At the moment, he said, “We’re at the stage of listening to one another.”
As well as looking at root causes of conflicts on the continent and proffering some solutions, the synod father have also focused much of their discussions on interreligious dialogue and threats to the family and African values, especially through the mass media.
But looking at summaries of all the speeches given so far by the participants, it’s easy to think that Africa is plagued with problems, and that the synod is being held to try to resolve them. While that is partly true, it’s not the main reason for the three-week meeting.
“The tendency is to think that the Church is focused on Africa because Africa is a sick child of the Church,” said Archbishop Palmer Buckle. “No. The Church’s focus is because Africa is a potential, a potential that is very, very rich and therefore it must be properly guided and helped to grow.”
“It’s like you have a teenage son or daughter, full of vitality, creativity and energy,” he explained. “If you don’t sit with him or her to get to know the things that are worrying him or her, and you start challenging what he or she must do, then comes a little bit of rebellion. Am I right? You need to let the young man or girl know that you have a potential that I need to invest in, and which I need for your good and for the good of society. The child will then grow with you.”
The archbishop continued, “This is the beauty of seeing the Pope there listening, seeing the cardinals there of the various dicasteries calling our attention to canon law, justice and peace commissions, social communications, the cardinal in charge of education calling our attention to education — all of them are making us realize the potential that Africa has, and this potential must be properly harnessed, and must be properly invested and allowed to grow. We’re not only going to be salt of the earth for Africa, we’re going to be salt of the earth for the rest of the world.”
Archbishop Palmer Buckle said that because of Africa’s colonial past, Africans speak almost all of the European languages, and vocations are many. “The seminaries are bursting to the seams,” he said. “Why must the Church not invest more on the training of the priest on the spot in Africa so that they can come and work in Italy, Germany, America and the rest? We have them. So you see, this is the focus of the synod: Africa has the potential, and the best must come out of it.”
Recalling that leaders of the G8 Summit in July also said that Africa has a potential that cannot and should not be ignored, the archbishop concluded, “We’re not here because of a sick child; we’re here because this is a child that is meant to be great if their parents will do their best.”
Friday morning at the synod, the bishops discussed the indispensable role of women in the Church in Africa. Three religious sisters gave presentations with one asking the synod fathers to think for two minutes tonight about a Church without women. One sister from Rwanda gave a testimony to reconciliation, explaining how she came face to face with her father’s killer. She said through her ministry in the prisons she was able to have a change of heart in her life, a journey of reconciliation which has helped her to practice her faith in a committed way.
Archbishop Palmer Buckle was also asked for his reaction to President Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. He said he was “overwhelmed” at the news and that he would like the world to look on it as an “encouragement, a motivation.” Noting that Obama had visited Ghana recently in July, he said the American president fostered the sense that Africans can do more for themselves rather than looking to the West for solutions to their problems.