Perspectives for the future at the conference in Nairobi
The following are excerpts from the paper given by the Director of the missionary magazines, "Popoli e Missione" and "Il Ponte d'Oro".
"The African Church is confronted with an immense and original undertaking; like a 'mother and teacher' she must approach all the sons of this land of the sun; she must offer them a traditional and modern interpretation of life; she must educate the people in the new forms of civil organization; while purifying and preserving the forms of family and community; she must give an educative impulse to your individual and social virtues: those of honesty, of sobriety, of loyalty; she must help develop every activity that promotes the public good, especially the schools and the assistance of the poor and sick; she must help Africa towards development, towards concord, towards peace". These words are found at the conclusion of Pope Paul VI's historic Message to the African Church at Namugongo near Kampala during an evocative and unforgettable Eucharistic celebration on 31 July 1969. Subsequently, John Paul II visited the continent 16 times between 1980 and 2000. While in more recent times, Benedict XVI has made two Apostolic Visits: the first to Cameroun and Angola in 2009, and the second to Benin last November for the official publication of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus.
In reality more than 40 years have passed since Paul VI's historical speech at Namugongo and I believe it is necessary to ask ourselves: Africa, quo vadis? It seems to me that there are many signs among the faithful which indicate a greater awareness with regarding the challenges of our time.
In the first place, there is a heightened perception present that should turn a page because it is challenging a sheepish mentality in front of big questions presented by globalization. Accordingly, it seems right that experts should be among the Africans themselves, not foreigners.
The truth is, Africa, either in the singular or plural, is always perceived (primarily in the Western countries) as a separate reality, light years away from the rest of the world; a conquerable land made of savannas, deserts and rain forests whose people, for mysterious ancestral reasons, are instinctively averse to the rational mind and scientific thought. And it is with this mind-set where the usual stereotypes are found — atrocities, wars, famines, pandemics and permanent instability. In order to understand why the 'Africas' are always perceived as being and remaining primitive, one must merely look at the media coverage of the self-seeking charity, which is widespread among the humanitarian organizations; in the best hypotheses the 'Africas' are depicted as lush, exotic paradises and therefore as possible and tourist destinations that defy the imagination Thus, with the awareness that we live in a world that is essentially a global village, it is necessary to debunk certain clichés which suffocate the capacity to reason. The Africas, contrary to much of the tear-jerking information on offer, are not poor, if anything they have become impoverished. We are not at the bedside of a patient in intensive therapy. Those who truly love the Africas see not only the immense riches of their natural resources, but also the star-studded people and ethnic groups which, more than ever, are pulsating throughout the lands.
Enlightened politicians are necessary in order to better govern the economy. For this reason international cooperation should invest major resources in the formation of the ruling classes so that they can be the
true promoters of the new models of growth. Certainly financing, exemptions, hospitals and water wells are commendable, but they are not enough! It is necessary to encourage young Africans to be protagonists by providing for their training in management such they may defend their interests. "The sons and daughters of Africa", writes John Paul II in the Post-Synod Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa, "have a need of a kind and caring pastoral presence. They must be helped to gather the proper energies so as to put them at the service of the common good".
The "Afro" world is a multifaceted container of multi-secular wisdom, a place of passions, of cultural and artistic richness, a great sea of ethnic groups made of many faces with their histories to be discovered, far from those of us rich; it is a continent which does not beg for our self-seeking charity filled with pietism and hand-outs, but which calls out for justice. As an example, it has been demonstrated that the cost of humanitarian help destined for African emergencies is much more inferior to the foreign debt interests that afflict the continent like the sword of Damocles. And the way of possible redemption is already
traced by the living forces of a continent that is instinctively open to life.
Having said this, because young Africans represent 60% of the population under 25 years old at the continental level (another interesting fact that offers hope looking into the future), many dioceses have given centrality to public instruction — elementary, superior and university. Not to mention the lavished task of affirming the right to health and information.
We must not forget to turn some deserved attention to African women. As was shown by the French sociologist Emmanuel Todd in L'enfance du monde (1984), there exists a strong maternal component in almost all African societies which can be temporarily repressed under the influence of Islam or other ideologies, but which always resurfaces in the end. And it is precisely she, the "African woman — according to Jacques Giri, a world famous Africanist — before men, before school, before radio, cinema, television who will form the Africa of tomorrow. After all, women in Africa produce more than 60% of the income and it is about time that they become more involved in the administration of the "Res Publica". A Nilotic proverb says: "In Africa, if you educate a boy you educate a man; if you educate a girl you educate a nation". It is because of the youth and because of women that civil society is maturing, one composed of Christian communities, environmental associations, movements working to defend human rights with the declared intent to promote affection towards the res publica, (the common good) in opposition to the promoters of the Nation-State.