ANTE DISCEPTATIONEM - The Gospel, inculturation and dialogue
Cardinal Hyacinthe Thiandoum
Following Archbishop Schotte's address, Cardinal Hyacinthe Thiandoum,
Archbishop of Dakar, Senegal, and General Rapporteur, gave the Relatio
ante disceptationem. Here is the English text of the Cardinal's
1. This special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops is a providential
event of grace, for which we must give praise and thanks to the
almighty and merciful Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.
It is taking place in this historic moment when the continent of
Africa is at a major and critical crossroads in its sociopolitical and
economic development. Were meeting within the context of a world in
desperate search of a "New World Order", a world order that
should be not only "new" but also more just and human. We are
celebrating the Synod along with the universal Church called to a
"New Evangelization" all over the world. This event of grace
is also a call to zealous commitment.
To this call of grace, the Church in Africa has given a unanimous and
very generous response. This is evident in the careful and
meticulous preparation of the Synod so far, in the active involvement of
the entire Church in Africa at all levels, and in the enriching sharing
of ideas, during the Synod process, within and among the local Churches
Since the announcement of the convocation of the Synod by the Pope,
John Paul II, on the day of Epiphany 1989, the Church in Africa has been
on a "common journey", a "sun-hodos". In the next
four weeks, this common journey will continue as an intensive period of
common prayer and reflection, of a pooling together through exchanges of
our fears, hopes and certainties for the implanting of the Gospel in
Africa through the Church.
In this Synod, assembled under the light of the Holy Spirit, we hope
to reap the fruits of the Synod process so far, to listen to what the
Spirit is saying to us and to plot our journey forward, together and in
union with the universal Church.
While here as privileged representatives and concrete embodiments of
our respective local Churches and of the universal Church (cf. Synod of
Bishops, Special Assembly for Africa, Instrumentum laboris, n.
4), we remain united to the entire Church in Africa in heart, mind and
spirit. Furthermore, from this privileged venue of the Synod Hall,
cum et sub Petro, we are linked as well with the worldwide family of
the Catholic Church. From here the whole Church, we hope, will hear and
join in our efforts to discern and follow the designs of the Holy Spirit
for the Church in Africa and in Madagascar towards the year 2000.
In this Relatio ante disceptationem effort will be made to
highlight the major points on the Synod agenda and to focus
attention on some of the main issues that have emerged from the
grassroots consultation and the copious reports on it. The aim is to
avoid dispersed and sterile discussion, not to predetermine the work of
the Synod or inhibit your total freedom as the Fathers of the Synod.
Theme of the Synod
2. The general theme of the Synod, as we all know, is evangelization.
We must keep this in mind in all our discussions so as to avoid
dispersing our attention in too many directions without arriving at any
concrete conclusions. The concept of evangelization will therefore be
the focus for our various concerns.
But what do we mean by evangelization? It is first of all, "Good
News", as the very word implies. It is the proclamation to the
world of the good and joyful news that God, who loves us, has redeemed
and is redeeming his world through Christ. In its method and aim,
therefore, evangelization must seek to give good news to the
world, and in particular, to the peoples of Africa and Madagascar. In a
continent full of bad news, how is the Christian message "Good
News" for our people? In the midst of an all-pervading despair,
where lies the hope and optimism which the Gospel brings? Evangelization
stands for many of those essential values which our continent very much
lacks: hope, joy, peace, love, unity and harmony. Africa is in dire need
of the Gospel message for through the Gospel God builds up his family.
We must operate with a positive and integral concept of
evangelization as clearly set forth in the relevant official
documents of the Church. It involves no doubt the preaching of the Word,
inviting hearers to accept Jesus and his saving message and to enter
into his Church. But it is wider and deeper than that. It includes the
transformation of human society through the message and living witness
of the Church and her members. It is thus that what the Gospels refer to
as the "Reign of God" comes about: promoting peace and
justice, restoring human dignity and bringing this world as close to
God's designs as possible. Evangelization touches all human beings and
every human person, as also every aspect of human life.
We have to consider evangelization in its different dimensions. Redemptoris
missio, for example, speaks of missio ad gentes, new
evangelization and pastoral care, all of which are realities of
major importance. In the African context, one often speaks of phases of
evangelization which sometimes overlap. These are: primary
evangelization whereby the Gospel message is brought to those who have
never received it, pastoral care of those already in the Church and the
witness of Christian living as a necessary implication of our faith.
In recent years, the Holy Father has been calling for a new
evangelization, "new in method, new in expression and, new in
zeal" (Discourse to the 19th Plenary Assembly of CELAM, Port-au-Prince,
Haiti, 9 March 1983: AAS, LXXV  778). We need to work out
what this means in the context of the different local Churches of
3. A particularly striking and relevant image of what evangelization
is all about is to see it as building up the family of God on
earth. This concept, so often evoked in the responses to the Lineamenta,
has deep roots in our African culture. It also expresses the profound
Christian and African values of communion, fraternity, solidarity and
peace. For in a truly African family, joys, difficulties and trials
are shared in a trusting dialogue. Since the whole of humanity is in a
sense God's family, joys, difficulties and trials are shared in a
trusting dialogue. Since the whole of humanity is in a sense God's
family, this image also opens evangelization out to its universal
dimensions: welcoming all peoples and each person into this great
family, as a conscious member or as one moved by the Spirit. As a
summary of this paragraph, we can say once again that God, through the
Gospel, builds up his family; for evangelization invites humanity to
participate in the very life of the Trinity, calling it to return,
through the Son, in the Spirit, back to the Father "so that God may
be all in all" (1 Cor 15:28).
The image of the Church as the People of God, as in the approach of
the Second Vatican Council (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic
Constitution De Ecclesia, Lumen gentium, n. 18), merits to be
thrown into relief. In the particular context of Africa, we recall in
this regard our strong sense of being and belonging to a people who must
keep together in mutual solidarity. This at times degenerates into
negative forms of tribalism and ethnicism. But in the concept of the
Church as the People of God which cuts across and unites all tribes and
nations, the African values of "people": and "tribe"
find a more adequate and broader expression.
In reflecting on evangelization, this Synod will do well to pay
special attention to two decisive areas of concern and interest, namely,
the agents of evangelization and the structures for accomplishing the
evangelizing mission of the Church. We shall return to these important
The problems of the Church in Africa are as many, serious and complex
as those plaguing society on the continent. We shall not be able to
tackle them all and offer definitive solutions in four weeks of work in
Synod Assembly. But as Fathers of the Synod you will be attentive to the
"signs of the times". The five tasks of evangelization that
have been the object of attention in the pre-Synodal documents, namely, Proclamation,
Inculturation, Inter-religious Dialogue, Justice and Peace, and the
Means of Social Communication, have not been chosen at random. They
are conceived as responses to the major challenges facing the Church in
Africa in our times.
The context of evangelization: Church and society
in Africa today in Africa today
4. Africa is a continent of wide varieties and diversity of
situations of both Church and society. This diversity was clearly
reflected in the responses to the Lineamenta from the Episcopal
Conferences. We therefore need to beware of generalizations, both in the
diagnosis of problems and issues and in the suggestion of solutions. The
local Church must take responsibility for the details of its own
concrete existence. A forum such as the Synod can give only broad
guidelines and general orientations.
One common situation, without any doubt, is that Africa is full of
problems. In almost all our nations, there is abject poverty, tragic
mismanagement of available scarce resources, political instability and
social disorientation. The results stare us in the face: misery, wars,
despair. In a world controlled by rich and powerful nations, Africa has
practically become an irrelevant appendix, often forgotten and neglected
The Church is part of this society in distress. In these tragic
conditions, she must carry out her mission to offer our peoples the Good
News of Christ's redemption, and be the sacrament, sign and
instrument of God's kingdom within our continent. In order to be
able to carry out this mission effectively, she must be in constant
dialogue and loving solidarity with the society in which she finds
herself. This Synod Assembly is a providential opportunity to enter into
dialogue and express our solidarity with our continent in the midst of
its pains and joys, hopes and fears (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical
Council, Pastoral Constitution De Ecclesia in mundo huius temporis,
Gaudium et spes, n. 1).
By the mystery of God's grace, the Church in Africa stands out as a
beacon of light which gives hope in an obscure and troubled sea. In a
few places, the Church has deep roots that go back to the apostolic age.
In other places there is an uninterrupted history of five centuries of
Christian existence. But in most of Africa, the Church is young, barely
a century old. The phenomenal growth of the Church in Africa in this
last century has rightly been described as a record in the history of
5. It is appropriate at this point to pay rousing homage to the missionaries,
men and women of many religious and secular institutes, as well as
to all the countries, who, during the almost two thousand years of
evangelization of the African continent, devoted themselves without
counting the cost to the task of transmitting the torch of the Christian
faith. This they did in three successive waves - during the first five
centuries, during the 15th century and finally around the middle of the
19th century. There may have been, here and there, connivance with the
conquerors or lack of understanding of, and appreciation for, the
indigenous cultural values of those to whom the Gospel was being
preached - false steps are part and parcel of every human undertaking.
It remains true, nevertheless, that an admirable and gigantic work has
been accomplished. Nor are we to forget their indigenous and
indispensable auxiliaries, the catechists and the leaders of the various
communities, not to mention the hospitality and kind reception given by
the traditional chiefs and the generosity of benefactors who both gave
material help and supported the work with their prayers. The
Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, founded in 1622,
bestowed on the mission a solicitude both vigilant and generous. Of
these initiatives, this special Synodal Assembly for Africa is the
living proof and result.
That is why we, the happy inheritors of this marvelous adventure,
joyfully pay our debt of thanks to God on this solemn occasion.
6. We should not be surprised to find that our young Church is
characterized by the strengths and weaknesses of youth. On the one hand,
there are many positive "signs of the times" which
constitute great opportunities for present and future growth: vigour and
vitality, zeal and enthusiasm, natural religiosity and sense of the
transcendence of God. It is a Church in transition between a mission
Church and a Church on mission, testing its wings and seeking its way
towards full maturity, a Church of the future with great hopes and
On the other hand, the Church is often challenged by many problems.
In many areas, the Christian faith is shallow and needs to become more
rooted. In a largely illiterate society, new ideas move and sink slowly.
Thus the teaching and proposals of the Second Vatican Council are
applied with a rather slow rhythm. This must be coupled with the
reluctance and fear of new converts in relation to recent reforms in the
Church. Many factors, among which are distances, poor communications,
language barriers and sheer poverty, have rendered cooperation at the
continental level very difficult. This is strongly reflected in the
endemic problems in the structures and running of the Symposium of the
Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM). Moreover, the
Church in Africa and Madagascar ought to be in ongoing dialogue
with the society in which she finds herself and her efforts towards
evangelization ought to be inserted in a wider framework. In fact, in
today's world which has become a "global village", those who
isolate themselves and who turn in upon themselves become the poorer and
place themselves on the sidelines.
The many problems of Church and society in Africa give rise to
opportunities as well as challenges which this Synod will do well to
keep in view. The thirst for God and the shallow faith of many of
our people call for more intensive and sustained proclamation of
the Gospel. A serious concern for a true and balanced inculturation is
necessary in order to avoid cultural confusion and alienation in our
fast evolving society. The search for unity and harmony in the face of
ethnic and religious divisions and antagonisms would be futile without a
true spirit and honest practice of dialogue. Our socio-political
instability and economic misery cannot be effectively tackled without
serious attention to justice and peace. Africa's problems are
compounded not only by ignorance but by deliberate deceit and
misinformation by those who detain power and control the means of social
communication. Access to the truth and the right to be heard are
prerequisites for genuine freedom and responsible participation in the
life of the nation.
This agenda of the Synod is in continuity with the
previous efforts of the Episcopate in Africa and Madagascar who, through
the work of SECAM and of the Episcopal Conferences, have sought to
tackle the urgent challenges facing the Church in Africa and Madagascar.
We shall now address the areas which we consider require priority
attention at this Synod.
The proclamation of the Gospel
7. It is natural that the first of these priorities should be the proclamation
of the Gospel message. As St Paul declares: "Woe to me if I do
not preach the Gospel" (1 Cor 9:16). It is a command we have
received from the Lord, who ordered his apostles to "go,
make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19). As far as we can, we
must seek to proclaim the message explicitly, with peaceful zeal and
evangelical boldness. Our people need this message - for every
person has a right to the Good News - and we should leave no stone
unturned to announce it to them. Our proclamation of the Good News will
be marked by fidelity, for the Church received the mission to
proclaim the saving message of Jesus Christ and no other.
But our proclamation must always be in humility, respect and love of
persons. Even in situations where civil authorities put obstacles in the
way of explicit evangelization, the message of Christ's kingdom of
peace, justice and love can still be effectively proclaimed by a silent
but "loud" witness of life and action. At times it may be
advisable and even necessary to denounce and publicly condemn efforts to
unjustly put obstacles in the way of our preaching of the Gospel. It
seems, nevertheless, preferable, within the limits of possibility, to
undertake positive action and gentle persuasion than head-on
confrontation. In any case, we can be sure that "the Gospel of
Christ cannot be put in chains". Nevertheless, those who are
labouring under unjust restrictions deserve the comfort, encouragement
and support of the entire Church.
Proclamation to those not yet reached by the Gospel must take note of
the "seeds of the Word" present in the traditional religion of
our peoples. It is never the case of a spiritual vacuum, since "God
never leaves himself without a witness" (Acts 14:17).
In our programme of proclamation, we need to discern well what
structures and infrastructures may be necessary for effective action.
This is at all levels: parish, Diocese and nation. We have,
nevertheless, to bear in mind that structures, even the best ones,
depend for effectiveness on those who use them or make them function.
The Synod is also an appropriate occasion to assess and improve our
structures and channels for inter-African co-operation. The challenge of
Pope Paul VI to the African Church in 1969: "By now, you Africans
are missionaries to yourselves" is still to be consistently and
8. What resources do we dispose of? The most important, after
the grace of Christ, is the People. The whole People of God in the
theological understanding of Lumen gentium - this People which
comprises the members of the body of Christ in its entirety - has the
mandate, which is both an honour and a duty, to proclaim the Gospel
message. In the now well-known African experience of "Small
Christian Communities", the whole People of God are mobilized
to be Church and to evangelize. What lessons can be learned and shared
from this experience, as model of an evangelizing local Church? The
Small Christian Community can derive theological enrichment and
missionary motivation from the concept of the Church as "Family
of God" to which all are called and destined to belong. The
concept of "family", which is very strong in Africa, expresses
in concrete imagery the profound ecclesiological idea of the communion
of believers, a fellowship of diversities of roles and persons.
The whole community needs to be trained, motivated and empowered for
evangelization, each according to his or her specific role within the
Church. First are the ordained ministers of Word and Sacrament: Bishops
and priests,, indispensable for the life of the Church. Bishops have
the greater responsibility, as the Second Vatican Council declared:
"Christ's mandate to preach the Gospel to every creature (Mk 16:15)
primarily and immediately concerns them" (Second Vatican Ecumenical
Council, Decree De activitate missionali Ecclesiae, Ad gentes, n.
38). The Bishop's concern for evangelization should transcend the limits
of his Diocese to embrace the whole world in a spirit of universal
solicitude for the entire Church of God (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical
Council, Decree De pastorali Episcoporurn munere in Ecclesia,
Christus Dominus, n. 6). This demands that in the exercise of his
pastoral ministry the Bishop should acknowledge the importance of the
witness of personal Christian life for the very success of his pastoral
9. Priests, as ordained ministers, in hierarchical communion
with the Bishop, form a sole presbyterium with him, sharing his
responsibility in evangelization. We give thanks and praise to God for
the steady rise in priestly vocations all over the continent. In some
places, there is the special blessing of abundant vocations. Every
effort must be made, with the support of the universal Church, to
effectively harness, properly train and judiciously deploy these
precious fruits of God's blessings, especially for the extensive and
intensive evangelization of the African continent. Here the directives
and suggestions in official Church documents on the necessary
collaboration among local Churches for a better distribution of priestly
personnel in the world deserve the attention of the Church also in
Africa and Madagascar. Nor can we forget. that despite copious vocations
in some places, the general situation in terms of priest-people ratio in
Africa is still very poor.
On the whole, the priest in Africa enjoys great respect from
the people, even outside the Catholic fold. African society has a
natural respect for those who are recognized as "men of God".
The priest must not fail to live up to this dignity. At the same time,
however, the priest in Africa today must define his image in terms of
collaboration with the whole People of God, and in solidarity with the
real living conditions of the people at large. It would be a pity if he
were to become part of the small cream of affluent elite in a sea of
misery. Furthermore, he must maintain a high sense of missionary zeal
and avoid becoming just a "maintenance man" in an
"established Church". The harvest all over Africa is great and
the labourers few. Priestly training must take note of these factors.
Likewise priests should be aware of the necessity of a personal
spiritual and pastoral life which testifies to the Gospel message and
thus gives them credibility in the eyes of the faithful: "in the
Church, the witness given by a life truly and essentially Christian
which is dedicated to God in an indissoluble union and which is likewise
dedicated with the utmost fervour of soul to our neighbour is the
primary organ of evangelization... The men of our day are more impressed
by witness than by teachers, and if they listen to these it is because
they also bear witness" (Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii
nuntiandi, n. 41; AAS LXVIII  3 1). Recent official
Church documents on priestly training, especially the Post-Synodal
Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores dabo vobis of John Paul II, will
need to be studied and reread in the light of our local realities.
10 . Priests have always worked hand in hand with religious in
the founding and development of the Church in Africa. The coming
Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the "Consecrated Life
and its Mission in the Church and in the World", sharpens the need
for this Synod to examine the image and role of religious in Africa
today. African foundations, as well as Africans in international
communities, have to continue to seek ways of making religious life an
ever more powerful and credible witness in the African context. We can
and must speak of inculturation of religious life, taking seriously the
challenges that this entails.
Collaboration between religious and the hierarchy is of capital
importance especially in the missionary situation of our Church. Thanks
to God, there are studies, researches and orientations which are very
useful in ensuring effective and fruitful "mutual relations"
(cf. Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes and the
Sacred Congregation for Bishops, Notae directivae pro mutuis
relationibus inter episcopos et religiosos in Ecclesia, Mutuae
relationes: AAS LXX  473-506). These should be followed by all
concerned. In many cases, the team of religious in a Diocese is also of
foreign origin. The collaboration between the local clergy and
expatriate missionaries is a powerful witness to the unity and
universality of the Church which cannot go unrecognized; at the same
time, it constitutes a source of energy indispensable for the work of
evangelization of the continent. Every effort should therefore be made
to maintain, protect and promote such collaboration.
11. The laity have an enviable record of active participation,
often of initiative, in the life of the African Church. This has been
achieved through the dynamism of Movements of Catholic Action, Apostolic
Associations and new Movements of Spirituality without forgetting the
beneficial influence of "Small Christian Communities". This
should continue and grow at all levels of the laity: men and women,
adults, youth and children also.
12. Catechists form a special category of honour among the
laity. They have a long and glorious tradition in the Church in Africa
and Madagascar. Their role is still valid. But this role needs to be
re-evaluated and updated for the needs of today, planning also for the
future. The Church in Africa and Madagascar would be at a great loss
without their collaboration.
13. Our future gaze could be cast also in the direction of the
generous provisions which the Church has made new, non-ordained ministries
for lay people in the Church. The Synod may want to consider if we have
looked carefully enough into these provisions, in the light of our
pressing pastoral needs.
14. For all Church personnel, there is the triple question of recruitment,
training and adequate maintenance within the means of our local
Churches. The Church in Africa is poor mainly because Africa is poor.
But heavy and continued dependence on foreign financial sources of aid
should be a cause for major concern. Certainly we appreciate and are
grateful for the Christian solidarity and charity of our richer and
older Churches who have been coming to our aid. But we too must play our
role in seeking ways of greater self-reliance. More sustained
mobilization of local resources, better management of available means,
critical assessment of our real needs and a creative approach to meeting
those needs within our local possibilities - have we been doing enough
in these directions?
15. Early Church history traces the origins of the monastic life
to Egypt in Africa. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo in Africa, started a
great tradition of monasticism that has continued to flourish even
today. The contemplative life is an essential element
of the Church which the Church in Africa has yet to fully appreciate and
rediscover. Its contribution to evangelization is very important.
The questions on proclamation are many, the challenges great. The
command of Christ is clear and formal, and he has promised to be with us
to the end of time (cf. Mt 28:19-20).
16. Although inculturation is a relatively new word, the
reality it connotes has always been part and parcel of the evangelizing
mission of the Church down the ages. It has to do with rooting the
Gospel message in the culture of a people. It has become a major concern
of the Church in Africa and Madagascar because of the relative newness
of Christianity among our peoples, and the foreign origin of its heralds
in most places. Many have therefore a strong feeling of having received
a faith not yet fully at home in our life and culture.
The Synod documents treat inculturation within the framework of a
theology of the Incarnation. That is to say that inculturation is more
than a simple adaptation to cultural modes of expression - what has been
called the theology of "adaptation". It goes deeper, into ways
of understanding the faith and living it out in practical experience. It
is an all-embracing process which in the last analysis is the work of
the Holy Spirit leading the believer into the full knowledge of the
Inculturation is an ecclesial task, involving all levels of the
Church, each at its own place and according to its own role. It is not
only a question of theological speculation by experts, but involves the
Christian life of the people at the grassroots. However, Bishops have a
special responsibility to promote, guide and supervise the process of
inculturation in communion with the universal Church, while theologians
play an indispensable role in study, documentation and research in
communion with the hierarchy and at the service of the People of God.
The Church in Africa ought not to fear inculturation; the contrary
should be the case, for the origins of inculturation go back to the very
beginnings of Christianity. That is to say that inculturation has
indissoluble links with the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.
In the concrete application of the general principles of
inculturation, we are faced with the great diversity of cultures and
pastoral situations in Africa. The general concerns of inculturation are
valid not only for Africa and the so-called "mission-lands".
Every nation and culture must constantly face the challenge of finding a
relevant and living expression of the Christian message. The efforts of
each culture in this regard enrich the universal Church.
17. Inculturation touches every aspect of life. In the African
context, the following areas come to mind as necessary and urgent.
In the matter of theological expression, the project of an African
Theology must continue with all vigour and commitment, respecting
the principles of compatibility with the Gospel and communion with the
universal Church (cf. Synod of Bishops, Special Assembly for Africa, Instrumentum
laboris, n. 68). New grounds are likely to be broken if more effort
were made to do theology in the local languages, despite the
difficulties which such an effort would entail.
Worship and liturgy are specially privileged fields for
inculturation. The ancient rites of the Church, including those of
Africa, in Egypt and in Ethiopia, are fruits of liturgical inculturation.
More attention should be paid to these ancient African rites as we try
to evolve new ones in other parts of Africa. In this regard, the
experience of Zaire, approved by the Holy See, is a step in the right
direction. The emergence of such rites is as of right not as
Marriage and family need to be looked at more closely, in order
to recover and promote the precious values of the traditional African
family. This could be a great contribution to finding an effective
response to the crisis of the family in many modern societies. We need
greater appreciation for our various customary laws of marriage and
serious effort to harmonize them with Church laws on marriage.
Healing and sickness are very important dimensions of people's
lives in Africa and Madagascar. The holistic and sacral approach
characteristic of most of our cultures highlight the spiritual dimension
of physical health and sickness. This is in line with the biblical data
on Christ's ministry to the sick, and with the practice of the Church
down through the centuries. There is an organic link between spiritual
and physical healing. Recent emphasis on "faith healing" and
the proliferation of "healing ministries" in many places pose
the challenge of discernment. Experiences in this area evince valid
points to be encouraged and dangers to be avoided.
Initiation rites common in many African cultures can enrich and
offer powerful symbolism for the Christian rites of initiation, the
sacraments and sacramentals and even the religious life.
18. Inculturation presupposes a positive attitude to our cultures,
especially the religious aspects of these cultures. Conversion to the
Christian faith is always in the line of continuity with faith in God
and acceptance of his sovereign will. We need to distinguish clearly in
our minds between true inculturation and inadmissible syncretism. The Instrumentum
laboris (cf Synod of Bishops, Special Assembly for Africa, Instrumentum
laboris, nn. 105-106) indicates useful lines of discernment in its
long list of positive and negative aspects of the African Traditional
Religion. Finally, we need to acknowledge the limits of
inculturation. Its aim is not to remove all difficulties from the
Christian life but to facilitate a more authentic, convinced and
convincing way of living the Gospel.
19. After all that we find in the Lineamenta and the Instrumentum
laboris on this topic, we only need to highlight a few points.
In Africa and Madagascar, dialogue is often a family affair,
as people of different faiths live together in the same family. This
offers a terrain favourable to inter-religious dialogue: to bring all
believers to the realization that we are all children of the same
For the African nations, religious dialogue is an important
instrument for peace and unity, especially where society tends to be
polarized along religious lines. The Church, as sacrament of the unity
of mankind, has here a basic motivation for engaging in dialogue which
cuts across and breaks down barriers dividing communities and nations.
Who does not see that in the Africa of today this apostolate of unity is
of paramount importance?
20. For us Africans, African Traditional Religion (ATR) is neither
alien nor even a separate religious system. Rather, it usually
represents the common religious and spiritual rooting for all who belong
to the same ethnic group. In this sense, ATR can in fact be a bridge for
dialogue between the different religions reaching Africa from outside.
If the Christian faith is to find its deepest roots in the spiritual
culture of our peoples, there must be a serious dialogue with ATR. The
Synod documents have a long list of elements (ibid.) which, purified and
elevated in the light of the Gospel, can become a firm foundation of
religious cultural heritage upon which an authentic Christian life in
Africa can be built.
It seems that so far the Church in Africa and Madagascar has not
taken up the necessary formal dialogue with ATR. At the Assisi Prayer
for Peace (the Assisi prayer meeting was on 27 October 1986) and on
some of his pastoral visits to Africa, the Holy Father has made powerful
gestures of recognition of, and dialogue with, our traditional religion.
How can we follow up such gestures without giving the wrong signals to
our people seeking the light of the Gospel? In any case, we need to
stress that our traditional religion deserves to be considered as a
valid partner in dialogue as much as any other organized world religion.
21. Islam is described in the Synod documents as "an
important but difficult partner" in dialogue but this dialogue is,
nevertheless, very necessary. There are, of course, vast diversities in
Christian-Muslim relations in Africa. In most cases, these relations are
generally good, especially in places where both faiths are represented
in the same ethnic group or even within the same family circle. Such
positive conditions should be fully exploited for promoting more
effective dialogue throughout the African continent.
On the Christian side, concern for truth and objectivity would make
it little honest to mask the many cases of real and serious difficulty
in the practice of Christian-Muslim relations. On this score, the
Plenary Assembly of the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa
and Madagascar (SECAM) meeting in Yaounde in 1981 declared:
"The evident political implications of the current awakening of
Islam... make it an obligation for SECAM to follow the situation
closely, taking account of the clear directives of the Council. On
account of possessing a global vision of the continent as a whole, SECAM
is in a position to offer effective help to the different Episcopal
In the wake of SECAM, this Synodal Assembly invites the laity, the
priests and the religious to seek to know Islam and whatever touches it
better, in the hope that the example of Christian life, lived in
fidelity to Christ, the only Saviour, is the best response to the
challenge of Islam. Most of the time, difficulties with Islam have their
source in influences from beyond Africa and from outside Islam as a
religion. Dialogue cannot thrive without mutual respect, recognition
and reciprocity. The voice of the Synod must be loud and clear in
denouncing and condemning denial or undue restriction of religious
freedom wherever it may be found especially where our local churches are
involved, in Africa and elsewhere. Whatever the difficulties of the
situation, we must seek better relations by highlighting the religious
and human values we share, and by intensifying our evangelization by a
living, often silent, but always effective presence and witness.
22. Ecumenical dialogue with other Christians must be given
special attention if the evangelization of Africa is to continue its
rapid progress. All of us who proclaim the holy Name of Jesus
need to pull our resources and all our forces together.
On the whole, there is much working together on the practical level.
But there does not seem to be enough formal ecumenical dialogue or
encounter, and this limits the scope and force of collaboration. Many
Christian groups in Africa, especially those recently founded, do not
appreciate the need for any form of "organic unity" beyond our
present loose bonds of Christian fellowship. How can the Church continue
to tread timidly in scandalous division and disunity when it knows that
the unity of Christians is one of the three fundamental objectives of
the Second Vatican Council?
23. The Sects feature in many of the responses to the Lineamenta,
often as a cause of concern for the Church. This word however covers a
diversity of phenomena, even in the same area. Their activities and
apparent success often challenge us to look more closely into our
methods of evangelization and pastoral care. Should we not acknowledge
some of their strong points: zeal for the Gospel, deep conviction,
attention to individual needs of body and soul, effective organization
in small groups, lively, warm and enjoyable worship? Even in cases of
fanatical opposition to the Catholic faith, a positive response on our
part in the spirit of dialogue is always possible. The Church, as a
patient and indulgent mother, must have an open heart which invites and
24. The contemplative life has an important role in promoting
ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, as the experience of the Church
in many parts of the world shows, for example, with Muslims and
Buddhists. What are our experiences in this regard?
25. In conclusion, it is to be said that the spirit of dialogue
should characterize all aspects of the life of the Church. Whether in
theology or pastoral practice, in preaching or social interactions, we
should "do all in our power to live in peace with everyone"
(cf. Rom 12:18), avoiding both offence and useless provocation.
Justice and peace
26. An integral concept of evangelization necessarily includes
promotion of human development injustice and peace. In this matter, Pope
Paul VI recalled in his apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi
(Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii nuntiandi, n. 31: AAS
LXVIII  26) that there are "close links between
evangelization and human advancement, that is development and
liberation. There is a connection in the anthropological order because
the man who is to be evangelized is not an abstract being but a person
subject to social and economic factors. There is also a connection in
the theological sphere because the plan of creation cannot be isolated
from the plan of redemption which extends to the very practical question
of eradicating injustice and establishing justice. There is, finally, a
connection in the evangelical order, that is, the order of charity, for
how can the new law be proclaimed unless it promotes a true practical
advancement of man in a spirit of justice and peace?".
The challenges to the Church in Africa and Madagascar in this regard
are many and serious. There are issues of abject poverty, diseases which
must be allowed no room - AIDS in the first place - widespread
illiteracy and ignorance. Most countries have been witnessing in recent
years a tragic worsening of health services and educational facilities.
We must think also of conflicts and wars within and between nations,
with the consequent shameful and painful phenomenon of refugees and
displaced persons throughout the continent. All these sufferings derive
from the violation of the fundamental human rights of persons and
Can one forget that the basic cause of this sad situation is human
weakness and the wickedness of the heart of man, his egoism and greed.
This is found all over the world, but the effect is more damaging in a
society, like ours, which is poor in resources and where the sense of
public responsibility leaves much to be desired.
In the face of these realities, it is of paramount importance that
the Church at all levels plays her role of awakening the moral
conscience of all in view of healing the ills which afflict society. She
does this by means proper to her mission: the teaching and courageous
stand of the pastors, the living witness of the lay faithful and the
prayers of the whole Church.
27. In more specific terms, the most serious social problems of the
continent derive also from bad government, economic mismanagement and
corruption. Hence the importance of the political engagement of
Christians. The Church in Africa has responsibility in this matter
which it cannot abdicate without failing in her mission. She cannot fail
in her prophetic role of denouncing and condemning in clear terms the
social vices of the nation, especially of its leaders. In recent times,
during major national crises in some countries, esteem for and
confidence in members of the hierarchy have led to some of them being
called upon to act as impartial mediators and prudent peacemakers. The
Holy Father spoke on this matter to the Bishops of the Republic of Congo
as follows: "It can happen that Pastors, in an evangelical spirit
and with much sincerity and generosity, accept for some time a mission
in the political order... for the good of the nation. Such situations
remain exceptional. For one entrusted with the care of souls who wishes
to be truly a gatherer of the People of God ought to be free in relation
to direct political action in the nation. On the other hand, you should
have it close at heart to be present to your people through appropriate
directives, especially when the people need to be enlightened,
encouraged and supported in times of crisis. May all see in you images
of Christ, the image of men of God who deeply love their nation
and share in all the conditions of life, good and bad, as the Lord did
on earth" (John Paul II, Address to the Bishops of the Republic of
the Congo on ad limina visit [25 Nov. 1993], n. 8; L'Osservatore
Romano English edition, 8 December 1993, p. 5).
In any case, direct involvement in the political arena is the proper
duty of the lay members of the Church. What is the value of the
participation of many Catholics in politics at all levels? It is not
enough to count the members we have in key positions. How can they be
trained, formed, motivated and spiritually equipped to promote Christ's
kingdom of justice and peace in the community? Here the social teachings
of the Church, especially in the area of politics and public life, need
to be brought more systematically to the knowledge of our Christians.
They will thus be better prepared to confront and participate in the
democratic experiences all over the continent.
28. The role of women in society merits particular attention.
This has become a burning issue all over the world, and Africa cannot
but be affected by these debates. We must critically examine, in the
light of the Gospel, those aspects of our African culture which promote
or at least condone negative attitudes towards women. The African woman
should be able to count on the Church to be the defender of her rights
as a human person and the promoter of her authentic role: in social
life, politics, economics, but also as wife and mother.
29. There is also the tragedy of fratricidal wars and conflicts in
many parts of our continent. We should be asking in the Synod what the
Church in Africa can do to promote greater justice and harmony and to
restore peace in troubled areas.
The issues of justice and peace in Africa have important international
dimensions. This Synod, as an Assembly of the universal Church,
affords a good opportunity to highlight them. Africa is still to fully
recover from the negative effects of a long history of political and
economic dependence on foreign powers. In many ways, present patterns of
international relationships sometimes also aggravate the problems of the
continent. There is great encouragement from the Holy Father who, on many
occasions, but especially in his most recent social Encyclical Centesimus
annus, has made himself a fervent advocate of poor nations all over
the world, especially Africa. He has challenged the rich nations
an a variety of burning issues: to lift the debilitating "foreign
debt", to redress unfair trade relations, to respect the right to
the just freedom and self-determination of peoples, and to allow
a more equitable sharing by all in God's blessings to humanity. He has
also addressed, with equal candour and vigour, the faults and failings,
the corruption and incompetence of some leaders of the poor nations. Is
it too much to expect that the voice of the Pope will challenge the
local Churches everywhere, but especially in the richer lands, to ever
greater and more effective pastoral action for a better and more just
world order? To this we, the Bishops of the Synod, are particularly
committed, as the Instrumentum laboris affirms at n. 125. This
too is part of the evangelizing task of the worldwide Church.
Means of social communication
30. Evangelization is the communication of a Good News whose source
is God himself. All available forms of human communication must be
employed to spread the message of Christ.
In the first place, we should not forget the traditional means of
communication: songs, stories, proverbs, music, drama, mime etc.
Such means are available to all in Africa and still retain their
effectiveness at the grassroots. Besides these often form the materials
packaged for distribution through the modern devices. Examples are local
songs and music on radio, Bible or religious plays on television or
videocassette. When properly done they can be most effective.
The modern means of communication are a miracle of our times,
and a gift of God to humanity. This wonderful phenomenon is to be
considered not only as a means of evangelization but also as a world to
be evangelized. In order that modern mass media be a vehicle for truth,
peace and spiritual values and not a corrupting influence on society,
conscious and consistent attention must be given to it. To do this is a
great challenge to the Church, especially as much of this world of the
media is often beyond the reach and control of the Church that is
evangelizing. In many countries, government has monopolized control of
all electronic media. In others, programmes from foreign sources
dominate the transmissions offered to the people. This leaves little
room for the Church to maneuver. All available access to the mass media
must be explored: these range from private Church ownership of radio and
television, through slots or air time on public media, to indirect
influence through Catholics employed in government media houses.
31. In all cases, the role of Catholics in the media profession is
always of paramount importance. They need to have good professional
competence as well as being themselves well-informed on the doctrines
and teachings of the Church, especially in the social domain. They also
need spiritual motivation and empowerment to play their evangelizing
role in the practice of their profession, promoting truth, justice, love
and peace. It is not always easy to do this. Journalists are
often targets of attack and repression by dictatorial regimes that
cannot bear free expression of the truth. Harassment of journalists in
the legitimate practice of their profession of disseminating information
deserves strong condemnations, while the journalists themselves who are
victims of such harassment should be commended and encouraged to
continue the struggle. On their part, journalists must demonstrate the
necessary sense of professional responsibility in what they publish and
how they do it.
32. If radio and television are often beyond Church control,
there is always room for the print media whose importance should
not be underestimated. There is little reading material in Africa and
many people who cannot read, but precisely for these reasons whatever we
can produce is likely to be carefully read, by many who can read, and
for many more who cannot.
33. Communication is an area where international co-operation has
become necessary and effective. For example, a few powerful radio
transmitters, strategically located, can cover the whole of our
continent with well produced "Good News" of salvation. Other
confessions and religions are already planning to invade the African
airwaves with their own transmissions. What has this Synod to say on
this very important matter?
The Instrumentum laboris mentions many forms of media, namely,
mass media, group media, and self-media. Each has its own
appropriate equipment, some within easy reach at affordable prices. Each
has its own utility as an instrument of evangelization.
34. The main question facing this Synod can be phrased as follows:
"Church of Africa, what must you now become so that your message
may be relevant and credible?". We will do well to keep this
fundamental question in mind in all our discussions in the days ahead.
Evangelization is the work of the Holy Spirit, who is its primary
agent. But it is also an assignment which the Lord Jesus has entrusted
to his Church, under the guidance and in the power of the Spirit. Our
co-operation is necessary, in fervent prayer, hard thinking and
planning, collaboration and mobilization of resources.
Of special importance and particular relevance at this forum is the
need for greater inter-ecclesial solidarity on the African continental
level, especially with those who are in difficult conditions and in
Our Holy Mother Mary has many Churches and institutions named after
her in Africa and Madagascar. This is an eloquent sign that she has
always accompanied God's project of evangelization in our lands. We hope
that this Synod will be a new Pentecost - with Mary present with us as
she was with the Apostles at the first Pentecost of the Church. We
commit the work of the Synod to her powerful protection and