Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops: Report by the General Secretary
Archbishop Nikola Eterović
Reconciliation at the heart of Synodal reflection
On the morning of 5 October , in the presence of the Holy Father, the First General Congregation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa took place in the Synod Hall. there were 226 Synod Fathers present. After president Delegate Cardinal Francis Arinze welcomed the Pope, Archbishop Nikola Eterović, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, gave a report in Italian. The following is a shortened version of his report.
Your Eminences and Excellencies,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“In the power of the Holy Spirit, I appeal to everyone: ‘Be reconciled to God!’ (2 Cor 5:20). No ethnic or cultural difference, no difference of race, sex or religion must become a cause for dispute among you. You are all children of the one God, our Father, who is in heaven. With this conviction, it will then be possible to build a more just and peaceful Africa, an Africa worthy of the legitimate expectations of all its children”.1
With these words, Your Holiness displayed your apostolic concern and exercised your solicitude for the entire Church. In a particular way, inspired by the Holy Spirit who guides believers in their reading of Sacred Scripture, you used these words to express your love for the Church on pilgrimage in 53 countries in Africa and also for the entire African continent, a continent of great dynamism yet faced with many challenges. You pronounced these words in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, during your first Apostolic Visit to Africa from 17 to 23 March 2009. On this occasion you initiated, in ideal fashion, the work of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. At the end of the Eucharistic celebration in Amadou Ahidjo Stadium, on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, you presented the Instrumentum laboris to the presidents of the 36 episcopal conferences in Africa, the heads of the two synods of bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris and the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Egypt. This document is the basis for the work of our synodal assembly. At that moment, the stadium of Yaoundé became the very heart of the continent, because closely joined to you as Bishop of Rome and Universal Pastor of the Church were the bishops of the particular Churches, who represented “in some way the Church present among the peoples of Africa”.2 At the same time, Your Holiness invited all the faithful to support their Pastors in prayer in the preparation and unfolding of the great ecclesial event of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. Your Holiness then entrusted the celebration of the synodal assembly to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Africa, invoking her intercession so that “the Queen of Peace might sustain the efforts of all who work for reconciliation, justice and peace!”.3 Holy Father, during the meeting with the Special Council for Africa in the Apostolic Nunciature of Yaoundé, you were the first to recite the Marian prayer which you yourself composed to sustain the preparation of the synodal assembly and to implore the abundant grace of the Holy Spirit in obtaining a renewed dynamism for the Church in Africa, which always seeks better to serve all people of good will on the continent. At the beginning of our synodal work, we too recite this prayer so that the discussion during the synodal assembly might contribute to increasing hope in the peoples of Africa and the entire continent, and that it might contribute to imbue each local Church in Africa “with new evangelical and missionary zeal in service to reconciliation, justice and peace, according to the programme given us by the Lord himself: ‘You are the salt of the earth … you are the light of the world’ (Mt 5:13-14). May the joy of the Church in Africa at the celebration of this Synod be shared by the universal Church!”.4
Your Holiness, your wish is now being realized as seen in the representatives of the episcopates from the various continents who have willingly accepted your call to participate in this synodal assembly to show their nearness to the Catholic Church in Africa, a part of the Universal Church full of promise. Greetings, then, to the representatives of the episcopal conferences of the other four continents and to the bishops from 17 countries. Together with their brother-bishops from Africa, they are prepared to pray, dialogue and reflect on the present and future of the Catholic Church on the African continent. In this way, they become a part of the synod process of giving and receiving, of participating in Africa’s joys, sufferings, hopes and concerns and of sharing spiritual gifts for the edification of not only the particular Churches in Africa but the entire Holy Church of God spread throughout the whole world.
I extend heartfelt greetings to all 244 members of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, of whom 78 participate by reason of their office, 129 as elected members and 36 as papal appointments. Among these are 33 cardinals, 79 archbishops and 156 bishops. As for the office they hold, 37 are presidents of episcopal conference, 189 Ordinaries, 4 coadjutors, 2 auxiliaries and 8 (arch)bishops-emeritus.
I cordially welcome the fraternal delegates who represent 6 Churches and ecclesial communities, and express my gratitude for their having accepted the invitation to participate in this ecclesial event.
I also greet 29 experts and 49 auditors who are prepared to contribute their important testimony to the synodal proceedings by enriching the discussion.
I also wish to acknowledge the valuable collaboration of the assistants, translators and technical personnel, as well as the staff of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. Without their skilled and generous contribution, this synodal assembly would not be possible.
The present report is composed of six parts:
I. The Significance of the Apostolic Visit to Africa
II. Some Statistical Data
III. The Convocation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa
IV. The Preparation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa
I. The Significance of the Apostolic Visit to Africa
In a special manner, I wish to greet the 197 synod fathers from the countries of Africa. In their name, I thank Your Holiness for your Apostolic Visit to Africa which was organized in light of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. With this Special Assembly in mind, Your Holiness chose the same theme for your first pastoral visit to the African continent: “You are the salt of the earth...you are the light of the world” (Mt 5: 13, 14).
Thank you, Holy Father, for the edifying teachings given during your apostolic visitation to Africa. Even though the visit was limited to two countries, Cameroon and Angola, all of Africa took an interest. Furthermore, your visit led to the strengthening of the bonds uniting, in faith, hope and charity, the Bishop of Rome and your brother-bishops in the episcopate, who are the heads of the particular Churches of Africa. At the same time, your visit strengthened the bond between them and the faithful entrusted to their pastoral care. This is particularly true among men and women of good will on the African continent. In fact, the Gospel, the Good News, is addressed to every inhabitant of Africa and the entire world. Making reference to the life of St. Josephine Bakhita, canonized on 1 October 2000 by the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, Your Holiness proposed her splendid example in your wish that every man and women on the continent might be transformed by an encounter with the living God.
Today also, “the saving message of the Gospel needs to be proclaimed loud and clear, so that the light of Christ can shine into the darkness of people’s lives”.5 The light of the Gospel scatters the darkness of sin, even in Africa, where men and women, longing to hear a word of pardon and hope, are willing to be transformed by Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “In the face of suffering or violence, poverty or hunger, corruption or abuse of power, a Christian can never remain silent”.6 These evils affect everyone in Africa, who “cry out for reconciliation, justice and peace which the Church offers them, not new forms of economic or political oppression, but the glorious freedom of the children of God (cf. Rom 8:21)”.7 Every member of the Church is therefore called to become an apostle of the Gospel, to bring the Good News to every African. “Almost ten years into the new millennium, this moment of grace is a summons to all the bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful of the continent to rededicate themselves to the mission of the Church to bring hope to the hearts of the people of Africa, and indeed to people throughout the world”.8
Holy Father, in light of the importance of your Message to the entire African continent and our synodal discussion on the Instrumentum laboris, the discourses from your Apostolic Visit are being made available in the following languages: French, English, Italian, Portugese and Spanish. Undoubtedly, these documents will be of great assistance to the synod fathers and will allow them to develop basic subjects related to the topic of the Second Special Assembly for Africa.
II. Some Statistical Data
Together we thank the Good and Merciful God for the many gifts bestowed on the Church in Africa which are placed at the service of all, especially the poorest of the poor and the most in need. In particular, we give thanks for its great dynamism witnessed in the following statistics.
In a world population of 6,617,097,000 inhabitants, the number of Catholics is 1,146,656,000, that is, 17.3%. However, the percentage in Africa is higher. In fact, out of 943,743,000 inhabitants, the number of Catholics is 164,925,00, namely 17.5%. This figure is very significant if one considers, for example, that, in 1978, at the beginning of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, the number of African Catholics was about 55,000,000. In 1994, the year in which the First Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops was held, the number was 102,878,000 faithful, that is, 14.6% of the population in Africa.
In that same period, we also have a significant increase in the number of vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life. In fact, thanks be to God, a consistent increase is witnessed in all sectors, particularly among Christ’s faithful: bishops, priests, deacons, men and women in the consecrated life and committed lay people, among whom catechists occupy an important place. This is proven in a comparison of statistical data from 1994 with that of 2007.
Members — Secular
We also give due honor to those in pastoral activity who have sealed their ecclesial service with the ultimate sacrifice of their lives. From 1994 to 2008, 521 pastoral workers have given their lives in Africa. Included in this number are the 248 victims of the tragedy in Rwanda in 1994 and, subsequently, 40 minor seminarians killed in Burundi, in1997. Not only Africans have given their lives, but also missionaries from many countries. For example, in 2006, 11 pastoral workers were killed: 5 diocesan priests, of whom 1 was Peruvian, and 4 religious, of whom 1 was Portuguese, 1 Brazilian, 1 an Italian religious and 1 a Portuguese lay missionary. In 2007, 4 pastoral workers lost their lives: 1 diocesan priest, 2 religious and 1 sister from Switzerland. In 2008, 5 missionaries died, of which 1 was a religious from England and 1 a brother from France.
The eyes of faith allow us to go beyond these statistics and see the great dynamism in evangelization on the African continent, which animates the generous and undivided commitment of pastoral workers, even to the point of giving their lives in martyrdom. With thanksgiving to Almighty God for this gift of his infinite mercy, we pray that this dynamism continues, indeed, that it be strengthened for the good of the particular Churches in Africa and the whole world. Undoubtedly, in this group of servants of the Gospel, the Pastors of the particular Churches will recognize candidates for canonization, according to Church norms, not only to increase the number of African saints, among whom many are martyrs, but also to obtain more intercessors in heaven to sustain the particular Churches of the continent so that they may continue, with renewed zeal, their earthly pilgrimage in praise of God and in service to others.
In addition to evangelization, which is the Church’s principal mission, the Catholic Church is also very much involved in charitable works, health, education and countless initiatives of human promotion in general. In this regard, we recall significant examples like the John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel, instituted on 22 February 1984,11 during the Holy Year of Redemption, by the Pope himself, following his apostolic visit to Burkina Faso, and the memorable Ouagadougou Appeal of 10 May 1980. Eight years ago, 12 February 2001, Pope John Paul II established the “Good Samaritan” Foundation to sustain the sick who are most in need, above all, those suffering from AIDS.12
On the African continent, then, there are:
Caritas on the national and international levels. In Africa, 53 Caritas programmes exist on the national level of which 20 have the added purpose of promoting solidarity and the integral development of the person and society. In some countries, the work of Caritas often coincides with the mission exercised by Justice and Peace Commissions. Caritas also exists in the Middle East and North Africa. The national programmes of Caritas are coordinated by Caritas Africa, which has its headquarters in Kampala, Uganda.
Justice and Peace Commissions. In addition to the Justice and Peace Secretariat of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar — SECAM, there are 8 regional and 34 national commissions associated with their proper episcopal conference. Moreover, numerous national and international Catholic organizations are doing their best to help the African population.13 There are also 12 institutes and centres to promote the social doctrine of the Church.14
Pastoral Health Care. The Catholic Church is extensively involved in the field of pastoral health care. According to available data from 2007,15 16,178 health institutions exist on the entire African continent, including 1,074 hospitals, 5,373 clinics, 186 leprosaria, 753 houses for the elderly and disabled persons, 979 orphanages, 1997 children’s daycare centres, 1590 marriage counseling centres, 2947 rehabilitation centres and 1279 various other health facilities. Obviously, this data stands as a laudable, important testimony to many Christians, above all, to persons in the consecrated life and lay Catholics who work tirelessly in the aforementioned health institutions. As regards the illnesses treated, statistics point to HIV/AIDS as the most alarming health emergency. In this regard, we gratefully note that, according to the data received by UNAIDS, 26% of the health institutions in the world, directly involved with the treatment of AIDS, are run by Catholic organizations.16 The Catholic Church is in the forefront in the fight against the spread of this disease and is involved extensively in the care of those sick with AIDS, as seen, for example, in the DREAM Programme, promoted with much success by the St. Egidio Community.
Statistical data, however, highlights the unforgettable fact that malaria remains the major cause of death on the African continent. Qualified persons from the international community ought to increase efforts and means for its prevention and finding a remedy for this terrible, widespread sickness, which each year causes the death of about 1,000,000 persons in the world, of which 85% are children under the age of 5.
Catholic schools. The Catholic Church, as Mater et Magister, in addition to proclaiming the Gospel, has always promoted the integral formation of persons in her educational institutions. Today, this important work continues. In fact, in Africa, there are 12,496 pre-schools with 1,266,444 students; 33,263 elementary schools with 14,061,806 students; and 9,838 middle and high schools with 3,738,238 students. Higher institutions of learning are frequented by 54,362 students, of which 11,011 students are enrolled in ecclesiastical studies, and 76,432 are studying various disciplines at Church-sponsored Universities.
III. The Convocation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa
It took many years for the idea of convoking the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops to mature. The possibility first emerged in the final years of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, while the late Cardinal Jan Pieter Schotte was General Secretary of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. In fact, the idea was often discussed at many meetings of the Special Council for Africa of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.
Even after my appointment as General Secretary in 2004, the subject continued to be raised. Pope John Paul II himself publicly referred to the idea on 15 June 2004 during an audience granted to the Special Council for Africa of the General Secretariat, by raising the following question: “Has not the time come to deepen this African synodal experience, for which many Pastors of Africa have been pressing? The exceptional growth of the Church in Africa, the rapid succession of Pastors, the new challenges that the continent must face demand responses that can stem only from a persevering and concerted effort to implement Ecclesia in Africa, thereby restoring renewed strength and more firmly-grounded hope to this continent in difficulty”.17
For their part, the members of the Special Council for Africa expressed their gratitude to the Holy Father for his apostolic concern for their particular Churches and took up the question of planning with renewed vigour. During a meeting of the Special Council of Africa on 15 and 16 June 2004, the members agreed to leave the decision to convoke a Second Special Assembly for Africa to Pope John Paul II. The Council requested that the General Secretary make the formal proposal to the Holy Father to announce his decision on the 10th Anniversary of the celebration of the First Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. It was specifically suggested that the announcement be made on 13 November 2004, the 1650th anniversary of the birth of St. Augustine, Africa’s great son and glory of the universal Church. The date proved auspicious, because on that very day the SECAM (Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar) — CCEE (Consilium Conferentiarum Episcoporum Europae) Symposium was taking place in Rome to recall the 10th Anniversary of the Synod for Africa. According to the members of the Special Council for Africa, a sufficient time was needed to prepare for the celebration, possibly to take place in October 2009 to coincide with the 15th Anniversary of the celebration of the First Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. The topic could focus on the Church in Africa as the Family of God, called to announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ for salvation, reconciliation, justice and peace.
The Servant of God, Pope John Paul II willingly welcomed this proposal. During a papal audience given to the participants gathered in Rome for the previously mentioned Symposium of Bishops of Africa and Europe, he said: “Welcoming the aspirations of the Post-Synodal Council, an expression of the hopes of African Pastors, I take the occasion to announce my intention to convoke a Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops”.18 At the same time, he entrusted this project to the prayers of the faithful, using the following words: “I entrust this project to your prayers, warmly inviting you all to implore the Lord for the precious gift of communion and peace for the beloved Land of Africa.”.19
On another occasion, the pontiff expressed his support for the idea of a Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. In a letter addressed to the General Secretary for the 13th Meeting of the Special Council for Africa, 24-25 February 2005, Pope John Paul II had expressed, among other things, his vision of the Second Synodal Assembly: “Noting the dynamism born from the experience of the First Synod for Africa, this Assembly will endeavour to examine it in greater depth and to extend it, relying on the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa and taking into account the new ecclesial and social data for the continent. Its task will be to support the local Churches and their Pastors and to help them in their pastoral initiatives, thus preparing for the future of the Church on the continent of Africa which, as far as peace is concerned, is experiencing political, economic and social unrest”.20 Subsequently, Pope John Paul II listed some of the difficulties: armed conflict, persistent poverty and diseases with their devastating consequences, starting with the social drama of AIDS, corruption and the widespread sense of insecurity in various regions. The faithful, along with people of good will, must come together in constructing a prosperous and stable society, thereby guaranteeing a bright future for new generations. The Catholic Church gives thanks to God for the remarkable expansion she has experienced in recent decades. At the same time, the pontiff stated: “For this growth to continue, I encourage the Bishops to further the spiritual deepening of all that has been achieved, as well as of the human and Christian development of the clergy and laity.21 Finally, entrusting the preparation of this Church event to the maternal intercession of Our Lady of Africa, Pope John Paul II said: “May the future Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops also encourage the strengthening of faith in Christ Our Saviour, and genuine reconciliation!”.22
On 2 April 2009, God, in his loving Providence, willed that Pope John Paul II pass to a better life. In the Conclave held that same month, on 19 April 2005, the cardinals elected as Bishop of Rome, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. Two months after his election, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the convocation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. After due study in the matter, the Holy Father reconfirmed the decision of his predecessor. Greeting the members of the Special Council for Africa of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, the Supreme Pontiff said: “Confirming what my Venerable and dear Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, decided last 13 November, I would like to announce my intention to convoke the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. I am very confident that this Session will effectively give an additional impetus to evangelization, to the consolidation and growth of the Church and to the promotion of reconciliation and peace on the continent of Africa”.23
The official convocation of the synod took place on 28 June 2007, the vigil of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. On this occasion the synod topic and the dates of the celebration were announced: “The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has convoked the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops on the topic, The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: 'You Are the Salt of the Earth... You Are the Light of the World' (Mt 5:13, 14), to be held in the Vatican from 4 to 25 October 2009”.24
After the Holy Father’s decision, the members of the Special Council immediately embarked on preparing for the synodal assembly.
IV. Preparation for the Second Special Assembly for Africa
With the maturation of the idea of a Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, the members of the Special Council undertook their task of preparing for the celebration of this ecclesial event in the best manner possible.
In the first place, the Lineamenta needed to be drafted, the document of preparation for the synodal assembly. Several meetings of the Special Council for Africa of the General Secretariat were dedicated to this preparatory task.
During the meeting of 25 and 26 February 2005, the members of the Special Council for Africa agreed on the outline of the Lineamenta with specific recommendations on the document’s content. In a subsequent meeting, held on 21 and 22 June 2005, a draft was the object of intense study. On 13 January 2006, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI formulated the topic of the synod assembly. The members of the Special Council were then able to reflect with more precision on the draft of the document, suggesting various changes which were subsequently made to the text. This final version was sent by electronic mail to the members of the Special Council for Africa for their final consideration with the request that any suggested changes be sent to the General Secretariat by 24 April 2006. On 27 and 28 April 2006, two members of the Council, representatives from the French and English groups respectively, together with the General Secretariat, examined and incorporated these observations in the document which was then translated into 4 languages: French, Italian, English and Portuguese, to which an Arabic version was added.
The Lineamenta was published on 27 June 2006. The text was presented in the Holy See Press Office by His Eminence, Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and by His Excellency, Most Rev. Nikola Eterovic, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops. The document was widely distributed, in addition to its availability on the Vatican website at the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops’ webpages.
The episcopal conferences, the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris and other concerned parties were asked to respond to the series of Questions in the Lineamenta and submit them to the General Secretariat by 31 October, 2008. These responses were used in drafting the Instrumentum laboris, the working-document for the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops.
The Instrumentum laboris
The percentages of the responses to the Lineamenta were drawn up according to the institutions customarily consulted by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops in synod preparation.
Churches sui iuris
Assembly of the
Catholic Hierarchy of
Department of the
Union of Superiors
The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops also received contributions from some Catholic Universities and Institutes of Higher Learning, as well as individuals, including the laity, who had at heart the present and future of the Catholic Church in Africa.
The submissions were thoroughly examined by the Special Council for Africa of the Synod of Bishops at the meeting of 27 and 28 October 2008. The Council members agreed on the outline of the document and made specific recommendations on its content, while, at the same time, remaining faithful to the contributions of the episcopates of each country.
With the assistance of experts, the General Secretariat drafted the document which was discussed at the 18th Meeting of the Special Council for Africa on 23 and 24 January 2009. After various changes were made to improve the text, the document was unanimously accepted.
The Instrumentum laboris was then translated into 4 languages: French, Italian, English and Portuguese. On 19 March 2009, in Yaoundé, Cameroon, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI graciously presented a copy of the document to the heads of the synods of bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris and the presidents of the episcopal conferences in Africa, for which we again express our heartfelt gratitude. Subsequently, the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops widely distributed the document, which will be thoroughly examined during our synodal assembly.
The Appointment of Those with Special Roles at the Synodal Assembly
On 14 February 2009, the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI appointed three Presidents-Delegate for the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops: Cardinals Francis Arinze, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; Théodore-Adrien Sarr, Archbishop of Dakar, Senegal and Wilfred Fox Napier, O.F.M., Archbishop of Durban, South Africa. At the same time, His Holiness appointed as General Rapporteur, His Eminence, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, Archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana and two Special Secretaries: Their Excellencies, Most Rev. Antonio Damião Franklin, Archbishop of Luanda, Angola and Most Rev. Edmond Djitanger, Bishop of Sarh, Chad.29
Recognition of the Work of the Members of the Special Council for Africa
Of the three Cardinals who were appointed as Presidents-Delegates by the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, two were members of the Special Council for Africa of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. I am certain that the synod fathers gathered here wish to acknowledge with heartfelt gratitude the valuable ecclesial service rendered by the members of the Special Council for Africa. Of the 12 members elected on 7 May 1994, at the conclusion of the First Special Assembly for Africa, 9 have persevered to the end. In the interim, His Eminence, Cardinal Hyacinthe Thiandoum, Archbishop emeritus of Dakar, Senegal, passed to the Lord in 2003. We willingly recommend him to the infinite mercy of God. In 2006, one member resigned after reaching the age limit, His Eminence, Cardinal Armand Gaetan Razafindratandra, Archbishop emeritus of Antananarivo, Madagascar, and in 2007, one stepped down for reasons of health, His Excellency, Most Rev. Paul Verdzekov, Archbishop emeritus of Bamenda, Cameroon. These were replaced respectively by: His Excellency, Most Rev. Anselme Titianma Sanon, Archbishop of Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso; His Excellency, Most Rev. Odon Maria Arsène Razanakolona, Archbishop of Antananarivo; and His Excellency, Most Rev. Cornelius Fontem Esua, Archbishop of Bamenda, Cameroon.
With the commencement of this synodal assembly, the 15-year mandate of the members of the Special Council for Africa of the Synod of Bishops comes to an end. Over this period of time, they participated in 19 meetings. The valuable service of the Special Council to the Church on pilgrimage in Africa can be divided into three phases. In the first, in the wake of the First Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, the Council’s demanding task was to prepare a contribution to the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation for the Holy Father to use in writing the document Ecclesia in Africa, which was signed by Pope John Paul II in Yaoundé, 14 September 1995, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Subsequently, the Special Council encouraged the implementation of this important document. The third phase coincided with the preparation of this present synodal assembly.
“Be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor 5:20). The compelling invitation to the Christians of Africa by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI is the same addressed by St. Paul to the Christians in Corinth. Enlightened by the Holy Spirit, which is the gift of the Risen Lord, the Apostle of the Gentiles personally experienced the importance of reconciliation in the Christian faith: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18). Reconciliation requires pardon from the Father which, in turn, is extended to others, according to the teaching of the Lord Jesus: “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us” (Lk 11:4; cf. Mt 6:11). The Church proclaims this good news of reconciliation and proposes it in the sacraments, particularly the Sacrament of Penance. It is a matter of “reconciliation at the source, from which comes every other gesture or act of reconciliation, also at the social level”.30 Justice needs to be respected in this reciprocal exchange, including a penalty for whatever crimes might be committed. However, the Master’s words are: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mt 9:13). Christian mercy does not cancel human justice but goes beyond it.
The teaching on reconciliation, which is the source of peace and justice, is at the heart of discussion at the Special Assembly for Africa. It presupposes the proclamation of the Good News and its assimilation. At the same time, considering the many examples of conflict, violence and even hate, a new evangelization seems urgently needed even in those places where the Word of God has already been proclaimed. Situations vary from country to country. In Egypt, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Christianity has been continually present from apostolic times; in sub-Saharan Africa, some particular Churches have celebrated 500 years of their foundation; while others have solemnly commemorated the first century of evangelization. If one travels in Africa, inwardly from the coast, some countries first saw missionaries some 50 years ago. However, in every case, all Christians are called to be reconciled with God and one’s neighbour. In such an urgent ongoing task, their guides are: bishops, priests, clerical-religious, deacons and also persons in the consecrated life. Openness to reconciliation is the barometer of the depth of evangelization in a person’s life, in a family, in a community, in a nation and also in the particular and universal Churches. Only a heart reconciled to God can bring forth initiatives of charity and justice towards one’s neighbour and in society as a whole.
“You Are the Salt of the Earth... You Are the Light of the World” (Mt 5:13, 14). These compelling words are at one and the same time an assertion of our Christian dignity and an invitation always to live that dignity in a better way. In these days, these words are addressed to all Christians, but in a particular manner to those in Africa. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, they realize that an affirmative response to the call demands conversion and a determination to follow Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church in Africa is to increasingly shed light on the complex realities of the continent using the light of the Lord Jesus and to progressively become the salt of the earth in Africa, giving divine flavour to everyday life.
Statistical data show that the Church in Africa is vibrantly alive. While we render thanks to God with a heart full of praise, we pray the Almighty Father, Son and Holy Spirit that this quantitative growth will increasingly become qualitative. In this way, Christians, guided by their Pastors, will be able to fulfill the ideal to which the Lord Jesus calls each of his disciples, namely, to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Mt 5:13, 14 ). Only united to the one who gives meaning to all creation and, above all, to human existence, can Christians live out their vocation of being the salt of the earth and offering a divine, eternal flavour to earthly goods and material things, which they ought to utilize in a Christian manner in their lives. Only in putting on the Lord Jesus, the Light of the World, can Christians reflect his light in the darkness of the present world, thereby leading the many men and women of good will, who are in search of the true light, to its inexhaustible source: The Lord Jesus, who died and rose from the dead, the one who is “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev 22:13).
We entrust the realization of this proposal to the intercession of all the saints of Africa, in a particular way to the Blessed Virgin Mary, making our own the wish of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI — that the Church in Africa “will continue to grow in holiness, in the service of reconciliation, justice and peace. I pray that the work of the Second Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will fan into a flame the gifts that the Spirit has poured out upon the Church in Africa. I pray for each of you, for your families and loved ones, and I ask you to join me in praying for all the people of this vast continent. [...] God bless Africa!”.31
Thank you for your patience in listening. May the grace of the Holy Spirit guide our work at this synod!
1 Benedict XVI, Discourse to the Special Council for Africa (19 March 2009), Yaoundé, Cameroon, L’Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English, 25 March 2009, p.13.
2 Benedict XVI, Presentation of the Instrumentum laboris (19 March 2009), Yaoundé, Cameroon, L’Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English, 25 March 2009, p.10.
5 Benedict XVI, Address at Nsimalen International Airport (17 March 2009), Yaoundé, Cameroon, L’Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English, 25 March 2009, p.5.
9 Cf. Secretaria Status Rationarium Generale Ecclesiae, Annuarium statisticum Ecclesiae 1994, Vatican City.
10 Cf. Secretaria Status Rationarium Generale Ecclesiae, Annuarium statisticum Ecclesiae 2007, Vatican City.
11 In the course of 25 years, the Foundation has distributed about 40,000,000 US dollars in 9 countries: Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal, for financing water projects, the reclaiming of arable land as well as formation and instruction programmes.
12 The Foundation is under the jurisdiction of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers.
13 The following deserve mention, in alphabetical order: AVSI (The Association of Volunteers in International Service); Caritas Internationalis; CRS (Catholic Relief Services); Comunità S. Egidio; KAS (Konrad Adenauer Stiftung); ICCPPC (The International Commission for Catholic Prison Pastoral Care); Misereor; Pax Christi International; COSMAM (Confédération des Conférences des Supérieur[e]s Majeur[e]s d'Afrique et Madagascar); CCSA (Recontre et développement); Nolite Timere Foundation ONLUS, Adoption at a Distance Programme.
14 African Forum for Catholic Social Teaching, Harare ( Zimbabwe); IAJP (Institut des Artisans de Justice et de Paix), Cotonou (Benin); Centre Ubuntu, Bujumbura (Burundi); Médiation Sociale et Justice et Paix, Yaoundé (Cameroon); CEPAS (Centre d’Etudes pour l’Action Sociale), Kinshasa, (Democratic Republic of Congo); Centre Carrefour, Port-Mathurin (Mauritius); Centre for Social Justice and Ethics, Catholic University of Eastern Africa — CUEA, Nairobi (Kenya); Institute of Social Ministry in Mission, Tangaza College, Catholic University of Eastern Africa — CUEA; Justice and Peace Desk, Conference of Major Superiors (Lesotho); CIDJAP (The Catholic Institute for Development Justice and Peace), Enugu (Nigeria); CPT (Christian Professionals of Tanzania), Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania).
15 Cf. Cf. Secretaria Status Rationarium Generale Ecclesiae, Annuarium statisticum Ecclesiae 2007, Vatican City 2009, p. 357.
16 Cf. R. Cascioli, Aids, Africa e bugie: Avvenire, 28 marzo 2009, p. 3.
17 John Paul II, Discourse by the Holy Father at the Meeting of the Post-Synodal Council of the Special Assembly for Africa of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops (15 June 2004): L’Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English, 23 June 2004, p. 2.
18 John Paul II, Discourse to the Participants of the Symposium of the Bishops of Africa and Europe promoted by the Council of the Episcopal Conferences of Europe (13 November 2004): AAS 96 (2004) 955.
20 John Paul II, Letter to the General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops for the 13th Meeting of the Special Council for Africa of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops (23 February 2005): http://www.vatican.va /holy_father /john_paul_ii /letters /2005/ documents /hf_ jp-ii_let_20050223_eterovic-synod_en.html.
23 Benedict XVI, Weekly General Audience Talk (22 June 2005): L’Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English,
24 The announcement was made public on 29 June 2007 in L’Osservatore Romano: Daily Edition in Italian, Friday, 29 June 2007, p. 1.
25 The following episcopal conferences failed to respond: The Gambia and Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea, Lesotho, Malawi and C.E.D.O.I. (Conférence Episcopale de l’Océan Indien).
26 The only response came from AMECEA (The Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa).
27 No response was received from the Metropolitan Church sui iuris of Ethiopia.
28 No response was received from: 2 Congregations: the Causes of Saints and Institutes of the Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; 2 Tribunals: The Apostolic Penitentiary and the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura; 5 Pontifical Councils: for Promoting Christian Unity, for the Legislative Texts, for Interreligious Dialogue, for Culture, for Social Communications and the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Church.
29 Cf. L’Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English: 25 February 2009, p. 2.
30 John Paul II, Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 4: AAS: 77 (1985) 194.
31 Benedict XVI, Address at Nsimalen International Airport (17 March 2009), Yaoundé, Cameroon: L’Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English, 25 March 2009, p. 5.
Weekly Edition in English
14 October 2009, page 9
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