Second African Synod
“Africa, rise up, take up … and walk. “John 5 v 8”. Africa is not helpless, our destiny is still in our hands. Africa is already moving; and the Church is moving with her, offering her the light of the Gospel. The waters may be turbulent. But with our gaze on Christ the Lord, we shall make it safely to the port”.
These are the closing words from the final message of the Bishops from the second Synod of Africa in Rome during Oct 2009.
Pope Benedict invited African bishops to Rome so that as he said; “we can listen to God , to one another and to the world around us”. A sense of unity and real consensus pervaded the meeting of bishops representing one hundred and seventy million Catholics throughout the Continent of Africa .
The church in Africa is the spiritual lung of humanity, said the Pope. The Church has seen its greatest growth in all history in Africa in the past 100 years. Africa glories in its saints particularly the glorious martyrs of Uganda. In the poverty of Africa the Beauty of God is radiant with a glory unknown to tired doubting Christians elsewhere. Working for Christ in Africa one experiences a peace which the world does not know.
But the African Church is also a pilgrim Church with great spiritual needs such as the adequate formation of priests, religious and laity. With 170 million members the Church has much to do to make it’s gospel values part of everyday life, especially of political and social life. In South Africa marriage and family life are very fragile with the consequent chaos for women and children.
The Word of the Lord enriches all African cultures, His Sacraments bring the immense joy of His presence to overflowing congregations, He is praised in song and exuberant dance, His schools are everywhere bringing knowledge and science to millions of young people and He embraces the sick and dying in countless clinics, hospitals and homes.
Africa has many problems and the theme of the Synod was reconciliation, justice and peace. Africa is very rich in human talents and yet many of its people are wallowing in poverty and misery, wars and conflicts, crisis and chaos.
The Bishops acknowledge that the sufferings are rarely caused by natural disasters. They are largely due to human sin and decisions. One feels this everyday. On the road out of Kokstad I see many children seeking a lift to schools. It is a journey of 30 kilometers, they arrive late and return very late in evening. In the final exams of 2009 only 12 out this group of 108 passed.
A country like South Africa which has rich resources, exploited for the benefit of foreign companies, can’t educate its own children. The Bishops tried to address these problems.
In most cases they noted, we are dealing with greed for power and wealth at the expense of people and nation. Whatever may be the responsibility of foreign interests, there is always the shame and the tragic collusion of local leaders; politicians who betray and sell out their nation; dirty business people who collude with rapacious multi-nationals; African arms dealers and traffickers who thrive on small arms that cause great havoc on human lives, and local agents of some international organizations who get paid for peddling toxic ideologies that they don’t believe in.
However, the bishops’ message is one of profound hope. Speaking to the laity they say, “You are the Church of God out in the market places of society. It is in and through you that the life and witness of the church are made visible to the world. You share in the mandate of the Church to be “Ambassadors for Christ” working for reconciliation of people to God and among themselves. This requires you to allow your Christian faith to permeate every aspect and facet of your lives, in the family, work, fashion, in politics and social life.
The Bishops charge our Catholic women to be fully involved in the women’s programs of their nations with their eyes of faith wide open. Armed with good information and the social teaching of the church they must make sure that the good ideas are not hijacked by the peddlers of foreign and morally poisonous ideology about gender and human sexuality”.
What is the specific role of religion in the secular atmosphere of today? Politics deals with the distribution of power, the market controls the flow of wealth. But the new Africa can not be held together simply by the coercive use of power or by the mechanisms of the market. Its future can only be secured by love, loyalty and faithfulness, the very area the Churches must play their role.
People in the past were poor, even destitute, but they had faith, they had community and they belonged. It is in our homes, our churches, our Catholic schools that a way of life if kept alive which is dying elsewhere; a way which calls for fidelity, altruism, decency, civility, reverence and restrain. Without these values human dignity and human society cannot survive.
Bishop Liam Slattery ofm