African Bishops’ Synod

13-11-2009  
Filed under News

From October 4 to 25, 244 synodal Fathers, among them close to 200 bishops from the 53 countries of the African continent, met at the Vatican to study the mission of the Church in Africa “at the service of reconciliation, justice and peace.” The first Synod about Africa had taken place from April 10 to May 8, 1994.
During the solemn High Mass opening the Synod, Benedict XVI said in his sermon: “Africa constitutes an immense spiritual “lung” for a humanity that appears to be in a crisis of faith and hope.”  Yet he added: “this “lung” can also become ill. And at this moment at least two dangerous pathologies are infecting it: in the first place, a disease that is already widespread in the Western world, in other words practical materialism, combined with relativist and nihilistic thought.” The sovereign pontiff directly pointed out the responsibility of the Western world in the spreading of this “disease”. “It is […] indisputable that the so-called “first” world has sometimes exported and is exporting toxic spiritual refuse which contaminates the peoples of other continents, including in particular the population of Africa.”
The pope indicated a “second ‘virus’” which could also strike Africa, to wit: “religious fundamentalism combined with political and economic interests.” Indeed, he observed: “Groups that relate to various religious affiliations are spreading on the African continent; they do so in the name of God but according to a logic opposed to divine logic, in other words, not by teaching and practicing love and respect for freedom but rather by intolerance and violence.” Benedict XVI then called for a “new evangelization that takes into account the rapid social changes of our epoch and of the phenomenon of world globalization.”

The three delegated presidents of the Synod — Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, South-African Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, and Senegalese Cardinal Theodore-Adrien Sarr  — as well as by Bishop Nikola Eterovic, General Secretary of the Bishops’ Synod, and Bishop Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, rapporteur.
The celebration mixed Latin with African languages. Thus during the rite of the Asperges, a choir intoned a song in Lingala, accompanied by guitars, flutes, percussion, and electronic organs. The observers in the basilica did not fail to notice the discreet hip-swinging dances of the African choir singers. The universal prayers were also read in the various languages used in Africa: Swahili, Portuguese, Amharica, Hausa, Lingala, Arabic. The offertory chant was in Kinkongo and the Agnus Dei was sung in Swahili.

Pope’s Opening Address, and Cardinal Turkson’s Introductive Report

The next day, October 5, in the Synod Hall, the pope evoked the upcoming labor of the African bishops and explained that every analysis demanded a “correct” relation to God. Thus he recalled: “horizontal analyses, made with such precision and skill, are insufficient. They do not identify the real problems because they do not place them in the light of God.” And he emphasized that: “worldly things go wrong because the relationship with God is not properly in order. … Therefore, all our analyses of the world are insufficient if we do not reach this point, if we do not consider the world in the light of God, if we do not discover that at the root of injustices, of corruption, is a heart that is not upright, there is closure to God and, consequently, a falsification of the essential relationship on which all the others are founded. … Human realities […] are oriented to our relationship with God. And if this relationship has gone wrong it does not reach the point God wanted, it does not enter his truth, nor can anything else be corrected because, once again, all the vices that destroy the social network and peace in the world spring up. … Only by seeing in the light of God our faults, our sins, the insufficiency of our relationship with him do we walk in the light of the truth. And it is only the truth that saves.”
Then, taking as basis the Instrumentum laboris — the preparatory work document for the Synod handed to the African bishops by Benedict XVI in Yaounde (Cameroon)  on this past March 19 — Cardinal Turkson offered to the synodal fathers a wide panorama of the situation in Africa and of the Church on the continent. The Ghanaian prelate pointed out some of the new elements in the ecclesiastical panorama of Africa, such as “The ascendancy of African members of missionary congregations to leadership positions”; or “An observable growth in ecclesiastical structures and institutions.” On the other hand, he lamented the “The loss of members to new religious movements and sects. Catholic youth travel outside (to Europe and America), and return non-Catholic, because they felt less at home in the Catholic Churches there.”
The prelate did not fail to denounce also the social and political problems of the continent: “despotism, dictatorship, politicization of religion and ethnicity, disregard for rights of citizens, lack of transparency and press freedom.” But on the other hand, he insistently emphasized that there were “less wars in Africa than in Asia.”
During his long address, Cardinal Turkson enumerated the “new challenges” posed to the Church, and firstly the “strange and terrible pressures to re-define their nature and functions in modern society. Traditional marriages, which founded families, are threatened by an increasing proposal of alternative unions and relationships, devoid of the concept of lasting commitments, non-heterosexual in character, and without the aim of procreation. […] This onslaught on marriage and family is propelled and sustained by groups that churn out a glossary which is meant to replace traditional concepts and terms about marriage and family with new ones.”
In the afternoon of October 7, Cardinal Francis Arinze enumerated a number of problems which jeopardize the “credibility” of the Church’s “structures on the African continent. The Nigerian  cardinal expressed the wish that the college of bishops of all nations “speak with one voice, without being influenced by tribal considerations. […] and that priests “accept a new bishop appointed by the Holy Father without organizing factions with a “Son of the soil” myopic mentality.” He hailed “The success of the Church in appointing bishops outside their language area is a powerful message to some African communities wounded by the politico-social virus of extreme ethnicism.”

Sharp Criticisms of the Medias during the Pope’s Visit to Africa (17 – 23 March, 2009)

On October 8, Archbishop Philippe Ouedraogo, of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, returned to Benedict XVI’s visit to Africa last March, to criticize strongly the attitude of the media. The prelate especially gave the “pathetic example” of the “media’s racket”. “More and more, certain radio and television stations, Internet sites, all of them held by economic power and interests, deliberately broadcast programs that try to impose Western society’s own thought,” he declared in his address given in French.
In front of the synodal Fathers, the Burkina’s prelate attacked the media which related the apostolic visit of Benedict XVI to Cameroon and Angola from March 17 to 23, 2009: “Certain programs aimed at French-speaking listeners, European as well as African, wanted to make them believe that some African priests and religious studying or on mission in Rome or elsewhere in Europe, survived by begging and prostitution, abandoned by the Vatican and the religious congregations. Did we need to show disagreement with the Holy Father? Evidently, a coalition was trying to reach a clear but shameful objective, by distracting the Africans to stop them from listening to the Holy Father’s words on the problems of injustice, violence and their causes,” he added.
Criticism against the press did not stop there. Another synodal Father, Irish Fr. Kieran O’Reilly, General Superior of the African missions, also mentioned the role of “mass media, which focuses almost exclusively on the bad news, thus creating a widely accepted narrative of a continent in a constant state of crisis,” he commented.

Interventions about African Migration and the Role of Woman

On October 10, Senegalese Cardinal Theodore-Adrien Sarr, president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, called for “a Renaissance of the black man. […] It is not the police barriers, no matter how hard they try to prevent it, that will stop the clandestine migration, but the effective decrease of poverty through the promotion of economic and social development spreading to the general population in our countries. This is why, within the CERAO, we nourish ourselves the ambition to inspire within ourselves, and in sub-Saharan Africans, a jolt or a Renaissance of the black man,” he explained adding that he was weary of seeing Western medias “show as a negative image of Africa” in articles about clandestine migration of thousands of Africans.
The Archbishop of Dakar wanted to identify the causes of migration already denounced by several synodal Fathers on the preceding days. He especially cited “corruption on the part of African leaders, who agree, through secret commission, to the excessive benefits and profits of multinationals to the detriment of their countries. How can we not mention all the internal armed conflicts, fomented and fed by the arms merchants for their commerce,” as well as “the pillaging of Africa’s natural resources that has been cried out against so often.”
By way of conclusion, Cardinal Sarr first addressed “Pleas to the governments of our countries, for them to stand up, take the destiny of their people in hand, even that they should forget their personal interests and resist external pressures.” Then, he sent a broader appeal to “all external forces who have weighed upon and weighed negatively upon the destiny of black Africa: that those who decide may recognize in truth the evils caused to Africa, and involve themselves in working for its true development, to repair it and bring it justice.”

On that same October 10, Kenyan Bishop Philip Sulumeti, Kenyan bishop of Kakamega, and Zambian Archbishop Telesphore George Mpundu  of Lusaka intervened to emphasize the utmost importance of woman’s role and to call for the respect of her dignity. “Remember that if you educate a man you educated an individual, if you educate a woman you educated a family but if you educate women you educate a nation,” affirmed Bishop Sulumeti. Next the Kenyan bishop asked that: “women be given quality formation to empower them for their responsibilities and to open for them all the social careers from which traditional and modern society tend to exclude them without reason. To make this a reality, men are called upon to undergo a radical change and a fundamental conversion.”
As for Archbishop Telesphore George Mpundu, he thought that: “Denial of equality to women is an affront to human dignity and denial of true development to humanity. […] Without true justice between men and women, development remains only a pipe dream, simply a dangerous mirage,” he insisted before arguing that: “full and equal participation of women in all spheres of life is therefore essential to social and economic development.”

The Report after the Discussions

On October 13, halfway through the Synod for Africa, the General Reporter, Cardinal Turkson thought that the Church in Africa “must be transformed from within; and that she must transform the continent.”  As this long report in English went on, the Ghanaian mentioned the “shadows” and “the challenges” of the Church in Africa pointed out by the various contributors during the 13 preceding general congregations. He more specifically emphasized the “ideologies” and international programs” imposed upon the continent and denounced by the contributors, but also on the necessity of “training Christian political men” to obtain “bills which respect Christian morality.” He broached the subject of the African woman who remains “frustrated in her development” or “scorned in her dignity; the problem of the “great attraction” of sects and their “occult practices”; and also the greed “of some multinational corporations” which is the source of many armed conflicts in Africa.
To conclude, Cardinal Turkson summarized the “apostolic mission” of the Church in Africa which mainly desires to: “Liberate the continent’s people from fear of all sorts” ; “Ensure a conversion that is deep and permanent” ; “change attitudes and mentalities, freeing them from effects of a past of colonial, exploitation.” The General Relator of the synod also explained that the Church in Africa wished to pay attention to the issues of migrations and help the peoples of the continent to “resist the onslaught of globalization and the attendant challenges of a global ethic.”

Some Synodal Fathers’ Answers to Journalists

Some ten days after the beginning of the work of synod, there were three cardinals’ interventions before the press at the Vatican. They particularly denounced the conditions often imposed together with the help brought to African countries. “Some peoples, Westerners in particular, must give up their convictions that whatever they think or do must become a rule in the whole world,” declared Cardinal Theodore-Adrien Sarr in front of an assembly of journalists. Asked about  a just released American report concerning the number of abortions worldwide, the Senegalese cardinal explained that “if women are in a difficult situation to assume a pregnancy, they must be helped to overcome their difficulties but not necessarily by means of an abortion.” The prelate then specifically mentioned “the respect for life” which African peoples have “inherited from their forefathers.” From a broader viewpoint, Cardinal Sarr lamented the existence of a “kind of cultural imperialism.” In his eyes, “Western countries” may keep for themselves “what they think to be the truth” and must not “impose it.”
“There is no justice, peace, nor reconciliation without truth,” the cardinal also affirmed, taking up the three themes of the Synod, before expressing the wish that “contributors from the outside” on the black continent be “truthful”. “Under the pretext of helping us,” he added, “they want to inject certain ideas or lifestyles.” And he went on: “We acknowledged that we can be helped, we wish to be helped but in truth, in the respect for what we are and for what we desire for ourselves and not to be swayed in an underhand fashion, under the pretext of being helped.”
“Some occult or destructive ideologies are often considered as sine qua non conditions to receive help,” Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, Archbishop of Durban in South Africa,  accused in turn. He did not hesitate to denounce also “the cultural imperialism” of the West. “There are explicit ideologies,” he also specified, “but there is another very menacing which consists in modifying progressively our moral values.”
“Africa is in a difficult situation”, acknowledged Kenyan Cardinal John Njue and “there is no doubt that we need cooperation and help to allow the populations to take their lives in their own hands, but their independence must also be respected.” Then the Archbishop of Nairobi invited the West to respect “the culture and human dignity of persons.”  Taking the example of the coffee trade, he thus denounced a “real injustice” concerning the price offered to the African coffee growers compared with the final price of the product on the Western market.
On October 15, in an interview granted to the Roman Agency I.Media, South African Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier confided that the implication of African priests in affairs of corruption constituted a “very serious problem.” “Each time some corruption takes place, it means that poor people have lost the means to get out or their poverty.” At present, according to the cardinal, “the worst aspect of poverty” comes precisely from the fact that not “colonialists” but African themselves are responsible for it. He also shared the “particular efforts accomplished in some dioceses to train priests so “that they be more open and more responsible”, inasmuch as “they are often managing the Church’s financial resources and […] available to help out the faithful.”
On the other hand, Cardinal Napier made an appeal to the Western media, which want to impose their “politically correct” ideas to all” and “absolutely want to make the Church say that she is opposed to the free use of condoms” to “be honest.” “Let them give us an instance in which the distribution of condoms really reduced AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Let them tell us where this has been done with success and then they may keep on asking us questions.” “All,” he added, “even governments, began by saying that the means to stop AIDS was condom, but they are all turning back and say that it does not work.” “Publicly, the Church considers that the only way of managing AIDS is to change people’s behavior,” concluded the South African prelate.

Closing Message

In a message published on October 23, as the works were near the end, the participants in the Bishops’ Synod for Africa denounced “the sly attempts” made by agencies of the United Nations aiming at “destroying and undermining the precious African values of the family and human life.” If they acknowledged the “good work” done by the agencies of the United Nations in  Africa, the bishops asked them to be also “more consistent and transparent in the implementation of their programs.” They especially regretted the “sad article 14 of the Maputo Protocol” concerning reproductive health, which engage[add d, or change to required?] States to authorized medical abortion in certain cases. “Together with Benedict XVI,” the Synod for Africa also intended to solemnly warn: “that the problem of AIDS could not be solved by the distribution of prophylactics.” “We appeal,” they wrote, “to the conscience of those who are truly interested in bringing to an end the transmission of the AIDS virus by means of sex, so that they acknowledge the success already obtained by programs which propose abstinence for non married couples and fidelity for those who are married.”

The synodal fathers harshly criticized multinational corporations. “Multinational corporations,” they wrote, “must stop the criminal devastation of the environment in their greedy exploitation of natural resources.” For the signatories of the message: “to foment wars to make money quickly out of the chaos, and at the cost of human lives and bloodshed, is a blind policy.” “Is there no one who is able and desirous to stop these crimes against humanity?” the bishops asked themselves.

In this final message, the synodal Fathers also asked that the acknowledgment and promotion of the specific contribution from women, not only in the home as spouses and mothers, but also in the social sphere. They particularly emphasized the fact that Catholic women were “the backbone of their local Church.” “Everywhere in Africa,” they insisted, there is much talk about the rights of women, especially in the projects for action of certain UNO agencies.” “Yet, we should even mistrust the concrete projects that they (the agencies, Ed.) conceive with hidden intentions,” the bishops warned, before inviting Catholic women to be fully committed to the programs of their own countries concerning women, “with all the vigilance inspired by (their) faith.” “Make sure,” the synodal Fathers also wrote, “not to allow yourselves to be taken as hostages by promoters of foreign and often morally poisoned ideologies concerning genders and human sexuality.”

In their “message to the people of God,” the African bishops also deemed that priests were “the most visible face of the clergy both inside and outside the Church.” “Often,” they went on, “the priest is considered as the most enlightened man of the local community, and at times, it will be expected from him that he take into his own hands the affairs of the community.” The African prelates then underlined the importance of “fidelity to the priestly engagements, especially celibacy in chastity and detachment from material goods,” pointing out that this fidelity was “an eloquent token for the people of God.”

The Concluding propositions of the synod

An official Latin version of the 57 concluding propositions of the Synod will be handed to Benedict XVI. But the pope, by a decision called “benevolent”, chose to release a temporary, non official version of the propositions in English, French, Portuguese and Italian, on the eve of the solemn conclusion of the Synod. These 57 propositions are meant to enable Benedict XVI to write a post-synodal Exhortation within a year.

Therein the synodal Fathers stated that in Africa, where “religion is constantly used for political purposes” and becomes a source of conflicts, it is urgent to initiate a “religious dialog with Islam and the ‘African traditional religion’ (animism, Ed.) on every level.” They ask that religious liberty and liberty of worship be acknowledged and protected and that all forms of intolerance, persecution, and religious fundamentalism be abolished in all the African countries. They also desire the restitution of churches, Church properties and the properties of other religious institutions confiscated by some States.

The topic of “free, transparent, equitable, and reassuring” elections is also among the propositions of the synod. The bishops encourage all the Christians in Africa to play an active part in the political life. On her part, the Church must denounce electoral abuses and frauds, “in the name of her prophetic mission.” As for religious leaders, they are invited no to take any partisan stand, by to be the “critical, objective, and realistic voice of those who cannot speak up for themselves, and in this they must not compromise their impartiality.”

The synodal Fathers likewise condemned all acts of violence against women, a recurrent subject during the three weeks. Thereupon, the bishops drew an impressive list of the violence committed in Africa, such as brutalities against women, oppression of widows in the name of tradition, forced marriages, mutilations of genital organs, women slave trade, sexual slavery and tourism. To fight against all these “inhuman acts,” the synod proposed among other measures, the establishment of a Commission for study of women in the Church within the Pontifical Council for the Family, and also the creation of shelters for mistreated girls and women.

Likewise the issue of migrants is included in the proposition of the African bishops which rise against laws which consider “as a crime any clandestine entrance into foreign countries and consulates.” They also take to task “the discriminating entrance policies in airports towards travelers from Africa.”

Concerning Aids, the bishops declared that they were in favor of “a pastoral support” to help couples in which one of the spouses is bearer of the virus “to get information and to form their consciences so that they choose what is right with full responsibility.”

About death penalty, making their own an appeal by  Bishop George Biguzzi of Makeni in Sierra Leone, on October 12, the synod asked the “complete and universal” abolition of death penalty at the end of the document. In the eyes of the African prelates, the dignity of the person demands that his (her) fundamental right be respected, even if he (she) does not respect the rights of others. The synodal Fathers especially denounced the recourse to death penalty to “get rid of political opponents” and towards the weakest, “who cannot defend themselves” and “are easily subjected to this final punition.”

Our comment: It must be noted that if the interventions during the Synod were often the expression of a Christian sense unfortunately lost in the West – especially about the family – the concluding propositions do not part for the utopian irenicism  characteristic of the post-conciliar era. Thus they want to establish inter-religious dialog with Islam and animism while claiming for the pure and simple abolition of intolerance, persecution and religious fundamentalism “in all the African countries.” It sounds like one of the innumerable and inefficacious propositions of the United Nations.


Closing Mass of the Synod for Africa

On October 25, during the homily at the Mass for the conclusion of the synod, Benedict XVI called for a renewal of the model of global development which be able to “include within its range all peoples and not just the better off.” In the pope’s eyes this necessity was made obvious not only by this special assembly for the African Synod of Bishops, but also by his encyclical Caritas in Veritate. What the social doctrine of the Church has always maintained is what is required today of globalization,” he optimistically explained. For him globalization “should not be understood fatalistically as though its dynamics were produced by anonymous impersonal forces or structures independent of the human will. Globalization is a human reality and as such can be modified in line with one or another cultural impositions.” } Concerning the Encyclical Caritas in veritate and the issue of global government, see DICI n° 199 of 08/17/2009

At the end of these three weeks of work, the sovereign insistently called for reconciliation in Africa  the necessary condition to establish justice and peace between “all people of good will irrespective of their religious, ethnic, linguistic, cultural and social backgrounds.” Next, the pope directly addressed the Church in Africa with words of encouragement: “In such a challenging mission, pilgrim Church in Africa of the third millennium, you are not alone. The whole Catholic Church is near to you with its prayer and active solidarity.”

Lastly, Benedict XVI paid a tribute to the work accomplished by the missionaries in Africa, who have been “promoting a development that respects local cultures and the environment, following a logic that now, more than 40 years later, appears to be the only one capable of allowing the African people to emerge from the slavery of hunger and sickness.”

As for the Mass for the opening of the synod, the Master of Pontifical liturgical celebrations, Mgr Guido Marini was assisted by Congolese Father Jean-Pierre Kwambamba Masi, first African Pontifical MC, appointed  by Benedict XVI on September 2. The “animation of the liturgy” had been entrusted to some sixty members of the Nigerian community in Rome and to the Schola of the Ethiopian College. The chants were, at times, accompanied by rudimentary percussion instruments such as iron barrels and earthenware jugs. And, as three weeks before, the prayer intentions were given in several African languages: French, kikongo, malgasy, Swahili and igbo.

On the previous day, October 24, Benedict XVI had appointed Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, Archbishop of Cape Coast, as President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He is replacing Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, who had resigned for age reason.  The pope himself announced this piece of news at the end of the closing lunch of the second Synod for Africa, in the presence of all the synodal Fathers gather at the Vatican, and who loudly applauded the new head of the dicastery. This choice made by Benedict XVI confirmed the previsions of the Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Tarcision Bertone, who, last August, in the Osservatore Romano, had announced surprises among the upcoming appointments, adding: “Africa has already offered and will offer excellent candidates.” (DICI n° 204 – 11/13/2010 – Sources: Osservatore Romano/Apic/Imedia/Zenit/VIS/Radio Vatican)

Comments are closed.