MEETING WITH BISHOPS ON SYNOD
BY JOHN THAVIS AND CAROL GLATZ
POPE BENEDICT offered a sneak preview of the Synod of Bishops for Africa during a meeting with African bishops last Thursday.
The synod, which follows on from the first Africa synod in 1994, will be held in Rome in October. Pope Benedict handed its working document to African bishops at a Mass earlier the same day.
At the meeting he said the Church in Africa was called to heal a continent torn by “savage conflicts”. In order to carry out this mission the Church must be “a community of persons reconciled with God and among themselves”.
He said: “In this way, she can proclaim the good news of reconciliation to contemporary society, which unfortunately experiences in many places conflicts, acts of violence, war and hatred. Your continent, sadly, has not been spared, and it has been and continues to be a theatre of grave tragedies which cry out for true reconciliation between peoples, ethnic groups and individuals.” The Pope was speaking to a council of African bishops responsible for preparing the Synod.
He said the Church was challenged in a special way by local or regional wars, massacres and genocides perpetrated in Africa. The aim was to show Africans that through Jesus they all belong to the same family, and so should reject hatred and injustice, he said.
The Church’s goal, he said, should be to “enhance African traditions and to correct and perfect their concept of life, humanity and the family”. The Church must do so by presenting Jesus Christ as the one mediator and redeemer, he said. “The Christian vocation consists in letting oneself be freed by Jesus Christ,” he said.
The Pope reminded African bishops of the continent’s long history of contributions to the Church, especially in the theological development of the early centuries.
With Christianity thriving in Africa again he suggested it might be time for a theological rebirth, too. He suggested a particular field of study for modern African theologians: the depth of the Trinitarian mystery and its meaning for everyday African life.
The Pope paid tribute to the missionary efforts of the last 500 years and singled out catechists for praise. The tens of thousands of catechists in Africa have helped bring about inculturation, served as a link between communities and priests and bishops, and inspired many to join the Church, he said.
“This was a case of Africans evangelising other Africans. In evoking their glorious memory, I greet and encourage their worthy successors who work today with the same selflessness, the same apostolic courage and the same faith as their predecessors,” he said.
The 62-page working document for the Synod, called the instrumentum laboris, was published by the Vatican on the day the Pope spoke about it to Africa’s bishops.
It called for a united effort among Catholics to help end the rampant injustices fueling conflicts on the continent and to usher in an era of peace.
It said the Synod would have to find ways to better prepare the faithful in Africa for a more visible and active role in promoting unity in the Church and in society and in working for the common good.
The document was highly critical of the effects of globalisation, saying it “infringes on Africa’s rights” and tends “to be the vehicle for the domination of a single, cultural model and a culture of death”.
But it also pinned the blame for many of Africa’s ills on the evil in people’s hearts, which makes them thirsty for riches, power or revenge.
The document said international financial programmes aimed at restructuring the African economy “seem to be having a dire effect”.
It said the restructuring had led to an extremely fragile economy and to the breakdown of society as shown by increased crime, the widening gap between rich and poor and massive migration to overcrowded cities.
The document criticised multinationals that continue to “systematically invade the continent in search of natural resources”, adding that Africa’s rights were infringed upon by nations seeking control of its enormous mining reserves.
These outside interests together with “the abundance of natural resources on the African continent continue to pose a threat to peace, justice and reconciliation”, it said.
Globalisation risks seriously harming society with its “logic of the world economy which disregards what is truly a part of the human person”, such as spiritual, moral and cultural values. The document spoke out strongly against the idea that GM crops could solve the food crisis.