Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
October 14, 2009 // Uncategorized

Bishops call Catholics to be main agents of change in Africa

Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — African Catholics must become the main forces to ending the continent’s wars, promoting reconciliation, fighting corruption, safeguarding the family and protecting Africa’s natural resources, said members of the special Synod of Bishops for Africa.

In the first week of the Oct. 4-25 synod, members of the assembly listened to almost 200 speeches on ways the church can be a force for reconciliation, justice and peace on the continent.

The need to overcome lingering ethnic tensions was a predominant theme of the assembly, followed by concern for the family, the importance of protecting the environment, a recognition of the dignity and contributions of women, and the need for dialogue with the continent’s Muslim communities.

Bishops denounced the exploitation of tribal differences by politicians and by multinational corporations seeking control of minerals and oil. But many bishops also urged an examination of conscience by Catholics, saying they have not always acted like members of one family.

“Questions like selfishness, greed for material wealth, ethnicity resulting in ethnic conflicts and others, which are the root causes of the lack of peace in many African societies, must be confronted without fear or favor and be followed up with specific pastoral directives,” Cardinal Polycarp Pengo of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, told the synod.

The cardinal said the synod “must have the courage to denounce even against ourselves things like the misuse of the role and practice of authority, tribalism and ethnocentrism,” as well as partisan political involvement by religious leaders.

Another major theme in synod speeches was the importance of the family in African culture. Bishops warned that families are threatened by wars, disease and ideas about divorce, abortion, sexuality and homosexuality imported by Western media or promoted by Western organizations promising aid in exchange for a forum for spreading their views on family life and sexuality.

Archbishop Marcel Madila Basanguka of Kananga, Congo, told the synod that the traditional family is Africa’s main force for peace and reconciliation but is under almost constant attack.

Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg, South Africa, said that Africa’s traditional cultural values “are threatened by the new global ethic which aggressively seeks to persuade African governments and communities to accept new and different meanings of the concepts of family, marriage and human sexuality.”

On a cultural level, “Africa faces a second wave of colonization, both subtle and ruthless at the same time,” he said.

A Tanzanian prelate also asked the bishops to reconsider their often too accepting approach to blessing the marriages of couples who do not belong to the same church.

Too often, said Bishop Almachius Rweyongeza of Kayanga, the result is family tensions over the religious education of children or the total neglect of religious education in order to keep peace in the family.

“Mixed marriages can easily be like building faith on sand, whereby it will be hard to produce fruits of love, reconciliation, justice and peace,” the bishop said.

Another frequent topic of synod speeches was the environment and particularly how environmental degradation and the thoughtless exploitation of Africa’s natural resources have increased violence and poverty on the continent and triggered flooding and desertification.

Bishop Denis Kiwanuka Lote of Tororo, Uganda, told the synod that his country in the past two years has experienced alternating flooding and drought conditions leading to crop failure as a result of recklessly cutting down forests.

“Natural laws cannot be ignored, just as one cannot ignore the directives contained in the manufacturer’s manual if one wishes his machine to function well,” the bishop said.

Cardinal Bernard Agre, the retired archbishop of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, said many African nations had been forced to “mortgage their natural resources” in order to pay the never ending interest on development loans, making it impossible for governments to adequately fund education and health care for their people.

The cardinal urged the synod to convoke a panel of economic experts to conduct a serious study of which countries’ debts have actually been repaid at a fair rate, to advise African governments on avoiding loan terms that continue the cycle and to monitor the way development loans are spent.

Bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo, Cameroon, asked the synod to adopt an extremely cautious attitude toward genetically modified food crops because the long-term impact of such new technology on human and environmental health is still not clear.

While poverty poses “one of the great obstacles to justice, peace and reconciliation” and is “the single greatest cause of hunger” in Africa, the continent cannot be shortsighted in embracing genetically modified food, he said.

As in other parts of the world, the majority of parish members and active participants in Africa are women and their rights and needs also were repeated topics of concern at the synod.

Sister Felicia Harry, the superior general of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of the Apostles, asked the bishops to imagine what the church would be like if there were no women members. The superior general from Ghana told the synod that women are happy to “teach catechism to children, decorate parish churches, clean, mend and sew vestments,” but they also want to be part of church decision-making bodies.

Sister Pauline Odia Bukasa, superior general of the Ba-Maria Sisters from Congo, echoed Sister Harry’s points when she told the synod, “We, mothers and consecrated women, ask the fathers of this church-family to promote the dignity of women and give them the space needed to develop their talents in the structures of the church and society.”

Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu of Lusaka, Zambia, told the synod that “the dignity of women, their giftedness to humanity (and) their potential massively huge contribution to the church” are not recognized, utilized or “sufficiently celebrated.”

Several North African bishops urged the synod to replace fear of the Muslim community with real efforts to understand and learn from Islam and to collaborate with Muslim leaders to promote development and peace on the continent.

“We all know that fear is a bad counselor,” Bishop Maroun Lahham of Tunis, Tunisia, told the synod.

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