No3 June 1994.3
The Rome portion of the Synod is over. Now it is up to Pope John Paul II to journey through Africa to announce its main points and help the Synod fathers to implement them.
Before trying to summarize the Synod, I would first like to underscore three of its benefits. First, recognition of maturity: the "young Churches" of Africa have become churches that can stand on an equal footing with their older sisters in Europe. Then, identification: the Churches have been able to express before the whole world who they are and what expectations they have of a future that often seems uncertain. Finally, mutual recognition: among equals, the bishops recognized the true pastors, the authentic guides, those whose actions were consistent with what they were saying as pastors. Let us now attempt a brief overview of the main themes of the Synod, and what came out of them.
The opening celebration was held on Sunday, April 10, presided by the Holy Father, surrounded by 35 cardinals, a patriarch, 39 archbishops, 146 bishops and 90 priests. This universality was expressed in a liturgy that reflected the process of inculturation taking place in Africa.
The first two weeks gave delegates an opportunity to listen to the Churches of Africa speak to the central theme of the Synod, "The Church in Africa and Her Evangelizing Mission Towards the Year 2000: You will be my witnesses (Acts 1:8)", which was divided into five subthemes: Proclamation, Inculturation, Dialogue, Justice and Peace, and Means of Social Communication.
Warm praise was given to the missionaries, men and women, who had come generation after generation to bring the Gospel to Africa. Their goal was to teach through their words and through their often heroic deeds that the Church is first and foremost a family.
Through this subtheme, the Synod fathers sought to encourage the many Churches of Africa to become more and more themselves, that is, more and more "different".
The field of inculturation is a vast one and the Synod urged African communities not to lose sight of any of its dimensions: theology, liturgy, catechesis, pastoral care, the law, politics, anthropology and communications. The whole of Christian life needs to be inculturated.
The Synod launched a strong appeal for dialogue within the Church and among religions. Such a dialogue, structured around the religious and cultural heritage, was strongly recommended in the local Churches between the guardians of cultural values and of traditional religion. The Synod fathers called for increased dialogue and ecumenical collaboration with the brothers and sisters of the two great African churches of Egypt and Ethiopia and of the Anglican and Protestant churches. They also assured their Muslim brothers and sisters, who lay claim to the faith of Abraham, that the Church wished to work together with them everywhere on the continent for the peace and justice which alone can give glory to God.
Justice and Peace
The Synod demanded greater justice between North and South. To quote the African bishops: There should be an end to presenting us in a ridiculous and insignificant light on the world scene, after having brought about and maintained a structural inequality and while upholding unjust terms of trade! The unjust price system brings in its wake an accumulation of the external debt which humiliates our nations and gives them a regrettable sense of inferiority and indigence. In the name of our people, we reject this sense of culpability which is imposed on us. But at the same time, we appeal to all our African brothers who have embezzled public funds that they are bound in justice to redress the wrong done to our people.
Those who desire peace must work for justice and foster the rule of law. In many cases, people were turning to the Church as a companion on the way to democracy. Consequently, democracy had to become one of the main routes along which the Church travels together with the people. Education towards the common good as well as towards respect for pluralism would therefore be a pastoral priority for our times.
The Synod denounced and emphatically condemned the lust for power and all forms of self-seeking as well as the idolatry of ethnicity which lead to fratricidal war: these are the things which have brought upon Africa the shame of being the continent with the greatest number of refugees and displaced persons.
The bishops urged those in authority and international agencies to lend support to people suffering the effects of war, refugees and displaced people. Africa had been put to fire and the sword in many places, and the cries of the people of Rwanda, Sudan, Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia and parts of Central Africa were heart-rending. United with the dozens of millions of refugees and displaced persons," said the bishops, "we ask the United Nations to intervene in order to re-establish peace. The Synod expressed its union in heart and prayer with all who suffered, and invited them to put their hope in Christ, who has assumed and continues to assume all their sufferings for a new heaven and a new earth.
The bishops went on to launch an appeal to: (...) our Christian brothers and sisters and to all people of good will in the Northern hemisphere. We request them to intervene with those in responsible political and economic positions in their respective countries as well as those in international organizations. It is imperative that there be a stop to arms sales to groups locked in conflict in Africa. It is a matter of urgency to find a just solution to the problem of the debt which crushes the greater part of the peoples of the continent and which renders futile every effort at economic recovery. Together with the Holy Father and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, we ask for at least a substantial, if not a total, remission of the debt. We also simultaneously call for the formation of a more just international economic order, in order that our nations may eventually be able to take their place as worthy partners. Our continent also suffers (...) from the use of Africa as a dumping ground by the over-industrialized societies, from the imposition on our societies of socioeconomic measures from abroad which lead to lifestyles that are contrary to the dignity of the African. We ask our brothers and sisters of other continents to see to it that due respect is given to Africa and Africans, as well as those of them who have immigrated to the Northern hemisphere. Only thus shall we succeed in building up the world family which the Creator invites us to form together on this earth (...)
At the same time, the Synod fathers acknowledged that the Church must also make an examination of conscience. They were aware that if the Church dared to speak to others about justice, then it must also strive to be just in their eyes. The Church must therefore examine its own lifestyle and the issue of financial self-reliance. The Synod called on the faithful to do likewise: Our dignity demands that we do everything to bring about our financial self-reliance. The first step in this direction is transparent management and a simple lifestyle in keeping with the poverty, indeed the misery, of African people.
It should also be pointed out that the Synod made very special mention of the role of women in the Church, the place they must hold in it and the respect and dignity owing to them. They expressed the conviction that to educate a woman is to educate a people.
Means of Social Communication
If this world of communications is the first Areopagus of the modern age, then apostles must be formed to witness in it and to speak competently of the Word of truth and of life who is the Communicator par excellence. The Church needs to promote creativity in this area; as long as it remains no more than a consumer, it runs the risk of experiencing cultural change against its will and even without its knowledge.
In thanksgiving for the faith and filled with great joy, the Synod fathers looked to the year 2000, which is fast approaching: We are filled with hope and determination to share the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ with every man and woman.
Michel Fortin, M.Afr.