Background on the
second Synodal Assembly on Africa
Oct. 2, 2009
This morning, at the John Paul II Hall in the Press Office of the Holy See, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, H.E. Most Rev Nikola Eterović, held a news briefing on the second Synodal Assembly for Africa which opens on Sunday.
Here below is the text of the presentation of the Secretary General:
THE CHURCH IN AFRICA:
In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord Jesus revealed the dignity of his Disciples, saying, “You are salt for the earth... You are light for the world” (Mt 5: 13-14). These words, valid for Christians of all times are directed in a particular way to the faithful of Africa in this moment of their ecclesiastical and social history.
The relevance of this call was also underlined by the Holy Father Benedict XVI who made it the theme of his first Apostolic Visit to the heart of Africa, in Cameroon and Angola, from the 17th to the 23rd March 2009.
This is both an observation and an exhortation. Christians, reborn in baptism through the grace of the Holy Spirit, are dressed in Jesus Christ “light of the world” (cf Jn 8:12) that “gives light to everyone” (Jn 1:9).
Therefore, they must live the spirit of the Beatitudes and in this way mirror Jesus Christ the Light, according to his words:”In the same way your light must shine in people’s sight, so that seeing your good works, they may give praise to your father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16).
Committing themselves to an authentic Christian life, the Disciples of the Lord try to follow him, they go after him in denying themselves and taking up his cross (cf Mk 8:34). Allowing themselves to be guided by the light of Christ, they will increasingly become the salt of the earth that, renewed by the grace of the Holy Spirit, not only will not lose its flavor, but will be able to give a real taste of the Gospel to all of humanity in Africa and throughout the whole world.
Being the salt of the earth and the light of the world is the vocation of every Christian. Applied to the Africa reality, this truth allows us to understand the spirit in which we wish to celebrate the II Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops on the theme: The Church in Africa in the service of reconciliation, justice and peace. “You are salt for the earth... You are light for the world” (Mt 5: 13-14).
The priority refers therefore, to the urgent work of evangelization that has as its inseparable companion the promotion of humanity in the context of the African continent.
The theme of the Assembly is quite explicit as it takes its title from the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation [by John Paul II] ECCLESIA IN AFRICA, that brings together the results of the First Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops that took place from the 10th of April to the 8th of May 1994 on the theme: The Church in Africa and its evangelizing mission towards the year 2000. “You will be my witnesses” (Ac 1:8).
This choice was meant to underline the continuity between the two assemblies. The first offered a general and overall picture of the situation of the Catholic Church in the continent. It also faced a variety of challenges, ecclesiastical, social and political, which, unfortunately are still largely present.
Bearing in mind that this is still the situation, with the Second Special Assembly the Synodal Fathers, under the guidance of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, wish to deepen the mission of the Church in the service of reconciliation, justice and peace.
These are themes that are fundamental for the present and future of the Catholic Church in Africa. In this urgent task she is prepared to work with other churches and Christian communities, with those who belong to non-Christian religions, as well as with all men of good will.
As regards this, on the first day of activity a report of about 30 minutes is expected on the reception of ECCLESIAL in Africa which will be followed by free discussion on this theme.
Preparation for the II Special Assembly for Africa began five years ago when, on June 15th 2004 God’s Servant John Paul II expressed a desire to call the II Assembly of Bishops for Africa.
The most specific beginning was the publication of the Lineamenta, on June 27th 2006. During his visit to Yaoundé, in Cameroon, the Holy Father Benedict XVI delivered, on March 19th 2009, the Instrumentum laboris for the meeting of the Bishops to the Presidents of the 36 Episcopal Conferences and the heads of the two Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris as well as the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy of Egypt.
The Church in Africa hadsgreat dynamism. From 1978 to 2007, the number of African Catholics rose from 55,000,000 to 146,000,000. Vocations to the priesthood and the religious life also saw a notable growth in numbers (see graph below).
This promising picture needs to be completed by recalling the 521 pastoral agents who were killed in Africa between 1994 and 2008 in the name of Jesus Christ (cf Mt 10:22). These were Africans by birth or adoption, i.e. missionaries in African lands.
In the year 2008, for example, of 20 Catholic pastoral workers killed throughout the world, 5 were African: 3 priests, one religious and one lay volunteer, from respectively Kenya, Guinea, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Gospel they preached is the true salt of the earth, the guarantee of a deep-rooted evangelization, capable of facing every difficulty. The Good News accompanied by the clear testimony of their ecclesiastical service becomes the light that shines in the darkness of the world, many times concentrated too greatly on certain areas of the African continent.
To be evermore the salt of the earth and the light of the world is the grace that is obtained through prayer. The celebration of the Synod of Bishops will be accompanied by intense moments of prayer.
The Holy Father Benedict XVI, President of the Synod of Bishops, will lead three Eucharistic celebrations in the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter’s. Apart from the opening of proceedings on Sunday 4th and at the end of the Synod’s work on Sunday October 25th, His Holiness will canonize 5 Blesseds on Sunday October 11th: Zygmunt Szczęsny Feliński, Francisco Coll y Guitart, Jozef Damiaan de Veuster, Rafael Arnáiz Barón and Marie de la Croix (Jeanne) Jugan. These saints concretely demonstrate how to become the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Prayer will accompany the reflections of the Synod Fathers every day in the morning and afternoon. The Hour of Terce will be followed by a short sermon, organized by the Synod Fathers.
A special moment is foreseen for the evening of Saturday October 10th. The Holy father will lead the recital of the Holy Rosary with Africa and for Africa, on TV, via satellite, from the Paul VI Hall with the universities of 9 African capitals: Cairo (Egypt), Tananarive (Madagascar), Kinshasa (Dem. Rep. Congo), Nairobi (Kenya), Johannesburg (South Africa), Maputo (Mozambique), Khartoum (Sudan), Onitsha (Nigeria) and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso).
244 Synod Fathers will participate at the II Special Assembly for Africa, of whom 228 are bishops. These will take part in various roles: 79 will be taking part ex officio, 129 are elected and 36 are nominated by the Pontiff. Among these there are 33 cardinals, 75 archbishops, 120 bishops and 8 religious, elected by the Union of Superiors General.
As to their positions, there are 37 Presidents of Episcopal Conferences, 189 Ordinary Bishops, 4 coadjutors, 2 auxiliaries and 8 emeritus (arch)bishops.
With reference to Art. VII of the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, the Holy Father Benedict XVI established that participating in the Synod of Bishops ex officio, along with the 25 department heads of the Roman Curia, there would also be all the African cardinals, presently 14, the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences, national, regional and the international reunions.
In choosing the Synod Fathers the criterion followed was that of electing one bishop in five. In any case, an attempt was made to have at least one bishop from each of the 53 Africa countries.
The majority of the Synod Fathers, 197 of them, are from Africa. Another 47 come from other continents: 34 from Europe, 10 from America, 2 from Asia and 1 from Oceania.
Among these are the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences from the other 4 continents who will address the Assembly at the start of its work. This fact will underline that the II Special Assembly for Africa concerns the whole Church.
As regards the work of the Synod, 20 General Congregations are foreseen along with 9 Sessions of the Circoli Minori, divided into the three official languages of the Synod: French, English and Portuguese. The Synod Fathers can also use Italian.
Four press officers will use these languages to regularly update journalists on the work of the Synod. The first press conference will take place on Monday October 5th. Card. Peter Kodwo Appiah TURKSON, Archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana and the General Relator, will take part.
The Holy Father Benedict XVI has nominated their Eminences the following Cardinals as President Delegates:
- Francis ARINZE, Prefect Emeritus for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments:
- Théodore-Adrien SARR, Archbishop of Dakar, Senegal, and
- Wilfrid Fox Napier, O.F.M., Archbishop of Durban, South Africa.
At the same time, His Holiness nominated two Special Secretaries: His Excellency Mons. António Damião FRANKLIN, Archbishop of Luanda, Angola, and His Excellency Mons. Edond DJITANGAR, Bishop of Sarh, Chad.
The fraternal delegates, representing 6 churches and ecclesiastical communities present in Africa, with whom the Catholic Church maintains a relationship of dialogue and collaboration, will also take part in the Assembly.
There will also be 29 experts, 19 men and 10 women, and 49 observers, 29 men and 20 women, willing to make their contribution to the successful unfolding of the Synod’s work, enriching reflection with their important testimony.
Along with the assistants, translators and technical personnel, and, in particular, the Officials of the General Secretariat, around 400 people will take part in the Synodal Assembly.
Three Special Guests will also participate during the Synod Assemblies, having accepted the Pope’s invitation.
First, on Tuesday October 6th, the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church His Holiness Abuna Paulos will take part in the Third General Congregation.
This will mean the participation at the Synod of the representative of the aforementioned Christian Church which has been present in Africa without interruption since the time of the Apostles.
On Friday October 9th, Mr. Rudolf Adada, former head of the Joint United Nations/African Union Peacekeeping Mission For Darfur is expected. He will be reporting on the efforts for peace in the Darfur region, which is of interest not only for the African countries but for the whole world.
On Monday October 12th the Synodal Fathers will be addressed by Mr Jacques Diouf, Director General of FAO on the efforts the FAO is making to ensure sufficient food for Africa.
“You are salt for the earth... You are light for the world” (Mt 5: 13-14). The Church, which has been a pilgrim in Africa for 2,000 years, is trying to put into practice this invitation from its Lord. It has been doing this in the regions of North-East Africa since the time of the Apostles (cf Ac 8: 26-39).
In some areas, such as present-day Angola for example, the Good News was announced 500 years ago. In other areas the light of the Gospel was brought by the missionaries about 100 years ago. Thanks be to God the results have been bountiful.
One sign of apostolic fruitfulness is the number of African missionary vocations. There is an ever-increasing number of priests, religious and lay people who perform pastoral service in other particular churches in Africa or on other continents.
Along with the Good News, they endeavor to promote the Church’s educational and social activities, offering a complete human and Christian education to the new generations.
At the same time, they are trying to alleviate the open physical and spiritual wounds of their brothers in the face of the great challenges of underdevelopment and, therefor, hunger, illness and violence, including wars.
By their actions, they continue the work of Jesus The Good Samaritan in favor of all Africans, regardless of their ethnicity, language or religion, thus providing a precious contribution to the process of justice and peace, born from a heart that is reconciled with God and his neighbor.
Invoking the intercession of many African saints and, in particular, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Africa, we pray that the celebration of the II Special Assembly will become a propitious occasion for the whole People of God to dedicate themselves to prayer and deep reflection on the present state of pastoral activity in Africa, in union with the Shepherds and under the guidance of the Bishop of Rome and Universal Shepherd of the Church.
Blessed by the Holy Spirit, the Church in Africa hopes to set out, with renewed zeal, in the activities of evangelization and the promotion of humanity in the great continent.
A Church that is at peace with itself can become a credible announcer of reconciliation even at the level of society, bringing an irreplaceable contribution to the promotion of justice and the achievement of peace.
AT A GLANCE
Some statistics about the Church’s
charitable activity in Africa
1) There are 53 national Caritas in Africa of whom 20 have an additional aim, generally relating to the promotion of solidarity and the complete development of man and society. Then there is the Middle-Eastern and North African Caritas. All the national organizations are coordinated by Caritas Africa which is based in Kampala, Uganda.
2) The network of the Commissions for Justice and Peace is quite well developed. At a continental level there is SECAM’s Justice and Peace Secretariat. Furthermore, there are 8 regional and 34 national commissions, linked to their respective Episcopal Conferences. There are also 12 institutes and centers for the promotion of the Church’s social doctrine.
3) Among the significant works of human promotion, we should recall the Sahel Foundation, created by Pope John Paul II on February 22nd 1984, after his Apostolic visit to Burkina Faso.
(During its 25 years of existence, the Foundation has distributed approximately 40,000,000 US dollars in 9 countries: Burkina Faso, Capo Verde, Chad, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal, financing projects for water and arable land, as well as formation and teaching.)
On February 12th 2001, the late Pope constituted The Good Samaritan Foundation, based on the goal to support the most needy, especially those with AIDS. The Foundation is part of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care.
4) The Catholic Church is present in the field of the pastoral of health.
According to the latest statistics available from the year 2007, there are 16,178 health centers of which: 1,074 hospitals; 5,373 day clinics; 186 leprosaria; 753 homes for the old and the handicapped; 979 orphanages; 1,997 kindergartens; 1,590 marriage counseling centers; 2,947 centers for social rehabilitation; 1,279 different health centers.
5) While proclaiming the Gospel, the Catholic Church always has promoted the complete education of individuals through the Catholic Schools.
Today on the African continent, there are 12,496 nurseries with 1,266,444 registered children; 33,263 elementary schools with 14,061,806 students; 9,838 high schools with 3,738,238 students. There are 54,362 students in the Superior Institutes; 11,011 students in the Universities following ecclesial courses and 76,432 studying other courses.