Historical Symposium Brings Africa and Europe Closer

Bishops Reflect on New Means to Communion and Solidarity

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ROME, NOV. 11, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Communion and Solidarity Between Africa an Europe” is the topic to be discussed at the first symposium dedicated to bringing together representatives from both continents to reflect on their common needs and responsibilities.

An estimated 150 bishops, and delegates from 62 countries on the two continents are meeting to reflect on the need to exchange gifts between the Church on the two continents.

Organized by the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) and the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, with the sponsorship of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the collaboration of organizations concerned with solidarity, the conference is taking place from Nov. 11-13.

Also attending the meeting are representatives of seven Vatican dicasteries, delegates of continental ecclesial organizations of Asia, Latin America and North America, as well as officials of international organizations.

The African bishops are concerned that almost half of their continent’s population lives under the poverty line. They are also concerned about emigration — at times illegal and often with risks for young Africans –, which does not diminish, and by the many situations of conflict that prevent lasting development.

For their part, after the signing of the European Union’s Constitutional Treaty, the bishops of this continent hope that the building of the new Europe will be an experience of communion and solidarity which will leave no room for xenophobia, exclusion and despair.

“As the Church, we must be alert, so that Europe will not become a fortress enclosed in its own wealth,” said Bishop Amedee Grab of Chur, Switzerland, CCEE President, when opening the working sessions.

“We want a peaceful and more stable continent to exchange gifts with the other areas of the earth and contribute to justice and peace in the world,” as well as to “the creation of a universal fraternity, based on the fact that every inhabitant of the world is a child of the same Father,” he specified.

“Not to commit oneself to this objective is to be irresponsible,” he added. In this connection, Bishop Grab stressed the challenge “to eradicate in the next decades the tragedy of hunger throughout the world, beginning with Africa.”

A “double exigency” gave origin to this symposium. “The African bishops have expressed the desire to have a closer relationship with the European bishops, because often their relationship with Europe is, rather, a request for financial assistance”; but “we want to make a quality leap and have a meeting between bishops on the basis of the sacramental communion of the episcopal order,” the CCEE secretary general, Msgr. Aldo Giordano, explained on Vatican Radio.

“Moreover, we have the feeling that Africa, at the political-economic world level, is always skirted,” he explained. “As Church we feel the responsibility to indicate that this is not possible,” he said.

In this symposium “we wish to share common problems,” such as emigration, the relationship with other confessions, especially Islam, to discuss “what the proclamation of Christianity in Asia will be like,” and to address “problems related to health, such as AIDS,” explained Msgr. Giordano.

“And, above all, we would like to engage in an exchange of cultures, of our vision of man. We have the phenomenon of secularization and Africa is also affected by it,” but “we would like to learn from the African experience” about “religiosity.” Likewise, in “Europe we are moving in an individualist direction and we would like to learn about the social dimension of Africa,” the Msgr. acknowledged.

“In the light of an experience of solidarity and exchange which has existed for such a long time” — with missionaries, volunteers, and organizations of solidarity –, the novelty of the meeting is to deepen a “collaboration that is truly reciprocal” — “to give and receive” — between Africa and Europe.

It is in this context that the prelates are reflecting on “the role of the laity, of religious, especially on the ministry of African priests in Europe, and on the collaboration between local Churches, organizations of solidarity, etc.,” Msgr. Giordano explained.

“And together we would also like to examine the contribution that Europe and Africa can make together to the world, for the peace of the world, in this historic situation, and for justice in the world,” he concluded.

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