Message of 1st Symposium of Bishops of Africa and Europe

«Much to Give to and Receive From Each Other»

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ROME, NOV. 16, 2004 ( Here is the final message of the first symposium of bishops of Africa and Europe, held Nov. 10-13. The theme of the symposium was «Communion and Solidarity between Africa and Europe: Christ Calls upon Us — Christ Sends Us.»

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Our meeting of bishops: a historic event[1]

The Symposium of the Bishops’ Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) and the Council of the European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) under the auspices of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples with the cooperation of a number of Catholic development agencies, have organized a symposium bringing together 50 Bishops from Africa and 50 Bishops from Europe. The meeting was held in Rome from November 10-13, 2004, to discuss the theme «Community and Solidarity between Africa and Europe.»

This meeting took place in a spirit of prayer, mutual listening, true respect for one another, in a true sacramental brotherhood in Christ who calls and sends us to give witness to our own particular Churches.

In a spirit of respectful sharing, thoughtful and without complacency, we heard and discussed input from many participants. We showed our «care of all the Churches» (2 Corinthians 11:28). We have much to give to and receive from each other through the sharing of joy, the communication of faith, the missionary drive and action to transform our societies in a globalized world which is in search of meaning and of the most fundamental values, which are often denied or despised.

As Bishops, servants of hope, we desire to reflect together on our common responsibility to build fairer relationships among our countries and to strengthen exchanges between the local churches of our two continents.

As we end our assembly, we address this message to you the faithful of our local churches on the two continents, and to you, men and women of good will. This message conveys our findings and convictions; it commits us to intensifying our collaboration in the future, and to uniting our efforts in support of one other in the task awaiting us.

Living communion and solidarity between Africa and Europe

Our meeting will allow us to gain a new appreciation of our histories and our mutual relationships, founded upon truthfulness and benevolence, recognizing the gifts received on both sides. We share a common heritage and vision of humankind that reveals the face of Christ … in a Church present in the heart of the World.

History has marked the relations between Africa and Europe, between our peoples, countries and institutions, sometimes with serious damage to human dignity. Today unemployment, exclusion, the crushing burden of debt, corruption, exploitation of people, the pillaging of natural resources, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the lack of access to health care as well as illiteracy are all challenges that must be tackled. They cause us pain, too, and we express our solidarity with all those who are victims of these problems.

These evils demand vigilant attention by us and by governments and international institutions. We call upon the African Union and the European Union to set themselves the target of eradicating the tragedy of hunger during the next decade. We also remind the rich countries of their undertaking to devote 0.7% of their GNP to public development aid. Five countries have already achieved this — so it is possible. It is more than a question of charity, it is a question of keeping one’s word and of justice. Charity presupposes justice.

We consider that honoring the Millennium Development Goals is the best opportunity for ending poverty in Africa. We shall untiringly challenge our governments and the European Union on the need for debt cancellation and fair trade regulations, and to create a globalization which has a human face.

Faced with situations of violence and injustice, our local churches are anxious to commit themselves at the very heart of social exclusion and conflict. We will work everywhere for justice and peace, for reconciliation and in the defense of human rights. The dignity of the human person and the needs of peoples will remain more than ever central to our common responsibility.

Christians participate in decision-making in the fields of economics and politics; we wish to be by their side, in the light of the Church’s Social Doctrine, which we must promote more than ever in our respective local churches, our countries and continents in a Church which carries hope, living proclamation and dialogue.

We give thanks for the exchange of personnel, priests, members of religious orders and lay people doing mission work on our two continents. In the life of our local churches, we must today more than ever support the giving and receiving of the faith. We need to provide reciprocal support in training those who work for the Gospel.

We encourage the laity on the two continents, especially the young, to give witness to their faith and an account of their hope, and to promote concrete gestures of sharing and solidarity within a balanced partnership. In this way they will respond to the pastoral needs of the mission of the Church and to the urgent call for integral human development.

On our two continents we are called to dialogue with other religions in different contexts, and particularly with Islam. We must reconcile the necessary respect owed to religious freedom with esteem for others, and, in the spirit of cooperation to which Vatican II («Nostra Aetate,» 3) invites us, gently but clearly affirm our faith in Christ and our Christian tradition. This dialogue ought to give the right to reciprocity.

Church attentive to the promotion of values and to building a common future

The many causes of death in Africa and in Europe urge us to promote the «culture of life.» We do have common values: the primacy of God, of transcendence, the meaning of life, the communitarian dimension of the individual («No man is an island»), the family as the foundation of society but which we see gravely injured today and which calls for special pastoral attention.

We state firmly that Europe needs Africa and that Africa needs Europe and that Europe and Africa together have a service to render to the world. We invite the Catholics of our countries to enter into renewed relationships, in a spirit of communion, and to work together because the future of one group depends on the future of the other.

«Duc in altum!» «Put out into deep water!» (Luke 5:4)

We, bishops of Africa and Europe, together with you, our dear faithful in Christ, respond to the call of the Holy Father at the beginning of this millennium, for a «more inventive charity» («Novo Millennio Ineunte,» No. 50), and so

— we kindle the flame of charitable sharing at the fire of Christian love; and

— we work for the coming of a new world-order, fervently building a civilization of love.

Faithful people, Christians of Africa and Europe together with your Bishops and in particular you, the young people, the future of our continents, be aware that you are the «people of the promise.» You are the Church, the family of God, committed throughout history to follow its Savior and animated by the force of the Holy Spirit, servants of hope, watchers of daybreak, who are ready to tackle the challenges of the «signs of the times.»

By proposing to the universal Church a year especially dedicated to the Eucharist, the Holy Father has issued a new challenge. The Eucharist is what builds the Church, our community and our ecclesial unity, which find in it their «source and summit .» We are also invited by John Paul II to commit ourselves to follow the road of solidarity, for «the Eucharist is not simply an expression of community in church life; it is also a project of solidarity for all of humankind» («Mane Nobiscum Domine,» 27).

Our earth groans under its burdens and is waiting. The faithful God has put his hope in
us. Christ walks with us. The Spirit gives us strength. May Mary, Mother of the Church, acclaimed in song in all our languages, accompany us on the road of communion and solidarity between Africa and Europe!

The participants in the «Communion and Solidarity» Symposium
Rome, 13th November 2004
1,650th anniversary of the birth of St. Augustine (African and European Bishop)

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[1] It would be no exaggeration to say that this is an historic gathering. This represents the first time that the African and European Bishops’ Conferences have organized such a meeting. This assembly also represents a prophetic sign whereby the Lord opens hearts and awakens consciences, inspired by a profound and reciprocal willingness to give and receive between the bishops of Africa and Europe. We must now look for the best ways of continuing together the work already begun: the Bishops will set up think tanks to carry it forward together.

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