ROME, NOV. 17, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The first-ever Symposium of Bishops of Africa and Europe, organized by the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences and the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, was held here Nov. 10-13.
In this interview with ZENIT, Bishop Amédée Grab of Chur, Switzerland, president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, reveals some of the proposals made during the meeting, in light of the challenges posed to evangelization in Africa.
Q: In your address, you lamented a “certain tiredness and lack of interest at the popular level in the process of European unification,” and proposed as a “dream,” around which to galvanize the commitment and passion of European citizens, the overcoming of hunger in Africa. Do you believe your appeal has found concrete answers in this symposium?
Bishop Grab: Much information was given that manifested the attention paid to this problem by many entities.
I am thinking of the address of Bishop Fernando Charrier, president of the Justice and Solidarity Foundation, who explained very well how the Italian bishops have received the Pope’s invitation, in the Jubilee of 2000, to condone the foreign debt of poor countries. And, instead of just preaching and saying this is an exigency of peace and of the future of humanity, they chose two countries, Guinea-Conakry and Zambia, and proposed the cancellation of the debt to the Italian government.
Not in its totality, because it wouldn’t have been possible, but they succeeded in having 10% of the debt of these countries canceled and to do so, they asked for help from the Italian faithful, collecting in no time for this purpose 1.5 million euros.
In this way, the debtor countries that asked for the cancellation of the debt have been able to use this money to promote works of solidarity, development and progress.
All this so as not to limit themselves to saying “here is the eraser; let’s cancel the past,” and then begin again in the exact same conditions that have fostered and increased the debt. This example, which was not known by the bishops of other countries, is excellent. Excellent to have asked the government, in the name of Christ, and then to have offered a certain guarantee on behalf of those who cannot give anything. It is a splendid, perfect idea.
But there are other examples of twinning with African dioceses.
Also in my country, Switzerland, for 40 years there has been this type of collaboration, not only with the intention of remedying disastrous situations, such as cases of floods, drought and earthquakes, but also of enabling those who receive the help to be autonomous one day.
In the context of organizations of solidarity, the proverb is very much repeated of not limiting oneself to give a fish to the hungry but to teach them how to fish. And, for example, to dig wells, to offer the possibility of exploiting the natural resources of a region, and of liberating from ever renewed and conditioning aid, is a positive sign.
But the need to promote a wider solidarity was also presented in a bishop’s address, who stressed that, even if all the international debt was canceled of all the countries of Africa, the continent would continue to be poor, because it is trapped in the mechanisms that periodically create indebtedness.
In regard to the unification of Europe, it is good for peoples to come together, and for political and economic leaders to focus on some criteria that inspire, that leave a mark, because, in the process of European integration, inspiration is lacking at times, as it cannot be reduced solely to improving income. That is not an ideal.
Q: The advice offered by Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja and president of SECAM is “to change economic rules.” It is not enough to condone the debt or give money. Markets must be opened to the importation of products from Africa, and the prices of certain medicines must be reduced.
Bishop Grab: Yes, because on one hand, very important subsidies are offered, worth billions, which later are recovered by purchasing African products at absurd prices that do not allow for survival.
I spoke about it with an expert and he said: “Here is everything we have given,” giving numbers and facts.
“Yes, but how much have we received?” I replied for my part. In other words: Directly or indirectly, how much profit have we made?
Q: If, on one hand, the European Union invests money and establishes economic agreements with the African countries, and on the other, states that it wishes to donate $75 million to the United Nations Population Fund, which will be invested in contraceptive means and instruments to “regulate fertility,” such as abortion, do you not see a certain ambiguity in this policy?
Bishop Grab: We still witness the contradiction or absurd character of this way of acting and reasoning.
There still is a humanitarian philanthropy that seeks to limit the increase of human population, so that all can live and eat. This idea, which stems from a distorted concept of charity or the common good, is still seen at all levels, including in individual and private life.
For example, in regard to abortion, if it is foreseen that the existence of the unborn will be terrible and linked to sufferings, why is it better that it not be born? If its birth was prevented out of charity, it could be said, according to this unbalanced logic, that it is not opportune to allow the number of malnourished men to increase, who will be sickly and have many difficulties.
In promoting a society of happiness, health and assured profits, in reality, the values of love and life are not promoted but rather those of egoism, and personal and group interests.
Q: Also among the symposium’s objectives was to understand further “the common responsibility in evangelization, mission, the pastoral program for the new situation of a globalized world which is facing the challenges of secularization.” How can the Gospel be inculturated and the evangelical message spread in the African context?
Bishop Grab: All cultures need to be evangelized. For some decades, at least since Pope Paul VI, there exists this concept to evangelize the culture, the economy, etc. I recall the surprise of elderly Christians who said: “It is impossible, I can only evangelize persons. How can I evangelize the culture or the economy?”
It is possible, by taking this ferment that, through persons of faith, will make possible the development of a reflection, an action which, accepting the weaknesses and lacuna of each system, leads one to act according to the plan of Jesus in a situation of preparation for the Kingdom.
The Kingdom will never come in this life. The Kingdom, in its totality, its splendor, will come with Jesus’ advent at the end of time. But, meanwhile, one builds, and sows. And the evangelizer, in seeing what is positive in each culture, as well as in revealing its limits and contradictions, tries, illumined by the Gospel, to improve it.
We see it in the history of the Church. St. Paul advises slaves to obey their masters and, therefore, he does not preach the total abolition of slavery. However, by proclaiming the Gospel, he sows in hearts and intelligences the strength that, once matured, will be able to overcome slavery completely. And this discourse is valid for any other value of human society.
Without the Gospel, the family is not sacred anywhere. There are, in traditional African religions, absolutely strong values that have guaranteed the continuation of society and culture in these countries, even if they have marked limitations. And it is here where the Gospel is inculturated, making one live these relationship in a different way.
Therefore, evangelization counts on the fact that no human relationship is perfect in itself, in part for reasons of cultural inheritance; therefore, all human relationships mus
t be purified and renewed.