Cardinal Napier on the State of the Faith

Interview With Archbishop of Durban, South Africa

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ROME, SEPT. 22, 2005 ( Africans, to the extent they make the faith a central part of their lives, have something to teach the West, says a cardinal.

That was among the points Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, 64, archbishop of Durban and vice president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, made in this interview with ZENIT during World Youth Day in Germany.

Q: What is the present situation of the Church in South Africa?

Cardinal Napier: In some areas the Church has grown and in other areas not so much. Some communities are struggling, while others are doing well.

In general it can be said that the Church is growing in the black communities. There the Church is full of life and vigor. Many of the white, English-speaking communities are lively too, though the growth is not as significant because the families are much smaller.

Q: Should we attribute this to Western influence?

Cardinal Napier: Europe and the United States exercise an important influence, but not only among the white, English-speaking population; rather, among all.

This can be noticed in the films projected in the cinemas and on television, in art, fashion … they have an enormous effect on the lifestyle of the South African inhabitants.

Q: In your opinion, what are the positive influences from Europe?

Cardinal Napier: I believe that among the most positive influences that come from Europe today is that of seeing how so many different nations, once separated by boundaries, have developed into a Union with the process that has created the European Union.

Nationalism does not persist as in the past, and at the same time patriotism has not ceased to be a value.

It is very good to see this in Africa since nationalism in Africa, belonging to a tribe and ethnic identity, still play a decisive role and lead people from the same land to separate into small groups. This is frequently the cause of conflict.

Along this line there is another aspect that Europe teaches us, namely, that through long negotiation and commitments it is possible for countries so different from each other [to] learn close collaboration.

Q: What are the strong and the weak points of the Church in Africa?

Cardinal Napier: I believe that among the strong points is a sense for social affairs. When people gather together it becomes a true society. They sing and pray together naturally, spontaneously. Mutual cooperation also quickly arises.

Among the weaker points is probably the fact that there still exists a tendency to seek personal or family gain instead of seeking the good of the entire community.

Another positive side of the South African Church, and this probably explains the reason that the faith is spreading so much in Africa, is that on a general level the Africans acknowledge, as they did in the past, that they need God. They need God in order to live and they cannot rely on any other foundation.

Thus, they tend to be much more religious and to look to God to help them to solve their many problems, while in the West, in times of difficulty they look elsewhere and do not see God or religion as a solution.

Q: What advice would you give to Christians in the West?

Cardinal Napier: It would do you a wealth of good to observe your African brothers and sisters and understand the difference that there is in the life of a person when faith occupies a central role, something that no longer happens in Europe for some time.

Before, the people of Europe also had a profound consciousness of the presence of God in their lives. But I think that for the first time, with this modern globalization, with the secularism and relativism, we have arrived at a situation in which people no longer take religion and religious values into consideration.

I believe that in this regard Africa can transmit a strong message to Europe: We need God and God is here for us, so that we invoke him and seek his help when we are in need.

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