Synod Addresses Africa's Harsh Realities

Prelates Make Room for Moments of Humor

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By Jesús Colina

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 8, 2009 ( Horrors in Africa, such as workers being treated as slaves and young girls leaving religious congregations and becoming prostitutes, are among the issues on the table at the current episcopal meeting on Africa.
The fraternal atmosphere and frequent signs of good humor are in marked contrast to the harsh situations being addressed by the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, in which Benedict XVI is participating as his responsibilities allow.
In order to respect the atmosphere of debate among the bishops when they speak spontaneously during moments of free interventions, journalists are given the content of the interjections without names.

This respect for the prelates’ anonymity guards the confidentiality and freedom of discussion in the assembly hall.
Monsignor Joseph Bato’ora Ballong Wen Mewuda, the synod’s spokesman for the French language, revealed some of this anonymous content from the 23 Synodal Fathers who addressed the assembly in the free discussion on Tuesday afternoon.

He noted that the Pope did not attend this session, as he was preparing his catechesis for Wednesday’s general audience.
The issue most discussed in this session was the situation of African young people, the monsignor said, as the prelates realize that the Church must reflect much more on how to approach them. Too often, they said, the youth become victims of fundamentalists.
In addition, the spokesman reported, the bishops said that it is virtually impossible for them to halt the exodus of young Africans seeking a better life abroad, especially in the West.
Given this situation, the prelates proposed a plan to prepare young people who are emigrating to help them cope with other cultures and mentalities, as well as to give them formation in the Social Doctrine of the Church.

One bishop noted that the situation can sometimes be positive, as some of these young people discover or rediscover their faith in the host countries, Monsignor Ballong Wen Mewuda reported.

Caught in the net
One of the prelates expressed concern over young Catholic African women who, moved by vocational curiosity regarding religious life, go to Europe to discern their future in a monastery or religious community.
He explained that there are various cases in which some girls left the community due to not finding a fit with religious life, and, thus ending up alone in a foreign European country, they fall into prostitution networks.
Because of this danger, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the bishops’ conference established the guideline that young girls who wish to enter religious life must choose a community that is present in their own country.

In this way, the synod participant explained, the girls remain connected with their own country should they decide not to continue in the religious life.  
In other African countries, the bishops have encouraged this practice but have not made it obligatory, the French spokesman reported.
In any event, a prelate interjected, when a young girl travels to Europe to enter a religious community, the ecclesiastical authority gives a number of permissions to avoid these problems as much as possible.
Hidden agendas

Other bishops criticized some non-governmental organizations that have a positive public image in the Western world, but in reality are fronts for what they called «hidden and secret agendas.»
The synod fathers revealed that these organizations are invading the African continent with the pretext of offering humanitarian aid, but in reality, what they want is to promote ideologies.
Monsignor Ballong Wen Mewuda explained that the bishops were not explicit when it came to unmasking these ideologies, but he guessed that they might be referring to organizations that are covers for various sects, or others that seek to promote abortion under the guise of «reproductive health.»
One of the synodal fathers referred to an article published by the magazine «Jeune Afrique,» which reported some of these sect leaders have become advisers to African politicians and even presidents, thus contributing to the adoption of what they described as «harmful decisions.»

At least four bishops requested that the Synod raise its voice against the abuses of the multinational corporations that are exploiting the mineral resources and forests of Africa, as well as contaminating the water, thereby causing great harm to the local populations.
They reported that in some areas where these companies have arrived they have exploited the resources but done nothing to help the people.
The synodal fathers expressed the desire not only to denounce these corporations, but also to decry the local politicians who have allowed them to enter without considering the harm that Africans are now suffering because of them.
Mention was also made of Chinese companies that are increasingly pervading the continent to build highways and public works, but which employ personnel from its homeland under conditions of virtual slavery.

Lighter notes  

As is often the case in Africa, Monsignor Ballong Wen Mewuda noted, all these tragedies failed to rob the bishops of hope or good humor.
He stated that Cardinal Francis Arinze, the former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, and Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, archbishop of Durban, South Africa, managed to draw smiles from the assembly with their transition comments before introducing a speaker.
The spokesman reported that when a bishop is brief and ends his address before the assigned time, he is given a resounding applause, which is not only a reward but an incitement to the next speaker to follow suit.
There are amusing scenes of daily life in the assembly, such as when a bishop is requested to collect his lost skullcap or belt from the office, the monsignor noted.
He added that the Pope also smiles on such occasions. Respecting the synod’s methodology, the Pontiff has only spoken to give his first meditation, which he delivered without notes, and to give a spontaneous farewell at the end of the sessions.

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