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Peace in Africa and other parts of the world is very much determined by the relations among religions. Therefore, promoting the value of dialogue is important so that believers work together in associations dedicated to peace and justice, in a spirit of mutual trust and support, and families be taught the values of listening patiently and fearlessly respecting one another.
Dialogue with other religions, especially Islam and African Traditional Religion, is an integral part of the proclamation of the Gospel and the Church’s pastoral activity on behalf of reconciliation and peace. Accordingly the initiative of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue to establish dialogue with the different non-Christian religions is to be commended highly.
However, because religion is persistently politicized and becomes the cause of conflicts, religious dialogue is urgently needed with Islam and Traditional African Religion at all levels. This dialogue will be authentic and productive to the extent that each religion begins from the depths of its faith and encounters the other in truth and openness.
The Synod Fathers pray that religious intolerance and violence be minimized and eliminated through interreligious dialogue. The important ecumenical and interreligious event of Assisi (1986) provides us with a model to follow.
With the Second Vatican Council, the Church-Family of God, “regards with esteem also the Moslems, who adore the one God, living and subsisting in himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men” (“Nostra Aetate”, 3).
To serve reconciliation, justice and peace, every form of discrimination, intolerance and religious fundamentalism must be overcome. Where religious freedom is concerned, the right to worship must be stressed.In relations with Muslims, we must:
— give priority to a dialogue of life and a partnership in social matters and reconciliation;
— take into consideration the variety of situations and experiences;
— confront honestly our misunderstandings and difficulties;
— provide a better knowledge of Islam in the formation of priests, men and women religious and the lay faithful; and
— take initiatives which promote respect, friendship, collaboration and reciprocity.
African Traditional Religion (ATR)
Since the Church-Family of God in Africa continues to live alongside adherents of African Traditional Religion, the Synod Fathers recalled the wise counsel of Vatican II (“Nostra aetate”) which treats African Traditional Religion and other religions in the following way: “From ancient times down to the present, there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden force which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history…” (2).
Knowledgeable people who are converts from African Traditional Religion can guide the Church to an ever greater and more precise knowledge of African cultures and religions, making the discernment of true points of opposition easier. This will help the necessary distinction to be made between the cultural and the religious and especially between the cultural and those malevolent programmes of sorcery, which cause the break-up and ruin of our families and our societies.
Therefore, with the Second Vatican Council, the Synod Fathers reject nothing that “is true and holy in these religions…. The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men” (2).
Therefore, this Synod proposes that:
— African Traditional Religion and cultures be subject to qualified and thorough scientific research in the Catholic Universities of Africa and in the faculties of the Pontifical Universities in Rome in light of the Word of God;
— Bishops in their diocese should take energetic pastoral action against all those involved in witchcraft and decide what disciplinary measures are required; and
— each bishop should name an exorcist, wherever there is none.
As for what concerns witchcraft and cults,
— the local Church is to rely on a balanced approach which studies this phenomenon in the light of the faith and reason, so as to liberate Africans from this scourge; and
— a diocesan multi-disciplinary pastoral team is to devise a pastoral programme, that is grounded in rationality, deliverance and reconciliation.
“The Church…bears witness to man, in the name of Christ, to his dignity and his vocation to the communion of persons. She teaches him the demands of justice and peace in conformity with divine wisdom” (“The Catechism of the Catholic Church”, 2419). In the present state of human sinfulness and wounded hearts, however, the Old Testament is strong in its outlook that Justice cannot come to a human person through his own strength, but it is a gift of God. The New Testament develops this outlook more fully, making Justice the supreme revelation of the salvific grace of God. Thus, Justice is first and foremost a gift of God. It is God who justifies us through Christ. This means that it is God who makes the sinner worthy of the relationship of communion and covenant with God and empowers him or her to render justice (Cf. “Relatio post disceptationem”).
Indeed, the fruit of reconciliation between God and humanity, and within the human family itself, is the restoration of justice and the just demands of relationships. This is because God justifies the sinner by overlooking his or her sins, or one justifies an offender by pardoning his or her faults. And because God has justified us by forgiving our sins, so as to reconcile us to himself, we too can work out just relationships and structures among ourselves and in our societies, through pardoning and overlooking peoples’ faults out of love and mercy. How else can we live in community and communion?
Accordingly, gathered in Synod, the Bishops of the Church-Family of God in Africa, in the company of Priests, Deacons, Religious and Lay Faithful, commit themselves:
— to seeking in prayer the Justice/Justification of God, in whose light we are enabled to justify and pardon others in love and mercy; and
— to being architects of just structures in our societies, in the light of the Justice which comes from God.
Security in Society
The Synod calls upon all members of the Church in Africa to promote justice for everyone and respect for human rights through civic education and by building up a culture of justice and peace. To accomplish this, Dioceses and Parishes should establish Commissions for Justice and Peace, in collaboration with local community leaders, who may act as intermediaries.
The current mobilization of African countries for the reducion of poverty and the pursuit of lasting peace open great hopes. That is why the Synod recommends, for the sake of justice, the common good and the welfare of peoples. The Synod appeals to governments to offer security in society and the basic needs of life to the most vulnerable from a just distribution of the fruits of development.
This Synod reminds our African governments of this fact and appeals to them for security of life and property. Life is sacred and must be protected and secured. Governments should put in place a machinery to stop killings, kidnapping, etc., on the continent. Insecurity of life and property and a lack of good order increases migration and the brain drain and, this, in turn, adds to poverty.
The Brain Drain
African countries and families invest great sums of money training professionals to contribute to improving the conditions of life of their people. Unfortunately, many of them leave soon after graduation in the hope of finding better working conditions and remuneration.
The Synod proposes:
— that African countries take urgent steps to improve the conditions of life and work on the continent to forestall the “brain drain” in order to prevent people from leaving and being absorbed by developing countries;
— that professionals exercise a sense of sacrifice and service to their people, at whose expense they have been trained; and
— that developed countries support Africa in addressing this issue by helping to create centres of academic excellence which meet the needs of the integral development of societies.
Social Justice and the Eradication of Poverty
The Synod Fathers have pleaded for an economy in service to the poor and strongly denounced an unjust economic order which has led to the perpetuation of poverty.
We therefore propose that:
1. the Church-Family of God in Africa recommits herself to the service of the poor, orphans and marginalized in imitation of life in the early days of the Church;
2. As in the case of the early Church, the Church in Africa and its Islands must develop an internal system for taking care of their needs. With regard to emergency situations (catastrophic disasters), it is imperative to develop relationships of solidarity between the different dioceses and within the episcopal conferences themselves. For this reason, there is an urgent need to establish a solidarity fund on the continental level through the CARITAS network. At the same time, the Church should endeavour to promote and inculcate a holistic perception of work as an expression of grace and solidarity. In this way, human talent will be acknowledged and employed as needed for the good of all.
3. leaders take adequate measures (access to land, access to water, infrastructures, etc.), to remedy poverty and to develop policies to ensure self-sufficiency in food production and educational programmes which are production-oriented;
4. the further cancellation of debts with favourable conditions be advocated and the elimination of the practice of usury;
5 African governments be more prudent in accessing grants and loans so that they do not push their people into further debt. The poor and marginalised be empowered through initiatives such as micro-finance, agrarian and similar programmes as the Church’s concrete sign of solidarity with the poor and marginalized;
6. Africa be actively involved as an important stakeholder in decision-making processes on international trade and socio-economic issues which affect her; and
7. the above-mentioned efforts be inspired and governed by the promotion of integral human development and authentic human values.
Social Doctrine of the Church
The evangelizing mission of the Church-Family of God in Africa draws on several resource materials, prominent and foremost among which is the Scripture, the Word of God. But, as observed at the Synod (“Relatio ante disceptationem”, p. 6), the conduct and character of the Church’s ministry are enhanced by several “support events and material”, “subsidia fidei”, such as “The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church”, a very comprehensive guide on the Church’s mission and self-expression in the world and its social order as “teacher” and “leaven”.
Accordingly the Synod Fathers, recognizing the usefulness of “The Compendium” in the task of evangelization on the continent and its Islands, propose that every National and Regional Episcopal Conference:
— revise all catechetical materials at every level (children, youth, young couples, families) to include elements of the Church’s Social Doctrine and translate “The Compendium” into local languages;
— require that the Church’s Social Doctrine be made mandatory in all seminary training and ongoing formation programmes for priests and men and women religious and in the formation and activities of the laity in service to the Church and society;
— gather in collections, where they do not yet exist, the messages and pastoral letters from their own social teaching;
— establish a team of researchers to draw a syllabus for teaching and communicating social and Christian values and the syllabus, thus devised, be taught from the primary to the university level); and
— make the Gospel and African values of solidarity, generosity and common good, both known and loved.
The Synod Fathers voiced a concern for education, an idea which is often expressed by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. As in other places throughout the world, Africa is experiencing a crisis in education. A complete, integrated programme of education is needed, intimately uniting both faith and reason, through which the faithful are prepared adequately to face all circumstances in life and avoid attempting to guide themselves by dualistic and relativistic criteria in their everyday choices. Education cannot be reduced to academics only, but should instill in youth the profound meaning of life. The family should be recognized as the prime place for education and, therefore, assisted in this mission. The Synod Fathers therefore insist on the priority of education and defend the right of citizens to education work, which cannot and should not be a monopoly of the State.
Where Churches have established schools, intending to partner with the State to provide education, it is necessary that the right of Churches to run the Schools be respected. It would also be desirable if the State expressed it partnership with the Church in education by giving support to the Schools.
The Synod Fathers acknowledged the problematic effects of the Maputo Protocol on women and life, for example, regarding women’s reproductive health. However, above all, they hold unacceptable the promotion of abortion in article 14/2/c: “Protect the reproductive rights of women by authorizing medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the foetus.”
According to the Church’s teaching, abortion is contrary to God’s will. Furthermore, this article is in contradiction with human rights and the right to life. It trivializes the seriousness of the crime of abortion and devalues the role of childbearing. The Church condemns this position on abortion and proclaims that the value and dignity of human life be protected from the moment of conception to natural death.
The Synod Fathers call on the Church in Africa and its Islands to commit herself to employ the necessary means and structures to help and accompany women and couples tempted by abortion. Moreover, they praise the courage of governments in their legislation which fights abortion.