Cardinal Napier has praised the Pope and young people’s active participation in the synod and the preparation of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment, but has pointed out three areas which he and other African bishops say are missing from its working document, the Instrumentum Laboris, which ought to be reflected in the final document.
Speaking to journalists in the Holy See Press Office on Oct. 13, 2018, he began by acknowledging he has been part of nearly eight synods, and therefore is used to being in this sort of environment where the universal Church comes together to discuss important themes. He noted this synod for him has been unique for a number of reasons:
First of all, the pro-active involvement of Pope Francis in the preparation process. He has been at every pre-synod meeting. He also had encounters with young people, to speak and listen to them.
The second unique feature is that there are the 34 young people in the synod: but more so than their presence and participation in the synod hall, he said was their participation in the small groups.
I think their participation here has given an extra dose of reality. We are not just speaking about them, but to and with them.
The third wonderful feature is that after every five presentations, there is the three minute pause of silence. “This takes the interventions of each person to another level. It becomes an opportunity to reflect and interiorize in the synod, on what others are saying.
What is missing
“Coming from Africa,” Cardinal Napier observed, “I have noticed that some themes are very important and some are missing from the document. We tried as a group of African bishops to discuss them and see how we can re-introduce these elements into the final document.”
“For instance,” he explained, “many young people are leaving Jesus, or at least his Church, and they are doing this for a variety of reasons. We heard quite a few young people give testimonies about their friends leaving the Church.”
But in Africa, Cardinal Napier said, there is a very different kind of phenomenon. That is where young people are looking for Jesus. They are looking for answers to their problems, and they are searching in the Church to find those answers to their problems. This is not really reflected in the document.
“Another serious defect in the document,” Cardinal Napier said, “is that the themes of unemployment, poverty and migration are touched upon, but as they are lived out in Europe, not in Africa.”
Cardinal Napier stressed that in his continent there is uncontrolled exploitation of minerals and other resources: rainforests are being destroyed, the environment is being dirtied, to the extent that what used to be fertile farming land has now become infertile. Those who would have been able to look after the land in the past, he said, are no longer able to do so, and they are migrating at times within Africa, and in many cases, in Europe.
This of course means, the South African cardinal underscored, that Africa is losing some of its most gifted young people to migration.
“A second area that I find of concern here,” he said, “is that desperate families are putting up their children for labor, as child laborers,” the Archbishop of Durban, said, noting this means in some cases there are entire generations where young people are not getting an education in some places. “They are not getting the education they need to get a start in life.”
“Since this is a synod about young people, I think this is a very important thing to have in our document. I hope the final document is going to reflect that.”
The third element that is missing, the Cardinal said, is the bad governance of many of our governments in Africa, which means that the cycle of exploitation just continues, and issues of bribery or incompetence.
“I have really been delighted to see the work going on in the synod. I think it is a good thing, but I do think we need to narrow it down, so that the document is not just a narrow spectrum. I would like to see in the final document reflected these elements that have not been so, thus far.”
When there were questions about abuse, Cardinal Napier made two recommendations. First, he encouraged those who have been abused to not hesitate or be afraid to come forward, so these cases can be dealt with. He also underscored that we must develop or improve the practices and guidelines, and their implementation, so that these situations do not happen again.
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