“They are very worried in Europe about the immigrants that are in Europe, that’s what’s in the press. Unfortunately, however, there is no talk of the problems we have in Africa, said Monsignor Anthony Muheria in a Zenit interview published October 26, 2018, in Spanish. “We hope that this will also be an opportunity for the Synodal Fathers to hear from our mouth what’s happening in Africa so that it can be made known.”
The problem of migration in Africa has existed for more than 10 years, he said. In countries such as Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia there are immigrant camps of 900,000, 800,000 and one million people, respectively. Some have been in those camps for over 10 years; they have no normal life, pointed out the Archbishop.
The Synod is a good occasion to “listen,” said the Prelate. “The reality of the Church is a mosaic, and the problems of Europe are very different from the problems of Africa,” he added.
African Young People
The principal problems that worry young people in Africa are: formation for vocations, employment, and education, explained Archbishop Muheria. Yet, “in Africa we have many young people who are in the Church, who are close, they are very happy; <it’s> the joy of Africa.”
This was the third time that the Archbishop of Nyeri, of the Opus Dei Prelature, took part in a Synod of Bishops. The first time was in the Synod on the Eucharist and, the second, in the Synod on the Word.
Here is Zenit’s exclusive interview with Archbishop Anthony Muheira.
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ZENIT: What is the novelty of this Synod?
Archbishop Muheria: The organization is improving; I imagine that with experience, new things are incorporated. I would also say that with Pope Francis’ initiative, who has added a very good thing, which is that after some interventions, there is a 3–minute pause for reflection, and that’s good, so that the things we are hearing can penetrate, in order to reflect, to have clearer ideas. And also to engage in some meditation, because they are not only practical things, they are also spiritual things to discern in this way what the Holy Spirit might suggest in our hearts.
ZENIT: What is the reality of your diocese and of your country?
Archbishop Muheria: First, when we come to the Synod, we come to listen. The Church’s reality is a mosaic, and the problems of Europe are very different from the problems of Africa. But we cannot remain foreign to this; we must listen because now the global world is inter-connected. And we must also contribute the good experiences we have had in Africa. There are many things that can be said.
What I had prepared — each Synodal Father prepares a topic to address, but that doesn’t mean that that topic is his specialty; it’s what the Holy Spirit has given to share with the rest. I have spoken of the closeness that, as Pastors, Bishops must have with young people; a closeness and availability that complicate our life, of course, but it’s not only something bureaucratic, of sending our delegates to look after the young people. Young people need contact with us, as Fathers, as models. This, which is a grace we have received, of sharing, of giving, and so young people have this right (to say it somehow); the effort must be made to come very close to young people, to be interested in their things, to walk with them. I’ve had experience in this, being with young people, at their parties, walking together, going on outings, getting tired with them so that they see our vulnerability. And so that they encourage us who are somewhat old and thus we open ourselves to the heart of young people. Being close, they share things that perhaps they wouldn’t do otherwise.
And then, in Africa we have many young people who are in the Church, they are close, they are very happy, <It’s> the joy of Africa. The years of youth must be years of joy. We must take away all this pessimism and negativity, and give optimism, hope, happiness so that they can enjoy their youth, with its problems, but be on top of them, saying “You’re not doing this,” it’s closeness. Pope Francis is talking about accompaniment.
On the other hand, young people have ideals. Their ideals are very lofty. We can’t give them half-baked ideals or faith. Young people exact the highest justice. You can’t say to them, it’s somewhat just.” No, they say “we want the highest justice.” We also have the highest Truth, and we can’t dilute it for them, and the same goes for the faith. Then we must think how to “package” how to “wrap” it better for them. It must be sold well but, at the same time, they must see it “pure” with their own eyes. And that’s difficult.
It’s what we are praying for to the Holy Spirit, to illumine us to be able to do something a bit different in the Church, perhaps very different, I don’t know, so that we reach increasingly the heart of a youth, the head of a youth and give him this challenge, that this ideal of holiness is possible, and it must also be our challenge.
ZENIT: What is the difference between the problems of African young people and the problems of European young people?
Archbishop Muheria: Yes, concrete things . . . First: there are many young people in the Church in Africa, who are happy in the Church; we have vocations. The problem is to form those vocations, to give them hope when there is hunger, when there is poverty.
Second: Employment. It’s a very big problem in Africa. Young people don’t have jobs, so they don’t have hope. Africa’s young people also have the problem of ethnic hatred, which is very strong. We must talk to them about that, about the need to live charity, to accept others, even if they are different, of other ethnic groups.
Third: Education. Many of them don’t have an adequate level of education. They haven’t gone beyond primary and secondary school. More than 80% of young people have no career. That’s a big problem for their ideals and their dreams. There are very concrete things. There are also problems of corruption in Africa. They have been seen; they are introducing them to corruption, into a structure of corruption, into a government of corruption . . . They see it as normal; this is another problem.
ZENIT: In regard to the subject of migration, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Addis Ababa, Monsignor Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, said that many African young people emigrate to other countries of the Continent. What is the situation in Kenya? Do they receive people?
Archbishop Muheria: We have many emigrants in Africa. Ethiopia has 900,000, who are immigrants in camps. In Kenya we have 800,000; in Uganda, they have 1,000,000. In countries of the South of Africa they also have one million, that is, a great quantity. The problem that we have, it seems, is not like Europe’s. We have had this problem for many years, for more than 10 years. And they come from countries of Africa: the Congo, Rwanda, many from Sudan, many from Somalia . . . There are many we receive there, but they live in very poor situations, without hope, without education. This problem is quite big. The United Nations helps us, but the aid that comes is very limited. It’s not help to live, but help to survive. Then they try to survive up to a moment when they lose hope. Some have been in those camps for over 10 years; they don’t know a normal life. Children who were born there, then even family life becomes difficult because people have nothing to do; then there are bad habits of life also . . . etc. It’s a very big problem, but no one talks about it. They talk about Africans that emigrate from Africa to Europe, from Iraq, OK, they are many, but we have a far greater problem there.
ZENIT: In the Synod, are they thinking of giving a solution to this problems, or are they looking to Europe?
Archbishop Muheria: Now we are proffering conclusions about how we can resolve this problem; I don’t know what the outcome will be. We have to wait to see what happens, but it’s being addressed in the Synod Hall. In Europe, they are very worried about the immigrants in Europe, that’s what’s in the press. Unfortunately, however, there is no talk of the problems we have in Africa. Until there is a disaster in Africa, they won’t talk about these problems in the press. We hope that this will also be an opportunity for the Synodal Fathers to hear, from our mouth, what is happening in Africa, so that it can be made known.
ZENIT: How will you take what has been worked on in this Synod to the parishes of your diocese?
Archbishop Muheria: In Kenya, we dedicated a year to youth to prepare this Synod. It’s not that we’re going to start to do things now; we have spent time in preparation, two years doing things with young people. It’s a process. We will continue doing so, talking and improving, with what we are living here. However, we hope that the Holy Father will also give us some challenges and encourage us a bit more in this. I hope we can declare a year dedicated to young people, now that we are going to Panama. I hope so. And that would be a good context to develop all that we are living here. However, it must not be seen only as a program that they give us, <which> we <then> go and carry it out. That is very bureaucratic. I think we must take the germ from here, go to our land and see what we can do, using the impulse of the Holy Spirit and the ideas we’ve heard.
Translation by Virginia M. Forrester