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from issue no. 06/07 - 2004

VATICAN. A speech by the Secretary for Relations with States

The possible renaissance of a continent

The Africa of conflicts, epidemics, hunger is an integral part of the history of humanity and is waiting for the lights and the hopes to become concrete action

by Giovanni Lajolo

Is Africa really a continent gone adrift? The current of thought generated by politicians and economists that goes under the name of “Afro-pessimism” seems quite convinced that the development goals of the millennium, set out several times by the United Nations, have little chance of being achieved by 2015.
Congolese refugees leaving their country for an UNCHR camp in the village of Rugombo in Burundi, June 2004. Almost 25,000 people have left the Democratic Republic of the Congo for neighboring Burundi

Congolese refugees leaving their country for an UNCHR camp in the village of Rugombo in Burundi, June 2004. Almost 25,000 people have left the Democratic Republic of the Congo for neighboring Burundi

It’s not my intention to present here a complete picture of the political situation of Africa. I shall limit myself to outlining some of the dark side and some points of light that fleck the continent. In fact – as the Supreme Pontiff reminds us – though «in some countries the internal situation, unfortunately, is still not settled, and violence has sometimes had or still has the upper hand, that cannot give rise to a general condemnation covering a whole people or a whole nation or, worse still, the whole continent» (Ecclesia in Africa, no. 39). After this first consideration, I shall then set out the commitment of the Pontiff and of the Catholic Church to Africa.

The Dark Side

Many African countries have gone through the devastating experience of war: Rwanda and Burundi remain the emblematic cases, with 800,000 and 300,000 dead, respectively. Of the conflicts that still bloody the continent those taking place in north Uganda, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in the Sudan are particularly dramatic on account of their duration. Those who suffer the more serious consequences, death, oppression and hunger are the ordinary people. These are wars characterized by episodes of unheard–of violence and cruelty.
Furthermore, economic interest in the resources (above all minerals and oil) of the African continent has unleashed a chaotic assault by elements who, in the industrialized countries also, are eager to gain possession. This dramatic political and social situation is made worse by the spread of new and ancient epidemics, by the high percentage of adolescent mortality and by foreign debt. Despite the move to remit the foreign debt of some countries, Africa remains the most indebted continent in ratio to its gross national income. Unfortunately a huge amount of capital is spent on buying weapons. A real scandal! I am thinking of the arms for the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Africa has a serious lack of political culture, something that lies at the base of the failure of many democratic processes on the continent. In the judgment of many people civilian society has handed over too much responsibility to the political class, that has in turn allowed too much space to the executive power, which has run the state through a single party, an appendage of the president. The personalization of power has had and has grim results in Africa. One of the challenges of Africa is citizenship: it is necessary to transform its subjects into citizens.
Sudanese refugees from the Darfur region waiting their turn at a water tap in the Mornay refugee camp. There are more than 80,000 refugees in Mornay who have fled from the killing perpetrated by pro-government militias in the Darfur region

Sudanese refugees from the Darfur region waiting their turn at a water tap in the Mornay refugee camp. There are more than 80,000 refugees in Mornay who have fled from the killing perpetrated by pro-government militias in the Darfur region

These dramas are played out to an almost general indifference, interest awakening when citizens or commercial interests from the north of the world are involved. Proof of the fact is that the World Food Program is continually forced to incite donor countries to guarantee aid for the subsistence to tens of millions of Africans otherwise destined to die from starvation.

After the shameful terrorist attack on the US, on 11 September 2001, the life conditions of many African countries have decidedly deteriorated. The Sub-Sahara is the region of the world that is paying the dearest price with its million of poor and the lack of an effective aid network.
The African situation is to be seen, now more than ever, within these recent dramatic events. In the light of what has happened it seems absolutely necessary to create conditions to prevent the possibility of tension, opposition between developed areas, areas that are striving to get out of their situation of economic precariousness and areas of hunger and poverty. The West must realize that the “excluded”, if the road to genuine development does not open to them, will end by believing they have no other choice than terrorism. And that could become a new way of waging war.
The spread of Islamic fundamentalism in the region of the Sahel, of the Sahara and East Africa should not be underestimated.
The Africa of conflicts, epidemics, hunger is an integral part of the history of humanity and is waiting for light and the hope to become concrete action.

The light

Africa is the cradle of mankind. That should serve to remind us that the continent is dotted with sites included in the UNESCO World Heritage list as officially to be highly regarded, protected, and recognized as a legacy that belong not only to the Africans but to the whole of mankind. Additionally, in May 2001 UNESCO compiled a list of the creations to be preserved as belonging to the «oral and immaterial patrimony of mankind». Among the forms of cultural expression chosen as «factors vital for cultural identity, the promotion of creativity and the conservation of cultural difference, that play an essential role in national and international development, in tolerance and in the harmonious interaction of cultures» (as the UNESCO declaration puts it) stands the oral and artistic tradition of the Gelede group (in Benin, Nigeria and Togo).
Preparations for John Paul II’s visit to Abuja in Nigeria in March 1998. Lajolo states:

Preparations for John Paul II’s visit to Abuja in Nigeria in March 1998. Lajolo states:

The Burkinabe historian, Joseph Ki Zerbo, sees in African society positive indications, in young people, in the trade unions, in the commitment of woman, in the low-level economy, in the heroism of various social groups and that these have something to say to other peoples. The close link between religion and everyday life (even political life) is not to be underestimated. Ordinary people have no difficulty in invoking the help of God through prayer on the most various occasions. Wherever there is life a relationship exists with what transcends life itself. This African ability to express one’s faith in every aspect of social life is a value that we westerners have lost and that Africa can proudly repropose to the whole world.
After political independence, in 1963 African leaders founded the Organization for African Unity (OAU), founded on the principle of «non-interference in the interior affairs of individual states». This principle, in the judgment of the interested parties themselves, has become synonymous with indifference, first, and then with stasis in pan-African politics.
Socio-politico-economic events occurred as if the OAU didn’t exist.
On 11 July 2001, after 38 years of “honorable” service, the OAU became the African Union (AU). The final document of the 37th and last meeting of the OAU had an emblematic title: New African initiative. It declared that the aim was to face up to the endemic evils of the continent: from the resolution of conflicts, to economic development, to the abolition of poverty and sickness, first of all Aids.
African leaders are convinced that the “battles” are to be fought as one, not so much with words, but with facts. The idea is to put the era of decolonization behind them and open a phase of reconstruction, endowing the African states with shared means and strategies on the European model, such as an executive Commission, a Parliament, a central Bank and, in the future, a single currency.
Last 18 March Gertrude Monella, a 59 year-old Tanzanian, was elected President of the first Pan-African Parliament. It is undoubtedly a sign of democratic maturity and a concrete example of the promotion of equality between the sexes. Furthermore, each State will present at least one woman among their five members of Parliament.

The New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), a program of development conceived by Africans for the Africans, is also worth mentioning. Development plans failed in the past because they were imposed from the outside, because the Africans did not feel responsibility for them and because the African male was not set at the center of such programs. If a plan didn’t take off the fault was put down to the white experts. With NEPAD the Africans have decided to take on responsibility for the outcome of their own, made-to-measure plans.
I would like in conclusion to recall the fact that in recent years many African countries have celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of their evangelization. In fact the systematic proclamation of the Gospel began in the 19th century, thanks to the commitment of great apostles and activists on the African mission. Among the saints that modern Africa has given the Church let us remember the holy martyrs of Uganda, canonized by Pope Paul VI, and Saint Giuseppina Bakhita, canonized by John Paul II.
John Paul II giving an audience to President Joaquim Alberto Chissano of Mozambique, 17 April 2004. Archbishop Lajolo in his interview affirms that talks are underway for 
a   diplomatic accord between Mozambique and the Holy See, in the wake of that signed with Gabon in 1997

John Paul II giving an audience to President Joaquim Alberto Chissano of Mozambique, 17 April 2004. Archbishop Lajolo in his interview affirms that talks are underway for a diplomatic accord between Mozambique and the Holy See, in the wake of that signed with Gabon in 1997

Special mention should be made of the catechists Gildo and Daudi, born in the north of the Uganda and beatified in October 2002. They constitute a model «of responsibility, forgiveness and peacemaking» for all Africans.
The flowering of holiness is a clear sign that the African continent possesses the potentiality and human riches to encourage the renaissance of Africa.
From what I have briefly set out it is clear that Africa, as the American bishops highlighted in 2001, is not a continent in despair, but a country populated by people striving to overcome old problems and current challenges, so as to build a future full of hope and opportunity. It is not a continent in stasis, but in movement.

The Church and Africa

On the basis of this realistic reading of the situation it is possible to present the concern of Pope John Paul II and of the Holy See for Africa and the work of the Catholic Church on the continent.

John Paul II and Africa
One can say that the Pontiff has shown and shows particular concern for the African continent. The speeches made in the course of the many pastoral visits to the continent, to bishops on ad limina visits, to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, to the diplomatic corps, the letters to political representatives, the messages sent on anniversaries and celebrations, the appeals to the international community constitute, if I may say so, the massive pontifical “African” magisterium, which should be listened to and which should be the starting point of any discourse on the future of Africa.
Particular mention should be made of the celebration of the African Synod in 1994, described in the post-synod apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Africa, as «a historic moment of grace, a providential happening» (no. 9). In fact, looking at five key themes (the proclamation of the good news of salvation, inculturation, dialogue, justice and the peace, the means of social communication) the Synod proposed the shape of the African Church for the third millennium.
Children in a school in Lagos Nigeria being given the anti-polio vaccine

Children in a school in Lagos Nigeria being given the anti-polio vaccine

And last year in his address to the diplomatic body, highlighting progress then being made on the African continent, his eyes alight with hope, the Pontiff stated: «Even Africa offers us the occasion today to rejoice: Angola has started the work of reconstruction; Burundi is taking the road that could lead to peace and looks to the international community for understanding and financial aid…; Sudan has equally given proof of goodwill, even if the road to peace is long and arduous».
If hopes were then largely disappointed, the positive fact remains that the road to rapprochement and peace has been taken.
And in his speech on 10 January 1998 he said: «The Africans must not expect everything from outside help. Many men and women amongst them have all the human and intellectual capacities required to face the challenges of our epoch and to run society adequately. But there is a need for more “African” solidarity to support the countries in difficulty and also to ensure that discriminatory measures or sanctions are not imposed on them… The countries of the continent need to back peacemaking and rapprochement, if need be with peacekeeping forces made up of African soldiers. The credibility of Africa would then be more real in the eyes of the rest of the world and international aid would undoubtedly become more substantial, while respecting the sovereignty of nations. It is an urgent matter that territorial questio­ns, economic initiatives and human rights should channel the energies of Africans toward the just and peaceful solutions that will enable Africa to face the 21st century with greater opportunity».
That perspective has now been adopted by Africans. The president of the AU and Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, during his recent visit to Italy (15-17 April), thanked Europe for the aid given to Africa, but then made a further point: «However the fundamental resources will be our own because we want a model of political, social, economic development of our own, a project for the whole continent. Because if you are the father of a family you don’t want others to tell you how to bring up your children». For that legitimate aspiration to become reality good government, democracy and structural changes are required.

The Holy See and Africa
The Holy See has not missed and does not miss any occasion to remind the governments of the industrialized countries and the international organizations that the situation of many countries is too precarious to allow attitudes of indifference and unconcern. At conferences and global forums, at meetings in New York, Geneva, Vienna, Strasbourg, and on other occasions, envoys and pontifical observers have for some time been asking for the global financial architecture to be redesigned, access to a global market for African exports facilitated by eliminating subsidies for agricultural produce in the industrial countries, reduction in the gap in digital technology, backing and more weight given to programs and institutions that will enable African countries to obtain sufficient resources and gain access to global goods and services.
Furthermore, the Holy See has concretely shown its concern for Africa by signing, in December 1997, the first agreement-framework on Church-State relations with Gabon. In effects, it seems proper that the presence of the Church in Africa no longer rests on the goodwill of political leaders but exists within a stable and clear legal framework that assures the local Church freedom of organization and action, as well as the possibility of continuing its educational and charity work free from interference. Currently the Secretariat of State has entered into negotiations with two other African countries (Ethiopia and Mozambique) aimed at reaching analogous agreements.

The Catholic Church in Africa
Catholics in Africa number around 137 million out of 830 million and represent 16.6% of the population. The Catholic Church is present in all the countries of Africa, taking the side of the oppressed, speaking for those without voices, standing without compromise alongside the poor, working for the wholesale development of people, for peace, for justice and for improvement in living conditions.
The figures speak for themselves: pastoral centers number 85,000; there are 5,000 hospitals and clinics; 500 houses taking in the handicapped; 13 million children receiving a basic education with no religious, ethnic, economic distinctions being made; 3,000 primary schools teaching 10 million pupils; 7,000 secondary schools with around 2 million young people; various educational institution at higher level with around 30,000 students.
Additionally the Church has made a formidable offering in human lives to Africa: bishops, among them an apostolic nuncio, priests, missionaries, monks and nuns, lay people have been brutally persecuted and killed.
One can therefore rightly claim that the Church’s help to Africa has been and is incalculable and that without evangelization the situation of the continent would be even more problematic. In fact the Church has been engaged not only in initiatives to aid people but with the proclamation of the Gospel has freed them from fear, has proclaimed the dignity of the person, has taught the love for work and solidarity.
So it is no surprise that the Church has earned the affection of African peoples. The Africans, in fact, are attached to the Church which they perceive as the only institution that loves them for themselves. And for them to love the Church means loving the Pope who has travelled up and down their continent, whom so many have seen close-to, thanks to the many apostolic visits.
The Church has merited not only the affection of the African peoples but also the appreciation and respect of the community of nations. More and more, governments and international institutions are asking the collaboration of the Catholic Church/Holy See in the making of plans of development in Africa and are recognizing the role of the local Churches in the prevention of conflicts and the peacemaking processes.
This “recognition” comes out of the fact that the Church’s main concern is the shaping of the whole person. It is aware that “giving without educating” is not enough. In consequence it sets at the center of its programs the development not of notional people but of the African people. And that explains why its interventions have had an effect and are having an affect on society.
In his encyclical Redemptoris missio John Paul II wrote: «The development of a people does not primarily come from money nor from material help, nor from the technical structure, but from the maturing of ways of thinking and modes of behaviour. People are the protagonist in development, not money and technology. The Church brings out awareness by revealing to people the God they seek but do not know… That is why there is a close connection between the proclamation of the Gospel and the forwarding of mankind» (no.s 58-59).
In conclusion I would like to reiterate to this gathering the invitation to hope made by His Holiness to the men and women of Africa on October 4 2001: «Dans les situations difficiles que vous vivez, les rayons de lumière ne manquent pas, le Seigneur ne vous a pas abandonnés! Pour construire le monde réconcilié auquel tous aspirent, c’est d’abord aux africains eux-memes qu’il revient de prendre en mains l’avenir de leurs nations» (Message du Sceam, no.5).

The speech by Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo printed here, with some small adjustments made especially for 30Days, was given on 21 May during the day of study and reflection on “The economic and social development of Africa in an era of globalization” organized in the Vatican by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

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