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Tuesday, 27 June 2006




At more than twelve years since the celebration of the first Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa, the Church in Africa is taking this first major step towards the celebration of a Second Synod for Africa. To help us better to examine these "Lineamenta", it may be useful to reflect briefly on signs of good news about inner Church life in Africa, present problems and challenges on reconciliation, justice and peace in African societies, and what the Catholic Church in Africa has done, or can do, to help.

1. Good News about inner Church life

There are great differences in the situation of the Church in each of the 53 countries on the African continent. Therefore generalizations should be avoided. The following trends are notable in matters touching the inner life of the Church in African countries.

Growth is a fact. Experts tell us that Africa is the continent with the highest annual percentage growth for Christianity in the world. Many more Africans get baptized each year. In some African countries seminaries and sisters’ novitiates have more candidates than they can conveniently accommodate. New parishes and dioceses get created.

But Africa is not satisfied with numbers. Growth and deepening in the faith are not forgotten. Some signs of this are the growing number of monasteries and higher ecclesiastical institutes, the organization of yearly retreats in parishes and mission stations that have no resident priest, the growth of Diocesan Pastoral and Catechetical Centres, and the many sessions organized in dioceses to reflect on what the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Africa, says to the Church. Several Beatification Causes are being promoted, one of the latest being that of President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. In the first week of July this year there will be a Liturgical Congress for all Africa and Madagascar organized in Kumasi, Ghana, by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Disciplines of the Sacraments in collaboration with the Bishops’ Conferences of Africa.

Africans are striving to live their faith more and more. The lay faithful are active. Priests and religious are engaging in missionary work inside and outside Africa.

2. Problems and Challenges in Society

But the Church in Africa is not closed in on herself. She shares the joys and hopes, problems and challenges of the wider society in Africa.

The painful situation of violence and even war in Somalia, the tragedy of Dafur and the yet not totally resolved situation in the Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to some extent in the Great lakes Region, are causes of concern.

The challenge of building up a nation in harmony and peaceful development out of peoples from many ethnic groups put together as a country by colonial masters remains present, as in Nigeria. Moreover, poverty, disease and especially HIV/AIDS, are real threats and have wiped out large numbers or crippled them.

At the same time, Africa in the past twelve years has recorded some good news also in these areas. Examples are a smooth passage from apartheid to democracy in the Republic of South Africa, the opposition party winning election without tears in Senegal, Ghana, Malawi and Zambia, and significant steps towards greater democratization in several countries.

3. Role of the Church

The Catholic Church, without any pretence at having a political or economic mission, knows that she has to contribute first by preaching the Gospel to call to a conversion of hearts, respect for the rights of other people, repentance and reconciliation, forgiveness and harmony. The lay faithful are conscientized to take on their own distinctive role in bringing the spirit of Christ into the various areas of secular life (cf Vatican II: Apost. Actuositatem, 2, 7; Gaudium et Spes, 43).

The dioceses in Africa take practical steps to show Christian solidarity to the poor and the needy. Most Bishops’ Conferences have Justice and Peace Commissions which also help to educate citizens on their right and duty to vote. The Bishops, especially when gathered in Conference, speak on national issues with courage and love. Refugees and displaced persons, find the Church as one of the few institutions that care for them and that can put a smile on their faces.

A discussion of the "Lineamenta" being released today will help to focus attention on many ways in which the Church in Africa can serve reconciliation, justice and peace on this vast continent.