SYMPOSIUM AFRICA

SYMPOSIUM AFRICA/EUROPE

ROME:  10/13 NOVEMBER 2004

General Considerations:
Financial help from Europe to Africa is a continuing necessity, both at the level of the Church’s ongoing missionary task and at the humanitarian level.   It is important, however, to ensure that the African Church be not seen as financially dependent on the Church in Europe and that Africa be not perceived as the perpetual ‘poor relation’ of Europe.  

It is important therefore that, the ‘exchange of gifts’ between the Church in the two continents be more widely interpreted, that the European “gift” to Africa be seen as including services like cultural exchanges, training courses in scripture, theology, liturgy, etcetera, and also in technology, telecommunications, etcetera; and that Africa’s reciprocal “gift” to Europe be seen in cultural and in spiritual terms, where for example Africans are enabled to share their communitarian skills with a European continent which has become more individualist and seems to be losing its sense of solidarity and inter-dependence.   The emphasis should be, not, as hitherto, on how Europe can help Africa, but on how Europe and Africa can help one another.  

For this purpose, exchange of observers between CCEE Conferences of Bishops and SECAM Conferences should be fostered.   This could facilitate greater knowledge and understanding between the respective Episcopal Conferences, and can be a constant reminder to each Conference that it is part of a world-wide Church and must not be solely concerned with the problems of its own island or its own continent.  

Ireland’s Missionary Tradition
Ireland is privileged in being a country with a strong missionary tradition, both in its first millennium and in the closing centuries of the second millennium.   Irish priests and religious congregations of women and men have been sending priests, brothers and nuns all over the English-speaking world for two centuries.  Successive waves of emigration have sent Irish men and women all over the world, to make a new life for themselves in North America, in Australia or New Zealand, in South Africa etcetera.   Irish-descended people overseas far outnumber Irish people living in our native island.  All this facilitated the strong missionary commitment of the Church in Ireland in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  

Despite the sad decline in missionary vocations in the last few decades, Ireland’s missionary outreach is still very strong.   There is still a significant number of Irish-born missionary bishops in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world, as well as many more of Irish descent.   There are many parishes in Ireland still which have a native son or daughter ministering in Africa as priest or Sister of Brother, or as lay missionary worker, or as development worker.   Furthermore, many Irish diocesan priests have served in Africa as ‘Fidei donum’ missionary priests.   All this can provide a springboard for more systematic exchanges of gifts and experiences between the local churches in Africa and in Ireland, based on existing living links between Irish parishes and African mission centres.   

Many Irish parishes have already set up informal relationships with particular African parishes or mission stations, usually centred on a native of the Irish parish who is ministering in Africa.  Such relationships can be developed and their purview expanded.  Hitherto, the ‘exchange’ has been mostly one-sided, with funds being collected in an Irish parish for the support of an African mission station or project.    This can be extended to include exchange of visits, which in turn can facilitate exchange of lived experiences between different life-styles sharing a common faith.  

Poverty
People in Ireland now, generally speaking, have little if any experience of real poverty.   Many seem to have forgotten what frugal living means; and yet frugal living is surely part of what living according to the Gospel of Christ entails.   A visit to Africa can be a life-changing experience for Irish people.  They can experience for themselves the kind of contentedness, of community, of solidarity, of sharing, even of joy and song and celebration, which can come from having little and appreciating what one has.   The experience of Mass in Africa sheds a completely new light on liturgy for Irish people, accustomed as many are to largely silent and sometimes, sadly, uninvolved congregations.   The African system of catechetics, with much of the responsibility being taken by trained lay catechists, is something which we in Ireland can learn from.  

Opportunities should be created in particular for young people to visit Africa and spend some time there, preferably engaged in some organised activity, whether directly missionary or developmental, or both.   All kinds of skills are relevant in African conditions, and new skills are acquired by living in Africa.   Trocaire and many other aid organisations can supply information and other assistance in setting up such projects.  

Irish missionary congregations of men and women can advise about ways in which lay volunteers can assist in their missionary activities in Africa.   Doctors, nurses and health-care workers generally, teachers, building and construction workers of all grades, architects, engineers, agronomists and agricultural scientists generally, and many others, can give great help to missionaries on the ground, as well as deriving enormous personal and spiritual benefit from the experience themselves.   The virtues and values which we Irish acquired in the past through the poverty of our ancestors are now at risk of being lost in our present affluence.   We are beginning to appreciate better the value of qualities of life which we are in process of losing.   Time spent in Africa, however short, can help us to regain some of the positive qualities of a way of life which we have nearly forgotten.   It can also help Africans to see that other people care about them, respect them and wish to work with them for a better and more just and more Christian world.  

Towards a More Just World Order
Work for justice in the world is a task for all Christians, as Pope John Paul II is constantly reminding us.   One of the great needs of our time is for more young people with integrity and a passion for social justice to become actively engaged in politics.   Politics for Christians cannot be confined to one’s own local area or even to one’s own country; it must have a more universal outreach.   Poverty in Africa is our problem too.   We are causally contributing to it because of our role in the EU and in the UN and because of our place in the world market, where we belong to the rich nations trading block and enjoy, and in some measure create, trading conditions, agricultural subsidies and other advantages for our own trading group which disfavour Africa and other poorer nations and contribute to their continuing poverty.   Christians in politics have an obligation to make themselves aware of these conditions and to work to try to change them.  We are party to solemn international commitments to Overseas Development Aid, but we are shamefully slow to honour our part of that commitment.  All Christians as citizens have an obligation to do our part as voters to ensure that our political parties include these  objectives in their agendas.  

The Millennium Development Goals
0.7% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was adopted by the so-called “developed nations” as their contribution to aid to the “less developed” nations.  It is a modest target; and yet, several ‘development decades’ later, most of the rich nations have not yet attained it.  Ireland, to its shame, has still not come up to that mark in terms of overseas aid, even though we are ourselves much richer now than we ever expected to be when the commitment was first made.  

The United Nations marked the new millennium by a series of millennium goals.  These read very impressively.   In the year 2000 the “developed nations” undertook to eradicate extreme poverty everywhere in the “less developed” world, to establish universal primary education, to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health, to combat diseases, including Aids, TB and Malaria.   These nations committed themselves to reduce by one half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.   These commitments were solemnly renewed at Monterey and again at Barcelona in 2002.   These are noble commitments.   And yet, on present performances, it will be 2115 instead of 2015 before the millennium development goals are met, and many millions will have died because of poverty in the meantime.  The Governor of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, said recently (Shanghai 2004), that it is “nonsensical” that the international community is spending $900 billion per year on military expenditure, more than $300 billion on agricultural  subsidies, and only between $50 and $60 billion on overseas development.  This is no kind of example for the international community to set.   This is no kind of message for Europe to give to Africa.   We must urge our governments to do better.   We Irish bishops must urge the Irish government to do better. 

Trocaire the Irish Episcopal Conferences overseas development organisation,  has urged the Irish government to turn promises into action, to improve the poverty focus of EU aid and make it more efficient, to commit to trade justice, to work for reform of the international financial institutions and for increased debt relief, and to build a political culture of sustainable development, especially on the occasion of EU enlargement.   This would represent a programme for an EU which is not simply bigger but more just and which is a factor for justice in the world of the third millennium.   Meanwhile, however, Irish government policy has, to its credit, targeted aid towards genuinely low-income countries, with a priority for Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia; and it is encouraging to note that considerable progress in reducing poverty has been registered in most of these countries.    This Africa/Europe Symposium can make a significant contribution to mutual understanding of these problems and to deepening a spirit of communion between African and European Bishops.   

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