Posted April 8th, 2009. Adapted from an article originally written for the US Catholic Missions Association.
On March 19th, at the end of the Mass celebrated in the National Stadium in Yaounde, Cameroon on the feast of St. Joseph, Pope Benedict XVI presented the instrumentum laboris (working document) for the upcoming Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops to be held in Rome from October 4th to the 25th of this year. “Amidst the unfortunately numerous and dramatic conflicts still afflicting various parts of the continent, the Church is aware she must be a sign and instrument of reconciliation, so that all Africa may come together to build a future of justice, solidarity, and peace, implementing the teachings of the Gospel,” said the Holy Father.
This working document is a gathering of the responses from the many bishops’ conferences throughout Africa over the past three years, culled from a study of the 2006 lineamenta (guidelines) that were sent in preparation for this meeting. The working document is the home stretch for reflection and immediate preparation for this event. The theme for this Synod is “The Church in Africa, at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: You Are the Salt of the Earth; You Are the Light of the World.”
The work for this synod links with that of the First African Synod of 1994. The working document is in four chapters. The first gives a brief overview of contemporary African society since that 1994 meeting as well as indicates what may have been implemented from the Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa. The second Chapter lays out “openings” and “obstacles” encountered by the church and society on the road to reconciliation, justice, and peace through the lens of socio-political, socio-economic, and socio-cultural life and experiences of the Church. The third chapter sets forth the characteristics of the Church as a Family of God (from the 1st Synod) and how the Church can be a force opening paths to reconciliation, justice, and peace. The final chapter gives accounts of what the Church’s members and institutions have already undertaken to promote reconciliation, justice and peace in Africa.
Embedded in the chapters of this working document are issues that need to be honestly looked at by the Synod and later put into action. The challenge of good governance is highlighted, as is globalization and the challenge of fair and functioning economic development, land and farm issues, health care challenges, education opportunities, youth empowerment, attention to cultures, and employment just to name a few. And it is hoped that the energy and spirit of the synod will stir the Holy Spirit to empower the Church to be the light and salt in its many members, who will work to bring reconciliation, justice, and peace to Africa. AFJN’s focus campaign on Restorative Justice is a wonderful complimentary issue for those of us who are following the preparations of this assembly.
One of the outcomes of the first Synod was the establishment of Justice and Peace commissions throughout Africa. Some conferences were quicker than others to get these up and running, but it seems that these commissions will be the vehicles to bring the message of this Synod to the grassroots. AFJN has been trying to link with these many commissions in order to better reflect the thinking and ministry of those JP commissions on the ground. Please do let us know if you are in contact with a JP office that might be interested in our work.
There will be more information on our website about this upcoming Synod. Keep checking for updates and links that will be posted as they become available.
Written by Fr. Rocco Puopolo, s.x.