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Marco Moerschbacher {*}

Reconciliation, Justice and Peace

Expectations of the Second Synod of Bishops for Africa


From: Herder Korrespondenz, 2/2009, P. 104-107
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    On his journey to Angola and Cameroon in March Benedict XVI will introduce the "Instrumentum Laboris" for the Second African Synod. The "Lineamenta" published two and half years ago, the first preparatory document for the synod had caused a conflicting response in the African local churches and among the African theologians.


"Africa" seems to remain a synonym for terrible news: Darfur, Eastern Congo, Zimbabwe, Somalia mean in our daily news trouble spots, immense suffering and hopelessness. It is therefore not surprising that the Second Special Assembly of the Roman Synod of Bishops for Africa, which is to take place from 4 to 25 October 2009 in Rome, has the theme of reconciliation, justice and peace.

On 13 November 2004 this Synod was still announced by John Paul II. His successor Benedict XVI confirmed the announcement on 22 June 2005. A year later the "Lineamenta", the first preparatory document was published under the title "The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace. 'You are the Salt of the Earth ... You are the Light of World' (Mt 5, 13-14)".

On that occasion it was surprising that there were hardly reactions from Africa in the first period after the publication of the Lineamenta. A good decade after the first African synod in 1994 and the publication of the post-synodal letter "Ecclesia in Africa" in 1995 it seemed as if another African Synod in Rome had no high standing for the local churches in Africa.

African theologians only gradually took up this synod, its form and its questions. As far as the topic is concerned great approval prevails: Reconciliation, justice and peace are the current challenges in many African countries. Many theologians, however, critically assess the form and the schedule.



Why again a Roman bishop assembly "for" Africa, which is prepared and organized by the central authority of the Secretariat of the Roman Bishop Synod, subjected to the Roman rules oriented towards European ideas of time management and formal efficiency (as for example seven minutes of speaking time per bishop) - and this at a time when the First African Synod with its programme of a deeper evangelization is nowhere near received by the church? Does the procedure of the Roman Synod of Bishops guarantee that Africans can contribute their own questions?


The Lineamenta Emphasize the Continuity to the First African Synod

An African proverb says, "A hot soup is not spooned up in a hurry", and the statements of the First Africa Synod in the document "Ecclesia in Africa", e.g. about inculturation, family, HIV and AIDS, the dignity of women and the so-called small Christian communities are undoubtedly still a "hot soup". In this sense the Lineamenta emphasize the continuity to the First African Synod. This Second African Synod was pursuing a double objective: "To keep alive the Event Synod and to stimulate a synodal process that is looking for ways to overcome the crisis situation in Africa" (Synod of Bishops, II Special Assembly for Africa, Lineamenta: The Church in Africa in service to reconciliation, justice and peace, Paulines Publications Africa, Nairobi 2006, No. 1). Quite in accordance with the intention of "Ecclesia in Africa" it was about the continuation of a deeper evangelization.

The text of the Lineamenta, a preliminary framework in which the discussions at the synod are to take place, is divided into five chapters. The first chapter describes the situation in Africa with its signs of hope and alarm. The second, shortest chapter describes Jesus Christ as the source of reconciliation, justice and peace. The third and fourth chapters deal with the church as a sacrament of reconciliation, justice and peace as well as with the way in which the Church in Africa bears testimony to Jesus Christ. The fifth chapter deals with the spiritual foundations of a spirituality of reconciliation, justice and peace oriented towards action.

With an analysis of the positive and negative developments since the First African Synod the first chapter has here the clearest formulations. Some positive changes are appreciated, as e.g. the newly achieved peace in some countries, the growth and vitality of the church, and the small Christian communities. All in all, however, a negative trend prevails, "In these times, Africa more than ever is dependent on rich countries, and is more vulnerable than any other continent to their manoeuvring aimed at giving with one hand and taking back twofold with the other, and at keeping a strong hold on the development of the political, economic, social and even cultural life of African countries." (LIN 8)

The Lineamenta clearly establish the current challenges, as e.g. the unfair world trade, structural adjustment programs, unemployment, migration, corruption, arms trafficking and the failure of agricultural policy. Particular attention is given to African culture and the crisis of the traditional African value system in the Africa of the modern age. This crisis had brought the relation between the individual and the community out of order and made the establishment of a responsible political leadership more difficult. The central position of culture in this Roman document is new: "There can be no economic or technical development without cultural roots." (LIN 23)


Has only the Train of the Modern Age been Missed?

The remarks about Jesus Christ, "the Word and Bread of Life, our conciliator, our justice and our peace", as well as about the Church as "sacrament of reconciliation, justice and peace in Africa" are lacking in that clarity which characterizes the description of the situation. Jesus Christ is represented as the answer to Africa's problems previously described, with little concrete hints how it is to be implemented. And if such references are made, they seem strangely helpless.

"If belonging to Jesus Christ makes us members of the same family, sharers of the same Word of Life and partakers of the same Bread of Life, and if sharing the Blood of Christ makes us sharers in the same life, because the same Blood of Christ circulates in our veins and makes us children of God, members of the Family of God, then hatred, injustice and fratricidal wars should cease." (LIN 36) Here a large gap between claim and reality opens that will be the great challenge of the 21st century for the African local churches and also for the universal church.

The Lineamenta emphasize the principles of the church's social doctrine, as e.g. solidarity with all creation, equality of all human beings, the universal destination of goods, subsidiarity and participation. However, in applying these principles to politics and economics in Africa (in these two areas the African Christians were particularly called upon to bear witness of Jesus Christ, so LIN 52) the Lineamenta convey the impression as if Africa's main problem was that it had missed the 'train' of the modern age. A critical examination of the negative consequences of globalization is missing here.

Also a critical reappraisal of the issue 'credibility of the church' is missing.



In the fourth chapter of the Lineamenta the church is only presented in her hierarchical structure, whereas her Communio structure is disregarded. The issues of reconciliation, justice and peace seem to be put to the African society; at least they are not expounded in the Lineamenta as problems existing within the church.


Worry about the Autonomy and Independence of the African Local Churches

In November 2008 in Yaoundé (Cameroon) two international conferences took place in preparation for the Second Special Assembly of the Roman Synod of Bishops for Africa. The African section of the Catholic missiologists (International Association of Catholic Missiologists) organized a three-day colloquium on the missionary aspects of the synodal process.

On that occasion it became clear that reconciliation, justice and peace must not be considered isolated from each other but are related to each other. For the many dramatic situations of conflict in Africa and for building a peaceful society in and after conflicts this connection shows that peace is impossible without a critical reappraisal of the past, without the ethical assessment of the present, and without an orientation towards a more just future. And without taking the topic justice into account the rash speech of reconciliation, as e.g. in the context of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist, has an unreliable and unrealistic effect. A speaker of the missiologists' colloquium suggested a "pastoral of development" that was to promote "good governance", the creation of new lay ministries, and new biblical hermeneutics related to the laity.

Immediately after it about 30 theologians and many listeners met also in Yaoundé for a four-day international conference at the Catholic University of Central Africa (Université Catholique de l'Afrique Centrale, UCAC). It was the continuation of a further interlinking of African theologians according to the intention of the former Association Oecuménique des Théologiens Africains (AOTA), which was initiated at the major symposium on the occasion of 50 years of African Theology in February 2007 in Abidjan (see HK, May 2007, 261 et seq.)

The AOTA was founded in the late seventies in connection with the Ecumenical Association of Theologians of the Third World (EATWOT, Ecumenical Association of Third-World Theologians).



Since the assassination of its chairman, the Jesuit Engelbert Mveng in 1995, it has no longer held meetings etc. Now, under the patronage of Archbishop Anselm Titianma Sanon of Bobo-Dioulasso (Burkina Faso), Chairman of the Theological Commission of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), a new "Association des Théologiens Africains" (ATA) is to be established.

At this second meeting in Yaoundé the worry about the autonomy and independence of the African local churches in relation to the leadership of the universal church became visible. Do the Lineamenta really formulate the African issues? In its footnotes are 59 "Roman" references (John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Second Vatican Council) and only 10 African. How can it be that the issue of HIV and AIDS, the challenge to a holistic pastoral care in Africa, is not mentioned in the Lineamenta?

From the perspective of African theologians the role of SECAM was urgently to be strengthened, particularly in such an advisory process as the Second African Synod, which affects the entire African continent. However, also the structures of SECAM had to be changed, so that it was able to act on its own account, and the cooperation of the bishops with the Catholic universities in Africa was to be embodied structurally, and they were to orient their theology towards the pastoral needs on the spot.


A Critical Self-reflection of the Catholic Church in Africa is Needed

There is urgently needed also a critical self-reflection of the Catholic Church in Africa in terms of her involvement in colonialism, neo-colonialism and violence as well as an examination of her conscience about the issue of fairness in dealing with authority and clericalism within the church.

The relationship between priests and laity is strangely ambivalently presented in the Lineamenta. One the one hand there is some talk about the general priesthood of the laity (LIN 83) and the laymen and laywomen are called "mission specialist" (LIN 62), on the other hand the "secular character" [Weltcharakter] of these lay vocation is emphasized in a way that falls back on a dichotomy between church and world, of which one thought that it was overcome by 'Gaudium et Spes', the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church. The proper theological assignment is not God - Church - World (before the Second Vatican Council the doctrine about the church as "societas perfecta" was e.g. based on this view) but God - World - Church. It is the relationship between God and the world about which it is in the Church's message. The church is at the service of this relationship, and in the church the priests as well as the laity are involved in this service.

It is also surprising that the issue of missing financial autonomy of the African local churches is not taken as a theme in the Lineamenta. This ecclesiological problem is of central importance for the inculturation of faith in Africa. To harmonize faith with the life of Africans, to create authentic African church structures (and not copies of European structures), to build a prophetic church which is credible to the mind of those who are suffering in Africa - all that can only succeed if the financial dependence of the African local churches is taken as a theme and solutions to overcome it are developed.


Will the Instrumentum Laboris be again a very "Roman" document?

In their response to the Lineamenta the Congolese bishops gave as issues which should be taken into account in the second preparatory document "Instrumentum Laboris": inculturation ("to make faith take deep roots in the lives of Africans"), financial autonomy of the African local churches, a new world ethics against the background of globalization, and the role of women in the church.

On his journey to Cameroon and Angola in March 2009 Benedict XVI will introduce the Instrumentum Laboris for the Second African Synod. This document, prepared by the Secretariat General of the Roman Synod of Bishops on the basis of feedback from the African local churches, is then the basis for the discussion at the Second African Synod. Only in summer the participants of the Synod, the bishops, experts and auditors will be appointed.

Also against the background of this schedule the question of how the African bishops can in concrete terms co-operate with the African theologians had to remain open at the conference in Yaoundé. It is probably left to individual bishops in the run-up to the Synod to make sure of theological expertise for their intervention at the Synod for Africa.

In due consultation with other social actors the African churches face enormous challenges so that in Africa according to psalm 85 "justice and peace kiss each other" (cf. Ps 85.11). The African theology will contribute to coping with this challenge, if it takes up the many and diverse experiences of death and life in Africa and orients towards Jesus Christ who identifies with the victims of history, with the war refugee, the raped woman, the HIV infected child, and towards his message of liberation.


    {*} Marco Moerschbacher (born in 1964) gained his doctorate in pastoral theology in Frankfurt, with a thesis on the reception of Vatican II in the local Church of Kinshasa (DR Kongo). He is Africa expert at the Institute of Missiology Missio e.V. Aachen


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