Rome: Bishops address African Synod on human rights issues

Bishops from Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Libya, Nigeria, DR Congo, South Africa and Angola addressed the fourth meeting of the ongoing Africa Synod in Rome yesterday on issues of justice, human rights, migration and the environment. The texts of their addresses follow.

Bishop Martin Munyanyi of Gweru, Zimbabwe:

The Church in Zimbabwe appreciates very much that the Instrumentum laboris dealt with issues which are of great concern in our country, such as poverty, violence, lack of recognition of women, children and minority groups and also issues of injustice in Church such as working conditions of Church employees.

Zimbabwe had very difficult and inhuman socio-political experiences traceable from the pre-colonial, the colonial and post-colonial eras which need to be dealt with urgently. It will be a mistake, in [the] quest for lasting reconciliation, to simply ask people to forget the past.

Reconciliation is needed not only in the nation at large but also in the Church, for we see simmering tension in some of our parishes due to language and ethnic differences.

In Africa, when we talk of justice we certainly talk of affected parties including their families. Communities need to sit together and discuss their problems in a palaver scenario. And retributive and restorative justice should be established before the death of either party in a case.

Issues of justice in the Church are obvious in not paying our workers enough, which constitutes a just wage and in the misuse of Church resources by priests at the expense of the communities. Some Church practices tend to have a bias against the girl child. For example, the girl is punished while the boy is not.

As a local Church, we have set up structures such as Commissions for Justice and Peace to address negative historical aspects of our experience.

The whole undertaking should start somewhere like in the family as Pope Benedict XVI rightly stated: 'The family is the first and indispensable teacher of peace... because it enables its members in decisive ways to experience peace.'

In the process Pope John Paul II's words should be taken seriously, namely, 'No peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness.'  This is the kingdom justice advocated in the Instrumentum laboris which sums up the Gospel message of reconciliation, justice and peace.

Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, Metropolitan Archbishop of Addis Ababa:

I hope this Synod on Africa shall study the root causes of human trafficking, internally displaced persons, abused domestic workers (especially women in the Middle East), refugees and migrants, especially the African boat migrants and asylum seekers and come up with concrete positions and proposals to show to the world that African lives are sacred and not cheap, as they seem to be presented and seen in many media channels.

As it is well known, the African Union (AU) has its headquarters in Addis Ababa, where it was founded. The AU is the forum of political leadership in Africa. It is useful to know that almost 50 percent of the members of this AU are members of the Catholic Church. So far the Apostolic Nuncio in Ethiopia has been invited to attend the general assemblies of the AU whenever they take place in Addis Ababa as an observer. It is my hope that the Holy See appoints a permanent representative to the AU who should attend all the meetings whenever they take place and who could keep in personal contact with the Catholic members of that important institution.

This special representative preferably would have diplomatic credentials comparable to the ones of an Apostolic Nuncio. He would be appointed to be fully committed and available for his mission in such a way that he may attend the meetings and meet the persons who have key influence in the decision making process.

The same representative at the AU is needed by a representative of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), at least on an observer level, so that the Catholic Church in Africa has a voice in the AU and becomes an encouragement to its lay Catholic faithful working in the AU.

On our side, we, as the local Church of Ethiopia, commit ourselves to do our best to welcome such special representatives from the Holy See or from SECAM and, in case, they want to reside in Addis Ababa to facilitate their work and to collaborate with their mission. I am sure that the African Union would be willing to accept such persons and the Catholic Lay members of that body would feel particularly supported by the Catholic Church in their mission.

Titular Bishop of Tabuda, Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli,Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli of Libya:

We know that, on the African continent, there are more than ten million displaced persons, migrants looking for a country, a land of peace.

The phenomenon of this Exodus reveals the face of injustice and socio-political injustice in Africa. We live the tragedy of this phenomenon completely in Libya... to come to Libya to be rejected from Europe...

T countries. Most of them flee from war and poverty in their own countries and come to Libya, where they look for jobs to help their families or as a means to reach Europe in the hopes of finding a better and more secure life. Many of them are taken in by promises of a
well-paid job and now find themselves constrained to working at badly-paid and dangerous jobs, or none whatsoever. Many women brought to the country are obliged to prostitute themselves and are turned into slaves. All illegal immigrants risk being put into prison, risk deportation or worse yet have no access to any legal assistance or healthcare.

In Libya there are various recruitment centers for all clandestine peoples, but all those that come to the Center of Social Service of the Church come from Eritrea and Nigeria, Ethiopians, Sudanese and from Congo...

For many, immigration is a tragedy, especially because it is often a means of traffic and exploitation (in particular of women) and disregard for human rights. However, we thank the Lord for their Christian witness. It is a community that suffers, that searches, precarious but full of Joy in the expression of faith! And who in the Muslim social and religious context make the Church credible... and enlivens the dialogue of life with many Muslims. They are our Church of Libya, pilgrim and stranger, light of Jesus and salt for the people who are around us.

I ask their shepherds to remember them in this forced exodus!

Bishop of Umuahia, Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji of Nigeria:

Multinational corporations exploit natural resources in Africa in a measure unprecedented in history. They use up resources that accumulated over a long period, mindless of whether future generations would be left with any means of sustenance. This reckless exploitation of the environment impacts negatively on Africans and threatens the prospects of their living in peace.

Linked to this problem is the degradation of the environment in Africa. Lands are destroyed through deforestation, oil spillage, as well as the dumping of toxic wastes, plastic containers and cellophane materials. Also man-made erosion sweeps away farmlands, devastates roads and silts up sources of water supply. These factors further impoverish African communities, heightening tensions and conflicts.

The gifts of creation are from a caring Father. Each generation needs them for its sustenance. They are to be cared for (Gen 2:15) and used with moderation. The present ecological challenges are as a result of man's sins: selfishness, greed, insensitivity to environmental damage and failure to care for the earth.

The Church in Africa is to stimulate ‘ecological conversion’ through intensive education. She is to educate people in Africa to be more sensitive to the increasing disaster caused by environmental damage and the need to minimise it. All are to be made ever conscious that future generations have a right to live in an environment that is intact and healthy and to enjoy its resources.

François Xavier Maroy Rusengo, Archbishop of Bukavu from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC):

Starting with the damage caused by wars and violence in the east of our country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and especially in our archdiocese of Bukavu, we estimate that reconciliation can no longer be limited solely to the harmonization of interpersonal relations. It must unavoidably take into consideration the deep causes of the crisis in relations, located on the level of the country’s interests and natural resources to be exploited and managed for everyone’s good, transparently and with equanimity, because the causes of the violence to the East of DRC are essentially its natural resources.

To this effect, we recall the work that the Justice and Peace Commission is doing to break down in the archdiocese of Bukavu so that reconciliation may be achieved through community reconstruction.

The objective is to help people reconcile themselves with their history and to commit to building a new future.

Special attention is given to the young persons. For them, we propose recreational and cultural activities able to favor reconciliation at their level, thanks to the intervention of each and every one of them in the construction of their living areas.

This approach is understood as a response to the often forgotten community traumas so as to make people responsible and actors in a positive change. It needs the reinforcement of education at the base and organization of the populations in view of a better community charge. It also requires placement of the spaces and frameworks of exchange and dialogue for the effective participation of the population in the management of the wealth to be used for the reconstruction, to the development of reconciliation and peaceful co-existence.

While we speak during these meetings, the pastoral agents in our archdiocese are worried about the enemies of peace. One of the parishes of our archdiocese was burnt down on Friday October 2, 2009; the priests were attacked, others taken hostage by uniformed men who demanded a very high ransom which we were forced to pay to save the lives of our priests that they threatened to massacre. Through these acts, it is the Church, remaining the only support for a terrorized, humiliated, exploited, dominated people, whom they would reduce to silence. Lord, may your will be done, may your kingdom of peace arrive (cf. Mt 10:6).

Bishop Michael Wüstenberg of Aliwal South Africa:

Laity and hierarchy are often not in one accord. Reconciliation is needed within the Church. A Pastoral Plan led to the development of a better community. This reconciliation within the Church affected the evangelizing commitment of the laity to reconciling a broken world. Unity and cooperation of the Bishops' Conference support the laity in networking. Small Christian Communities -- rooted in faith -- network in the social field for transforming society at local level. This commitment happens also through various institutions. With a widely observed lack of deeper catechesis such commitment in 'all strata of humanity' needs thorough formation.

Institutions working at different levels assist pastoral workers and the laity with comprehensive formation. Yet more needs to be done to create strong and efficient networks. The networking of bishops with the laity in Pastoral Forums can be further developed even at regional and continental levels. The laity's ministry of reconciliation needs to be acknowledged in celebrations that reassure, affirm and even prepare for this mission. Sacramental experience provides divine formation.

The often scarce celebration of the sacrifice of reconciliation within the Eucharist prevents the regular experience of the intimate relationship with Christ with oneself and others. This imbalance in the sacramental life of the Church needs to be reconciled for the sake of a comprehensive spirituality of reconciliation.

Bishop Emílio Sumbelelo, of Uíje Angola:

In our Angolan context, justice must proceed with forgiveness. Without forgiveness there cannot be reconciliation and consequently, peace, given that the development of any people or nation is delayed indefinitely, in the absence of mechanisms of forgiveness. In the last thirty years a good number of African countries - and Angola is not exempt - have undergone profound changes. Innumerable and enormous upheavals of the population, linked to war, have transformed the African society. At present, more than half of the population lives in urban areas. One of the first consequences concerns its ethnic-tribal identity: people from different backgrounds and social levels now live together in the same urban environment, giving rise to a cultural fusion. The second consequence lies in inter-ethnic conflicts, generated by uneasy economic conditions and great social inequality.

True forgiveness must include the search for truth. Part of this truth is recognizing the evil done and, if possible, finding a remedy. The result is that forgiveness neither eliminates nor diminishes the need for reparation which is typical of justice, but demands reintegrating individuals and groups into society.

Concrete steps: 1) through CIP, Pro Pace, promote opportune studies regarding prevarications of ethnic groups or injustices, to ascertain the truth as the first step towards reconciliation. 2) To focus on “human reconstruction” which passes through the modification of the behavior of the badly structured personality and/or who has suffered some shock in its structure and/or in the structures of its society. “Human reconstruction” is therefore a work that one awaits from the Church, so that the “destroyed individual” might return to being a person and accept himself and learn to give a new impetus, transforming into the ability to accept others.

Source: Fides

Tags: Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, Bishop Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, Bishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, Bishop Martin Munyanyi, Bishop Michael WC3BCstenberg

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