the African Reconciliation Project”: The role of Missionary Institutes

The Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops,

Paul Saa-Dade Ennin sma


      It is almost 15 years since the First Special Synod of bishops for Africa was held in Rome and the fruits made available in the post synodal exhortation “Ecclesia in Africa” of Pope John Paul II. The first synod for Africa did confront a lot of the challenges facing the African Church and the African continent today: evangelisation, the family, Justice and Peace, the mass media, war and conflict, the debt burden and the arms trade, corruption and dictatorship, the youth, disease and refugee situations etc. However, one can term it, without any fear of contradiction, as “the special synod on Inculturation.” The propositions of that synod opened a wave of discussion on how the Gospel, the Word made Flesh, can become incarnate, meaningful and relevant to the people of Africa through an inculturated evangelisation. The ecclesiology of “Church as Family of God”, one of the fruits of the synod, remains one of the main ecclesiological themes in Africa today.

      The Second Special Synod of bishops for Africa has just taken place in Rome from the 4th to the 25th of October 2009, under the theme “The Church in Africa in service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace”. The Final message of the Synod and the Propositions are now available to us. As we wait for the post-synodal exhortation of the Holy Father, I will like to share with you my thoughts on the need for reconciliation in Africa and the role missionary Institutes in Africa can play in this delicate but vital mission of the Church. I shall do this from my own point of view as an African who is a member of an International missionary Institute.

Why a Second Synod for Africa?

      As Pius Rutechura puts it, “in convening the Second Synod of Africa, the interpretation is that the Church in Africa has an unfinished agenda!”1 That agenda is in the area of reconciliation, justice and peace. The Instrumentum Laboris asserts that “the present synodal assembly is to be considered in the continuing dynamics of the preceding one.”2 

      The pastors in Africa feel that further discussion needs to be done on the problems already treated at the preceding Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops and taken up in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa. At the time, they used the model of the Church in Africa as the Family of God which evangelizes through witnessing: ‘You are my witnesses’ (Acts 1:8). At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the Church wishes to continue to reflect on her mission of communion and her commitment to serve society in proclaiming the Gospel from a new vantage point, that of being “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”.3

     Let’s hope this Second Synod is not a mere change of slogan from “You are my witnesses” to “You are the Salt of the Earth; you are the Light of the World”.

The Aim of the Synod

      One key question that needs to be clarified is the objective this Second Synod sets to achieve. I have attended a number of seminars and group discussions in Rome on the Synod and many speakers and contributors pointed out a number of issues that were either missing in the Instrumentum laboris, or were not given adequate attention.4 While there are a lot of serious issues affecting Africa, I believe that it is right for the Synod to focus on a particular issue instead of touching on every single subject. As the famous saying goes, “Jack of all trades, master of none”. Few will disagree that, looking at Africa’s recent history, Reconciliation, Justice and Peace is a vital issue in Africa at this moment in time. In the words of Archbishop José Camnate of Bissau, “the Church must deepen this reflection and reveal the real causes of conflict”.5

      Returning to the initial question: what does the Second Synod for Africa intend to achieve? Needless to say that Africa has a lot of problems. Nonetheless, Africa is not the only continent in need of reconciliation. In fact the whole world today needs reconciliation: wars, terrorist attacks, xenophobia, corruption, greed and economic exploitation, human trafficking, drug menace and violence; these are found not only in Africa but in almost every continent. The Church in Africa could set the pace and give a new paradigm of reconciliation to the world. In the words of the Instrumentum laboris, the Church, Family of God in Africa, “desires to open herself more and more to the mission ad intra on the continent itself and ad extra towards the Churches of other continents in contact with her, so that, this openness can be a “witness ... to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8)”.6

     Yet one cannot deny the fact that Africa south of the Sahara is faced with a problematic future.7 It has the lowest development index from any part of the world, and the highest financial corruptions;8 The Synod Fathers puts it paradoxically this way:
     “We live in a world full of contradictions and deep crisis. Science and technology are making giant strides in all aspects of life, equipping humanity with all that it takes to make our planet a beautiful place for us all. Yet tragic situations of refugees, abject poverty, disease and hunger are still killing thousands on a daily basis. In all this Africa is the worst hit. Rich in human and natural resources, many of our people are still left to wallow in poverty and misery, wars and conflicts, crisis and chaos. [Sadly] these are very rarely caused by natural disasters. They are largely due to human decisions and activities by people who have no regard for the common good and this often through a tragic complicity and criminal conspiracy of local leaders and foreign interests”.9

     The Synod identifies conflict and strife as being at the heart of what has gone wrong10, and thus sees reconciliation as a way forward to resolving this puzzle. It invites the Church, Family of God in Africa, to embark on an apostolic mission to build a culture of communion and life. The Synod hopes that the mission of communion, rooted in the Christian virtues of reconciliation, truth, justice and mercy, would restore wholeness to communities, and heal 'wounded human hearts’, that have suffered for so long!

     And so, to be considered meaningful, the Church, Family of God in Africa, must concretise the propositions of the Synod to help pull Africa out of the cycle of hopelessness in which it finds itself. In other words, the fruits of the Synod should “assist Africa to emerge from poverty and marginalisation in the overall movement of globalisation”.11 My hope is that the fruits of the Synod do not end up as yet another wonderful document on the magisterial teachings on reconciliation, on justice and on peace, found on book shelves of academics and in ecclesial offices. What is needed is the concerted effort to identify the root causes of problems, and work out suitable plans at all ecclesial levels (how, not why) to help in solving the myriads of problems facing Africa today.

Reconciliation, what is it?

            The concise Oxford dictionary gives the meaning of reconciliation as: “Restore friendly relations between; settle (a quarrel); make or show to be compatible; make someone accept (a disagreeable thing);”12 In other words, reconciliation is a change from enmity to friendship. It is mutual; it is a change wrought in both parties who have been at odds, but who now agree to bury the hatchet and move forward. From the foregoing, we can deduce that the term “reconciliation” presupposes the following:

  • a) It involves at least two parties.
  • b) There is an unpleasant incident causing dispute, conflict, grievance, animosity.
  • c) One party is probably alleged or accused of being involved in this unpleasant incident.
  • d) This event has led to the breakdown of communication, affecting a normal relationship to exist between the parties concerned.

   The Lineamenta presents reconciliation in this way: on one hand, to mean “simply an agreement, a consensus or the resolution of a problem or dispute, and on the other hand, the elimination of animosity or an end to violence... what is important is to re-establish a normal relationship, resume communication and go beyond the dispute. From this vantage point, reconciliation has a pragmatic character; it is a language of learning to live with others, in pluralistic society, and to manage conflicts peacefully.”13 The instrumentum laboris on its part does not attempt to define reconciliation but instead looks at different aspects of reconciliation: socio-political, socio-economic, and socio-cultural.14

   Thus, the act of reconciliation involves bringing the parties together to reestablish a normal relationship between them. This entails opening a channel of communication, dialogue between the parties, revealing truths about facts and roles of persons involved, the acceptance of wrong doing, an agreement of compensation for the wrong done, and a mutual understanding of burying the hatchet and moving on. In their proposition, the Synod Fathers affirm that “reconciliation on the social level contributes to peace. After a conflict, reconciliation restores unity of hearts and life in common. In virtue of reconciliation, nations long at war have again found peace, citizens ruined by civil war have rebuilt unity; individuals or communities seeking and granting pardon have healed their memories; divided families once again live in harmony. Reconciliation overcomes crises, restores dignity to people, and opens the way to development and lasting peace among people at all levels”.15

Reconciling Africa

   As mentioned earlier, reconciliation presupposes events (mostly negative ones) which have caused harm, grief and pain, and which have resulted in the breakdown of social cohesion (animosity and mistrust). Ecclesia in Africa compared Africa to the man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho who fell into the hands of robbers who took away his possessions and beat him, leaving him half dead on the road.16 Raymond Aina, in his own way, describes Africa as a “weeping and bleeding continent”.17 So, the question is: who are those allegedly responsible for the sorry state of affairs in Africa today and what exactly did they do? Consequently, for the “reconciliation project” in Africa to succeed, I believe the following are essential:

   An honest review of the past and healing of memory

   There is currently a subtle but interesting debate going on, especially among Africans, as to the best approach to deal with Africa’s tragic past. On one hand, there are those who feel that looking at the past only results in blaming others for Africa’s woes, and prevents a forward looking vision of responsibility and self determination; for them the best option is to leave the past to history and concentrate on the present; let Africans take their destiny in their own hands and chart a better future for the continent. On the other hand, there are those who believe the past and the future are linked by the present: the past shaped the present and the present shapes the future. For them, one cannot just wish the past away and gloss over the numerous, and unfortunately, sad events that have contributed in making Africa what it is today. For this group, the better option is to revisit the past and learn from it; if not, Africa risks repeating the same mistakes of the past, and continuing in the vicious cycle it seems to be in presently. In my opinion, to create a path towards harmony, it is imperative to visit the past. Like in the game of soccer, sometimes you need to move the ball backwards to be able to move it forward.

   The Synod Fathers, while contending that “these are no longer any excuse for not moving forward”, did affirm that “there have been gross acts of historic injustices, like slave trade and colonialism, whose negative consequence still lingers on.”18 The issues mentioned here seem to point fingers to persons outside Africa; however, the synod discussed a lot of other issues from Africa’s past, internal to the continent, that continue to afflict the African people. The Instumentum laboris examined them through sociological prism of politics, economics and culture. However, I prefer to classify these using the geographical and territorial criteria: local (national), Regional and International. I believe this makes the categorization of responsibility clearer, as well as helps the Church to plan her response accordingly for a better effectiveness.

1. Local and National issues for reconciliation

      Under this group we are talking about the different areas of conflict and strife that are eroding national cohesion and thus peaceful and harmonious coexistence.19 In fact, it constitutes the greater percentage of issues hampering Africa’s forward march, and it would be the responsibility of the local Churches and the National Episcopal Conferences to implement whatever propositions there are to bring reconciliation. The issues to be looked at here include ethnic and tribal prejudice,20 impunity and abuse of State institutions especially through the armed forces and paramilitary services,21 bad governance from political leaders,22 corruption and misuse of public funds by civil servants, religious intolerance and exploitation,23 indifference or collusion of civil society, unprofessional journalism24 etc.

2. Sub regional and Pan African issues

   Issues in this category will involve Regional and Sub-regional Conferences of bishops and other Regional Institutions to handle. A few example of such issues include, destabilization of neighboring countries,25 xenophobia and harassment of fellow Africans,26 indifference and lack of solidarity among African civil Societies27 etc.

3. International issues

   These would include the Trans Atlantic slave trade (Europe, America and African Chiefs),28 excesses of colonialism (killings, brutalities, land grabbing etc),29 post-independence interference,30 the arms trade,31 economic injustice caused by the insatiable gluttony of western (and now eastern - China and India) capitalism,32 human rights abuses of African immigrants abroad,33 etc. The African Church will need the help of their Sister Churches in the other continents to deal adequately with these issues.

   Truth and acknowledgement of wrong doing “And you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32)

   True reconciliation demands that persons, individually and collectively, own up to their actions by confessing their roles and the part they played in whatever issue under review, in a spirit of openness, truth and honesty. “At the present moment, in many places on the African continent ‘men ... by their injustice have made truth a captive’ (Rom 1:8). Truth then needs to be set free.”34 The Church’s liturgical rite of “Confiteor” is a good paradigm. There is need for public, individual and collective mea culpas from various categories, classes and sectors of the African Society. Several Africa nations have followed the South African example, yet these government exercises seem not to have gone far enough. I feel the Church can be of great help here as a neutral player and a spiritual institution that still retains some form of respect. For it is only God that can make this possible. Reconciliation in life comes about by creating room for forgiveness. And forgiveness can only be given when the truth is known and acknowledged. In the words of Pope John Paul II: “no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness: for true peace is the work of justice”.35 And I will add: no forgiveness without truth!

   Need for Justice and Atonement

   The South African model of “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” entailed voluntary acknowledgement of guilt and a ‘reward’ of amnesty (forgiveness) without any form of compensation. The Instrumentum laboris rightly questions the efficacy of this model: “Is the effectiveness of such commissions not limited by their voluntary character and the lack of some form of reparation or compensation?”36 The Synod Fathers on their part affirm that “the fruit of reconciliation ... is the restoration of justice and the just demands of relationships. [However], because God has justified us by forgiving our sins, so as to reconcile us to himself, we too can work out just relationships and structures among ourselves and in societies, through pardoning and overlooking peoples’ faults out of love and mercy”.37 In the same vein, they state that “true pardon promotes the justice of repentance and reparation, leading to peace that goes to the roots of conflicts”.38

   I am of the opinion that forgiveness without any form of atonement or reparation amounts to impunity, the very culture eroding the fabric of Society and perpetuating armed conflict and abuse of the rights of citizens. Without some form of compensation and reparation (even symbolic ones), there is risk of repeating the same ills in the future.39 In this regard, Africa must draw from its traditional “palaver tree” style of reconciliation (where some form of atonement is necessary to bring the issue to a close), from the western form of compensation for wrong doings,40 and from the penance inherent in the Church’s sacrament of reconciliation which restores the spiritual bond between God and the penitent.

   In the same way those responsible for making and supplying illegal Arms (Africans and non Africans) used in the conflicts of Africa must be made to accept their responsibility and pay compensation;41 European nations and American States that were involved and benefited from the slave trade should be made to accept their responsibility and make some form of compensation; African Chiefs and elders on the other hand must acknowledge their role in this tragic trade and make some form of reparation to the Africans in the Diaspora.42 Also there is need for African States to acknowledge their role in the abuse of foreigners and immigrants in their respective countries and be made to give some form of compensation.43 There are, of course, the many atrocities commitment within individual states that have to be dealt with. Among them are the whole corruption canker and the stashing of public money in Swiss and other foreign offshore bank accounts.44 It is time the perpetrators are brought to book and made to repay those moneys.

   I want to repeat, once more, that acknowledgment of guilt and forgiveness without due justice or atonement is a continuation of the culture of impunity. Crime has no expiration date; so also is justice. Any form of reconciliation without some form of reparation risks a repeat of these ills and counter revenge by the victims.45 Atonement helps invariably to repair the damage caused, appease the victim, restore justice, and reform the offender.46 Consequently, atonement is and should be an indispensable part of the “African Reconciliation Project”. In this way, “justice becomes a path leading to forgiveness and true reconciliation, thereby restoring communion.”47
The reconciling mission of the Church in Africa today

      St. Paul puts the mission of the Church as that of reconciliation:

      “All this is the work of God who in Christ reconciled us to himself, and who entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation. Because in Christ God reconciled the world with himself, no longer taking into account their trespasses and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we present ourselves as ambassadors in the name of Christ, as if God himself makes an appeal to you through us: Let God reconcile you; This we ask in the name of Christ”. (2 Cor 5, 18-20)

      Faced with the difficult situations mentioned above, the Church in Africa has responded through various forms of proclamations: pastoral letters, communiqués, preaching, press releases and press conferences. Through these means, the leaders of the Church hope that people’s hearts would be touched and the ensuing conversion will transform society. Through this Second Synod for Africa, the leaders of the Church in Africa once again launch, in their words, “a heartfelt appeal to all those who are at war in Africa and make their people suffer so much: ‘Stop the hostilities and be reconciled’. They ask all African citizens and governments to recognise their brotherhood and promote initiatives of every sort, which would encourage reconciliation and permanently strengthen it at all levels of society.”48

      However, words are not always enough, for “proclamation, no matter how prophetic, can inadvertently contribute to a privatization of morality;”49 a situation where serious social and political injustices and evils are reduced to lack of personal piety; and ecclesial remedy are focused on individual conversion, leaving behind the larger social and community ramifications of these gross social ills. In other words, proclamation leaves the initiative to individuals to determine whether they want reconciliation or not. But, as it has been pointed out, the case of Africa is not just an individual matter; it cuts across all strata of society: State institutions, ethnic and religious groups, communities, regional and international sectors. The idea of individual conversion and private mea colpa is simply not enough and largely begging the question. The stakes are so high, that African reconciliation can no longer be a private decision. 

      It is true that, in the long run, lasting peace cannot be imposed, and has to be the fruit of individual and community choices. It is also true that reconciliation is a pre-condition for lasting peace. Thus, for Africa to benefit from the Reconciliation Project, it must go beyond the individual, and therefore, beyond proclamation. The Church in Africa must gear herself to deal with the cumulative sins of Africa’s past that continue to weigh her people down. She must be engaged in the purification of the collective memory, to help repair strained relations and re-establish productive and harmonious communication among the different sectors of the reality called Africa. The task may look daunting, but the Church, Family of God in Africa, can take solace in these words of Pope John Paul II: “God can create openings for peace where only obstacles and closures are apparent”.50 The hour is imperative for the Church. Prof. Mary John Waliggo, writing a few years before the Rwanda genocide, said: “The future of the Christian Church will be slippery if Christianity fails the African people in the hour of their dire need. The future generation will want to know where the Church was when people were suffering; what message was given to bring hope, challenge, reprimand.”51 This is the task facing the Church, Family of God in Africa. How can missionary institutes working on the continent get involved in this African Reconciliation Project?

Role of Missionary Institutes in the African reconciliation project

      The Synod calls for “further and ongoing cooperation between the ‘Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) and the ‘Confederation of the Conferences of Major Superiors of Africa and Madagascar (COMSAM),”52 and welcomes their valid contributions to the life and mission of the Church in Africa.53 Missionary Institutes in Africa have undergone a lot of transformation in the face of the changing realities of the African Church. From pioneers and trailblazers in the early era of missionary enterprise in Africa, they have subsequently become auxiliaries and collaborators in recent years. In fact, there was a time when missionary institutes where asking the question if they were still needed in an African Church that has become very much indigenized.

      The question of the continuous presence of missionaries (especially foreign ones) in the African Church has been a thorny question in African circles, notably among some African theologians.54 Some assert that the missionary era is over, and that the Church in Africa is capable of running her own affairs and carrying on the task of evangelization without these missionaries; that the local Church should be left alone to inculturate the gospel values into the African culture, and liberate it from the European trappings the missionaries imposed on Africans. Even some missionaries, especially after the Second Vatican Council, felt they were no more needed and that their role in the evangelization of Africa was truly over. In some cases, the desire of the indigenous hierarchy to give shape to their own local church, and to manage everything by themselves, give the impression that these missionaries are merely tolerated, rather than wanted.55 But times have changed, and many missionary institutes themselves have become indigenized. This brings me to the first area missionary institutes, especially international ones, need to address:

      1.  Change of mentality

   I believe there is need for a radical change of mentality by the local hierarchy and clergy as well as by international missionary institutes themselves. This change has to do with the view that missionary institutes are foreign and thus not part of the local Church. The attitude of some of the international missionary institutes has also contributed to this worldview: the idea that they have come to help and afterwards they will leave, even when most of these institutes have a good and growing number of members from the locality. There is need therefore to make the local hierarchy understand that missionary institutes, whether local or international, are part and parcel of the local Church; their clergy form one presbyterium with the diocesan clergy and the bishop; their religious and lay collaborators form, with the entire baptized brothers and sisters, one family of God. Therefore, everyone has a share and a stake in the prophetic mission of the Church, especially in the ministry of reconciliation.

      In this regard, it is important for the missionary institutes to give a “local face to their institutes”. At this juncture of the development of the Church in Africa, it is imperative for missionary institutes to keep a sizable number of their African members in their local Churches of origin to bond with the local Church and to impress on them that, though they may have a particular charism, they are part and parcel of the local Church. This is vital for any contribution these institutes may bring to the delicate mission of the local Church, especially in the area of reconciliation, justice and peace, where emotions, national dignity and pride are at play; where some persons might not want “interference” from “foreign” quarters.

      2. Creating the needed ecclesial structures for reconciliation

      As mentioned earlier, for a genuine reconciliation to take place there is need for avenues of dialogue and communication between parties. The Church will need to create an enabling environment, a habitus, community space, or “palaver setting” for this dialogue. Among such avenues for reconciliation the Synod Propositions give pride of place to the sacrament of reconciliation, non-sacramental and inculturated form of celebrating Reconciliation, ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, and advocate for a special day, year and jubilee celebrations of reconciliation. 56  In addition to these avenues, there is the need for structures for conflict resolution, watchdogs, and pressure groups to deal with social and political levels of reconciliation.

      The Church in Africa may have her own short comings. However, her impartiality, where it exists, is very much appreciated, and she has been invited to mediate in several processes of national reconciliation.57 The Church should not sit and wait to be invited, because she has the potential to guide Christians and non-Christians alike on this path of reconciliation through her various structures (local, national, regional and international).58 Missionary institutes could be very instrumental in this. Most of these institutes have a longer history than the local churches in Africa. They also have experience, human and material resources that could be of immense help in setting up and strengthening existing ecclesial structures for this mission of reconciliation.

      3. Training agents of reconciliation

      For there to be genuine reconciliation for a sustainable justice and peace on the African continent, there have to be well trained and qualified persons who are committed to this cause, and ready to “lay down their lives for the brethren” (1 Jn 3:16). The Synod Fathers acknowledged the importance of formation and conscientization of the citizenry in areas of conflict management, electoral practices, checking of government actions, upholding human rights through formation programmes at all levels, and aimed at grass root mobilisation.59 Consequently, there is need to have persons who will be engaged in this ministry full time. This calls for specialised training and persons with such expertise. It offers great opportunity to missionary institutes to complement and diversify their contribution to the local Churches, radicalising in this way their rich charisms and prophetic witness both to the Church and to the Society.

      4 Advocacy and networking between local, regional and international groups

      The causes of conflict, injustice and poverty in today’s globalised world go beyond national boundaries. And as Instrumentum laboris points out, it will require “the development of [ecclesial] partnerships among the Churches of different continents [that] would favour an exchange of experts in different fields related to justice and peace and … enable them to collaborate in the cause of justice and peace at international events in the name of their shared faith in Jesus, the Prince of Peace.”60 Many ordinary Africans do not know the role and work of international bodies and institutions in building a just and equitable world. In fact in the minds of many Africans, these organisations are part of the problem. The truth however, is that without the required input and policy change in the operations of these International bodies, the “African Reconciliation Project” will be a mere lip service and a complete mirage, because decisions made in these international bodies, mostly in the northern hemisphere have an enormous and long lasting impact on the lives of hundreds of millions in the Southern hemisphere including Africa. This is why advocacy, lobbying and networking are crucial ingredients to any meaningful reconciliation and sustainable peace on the African continent.

      Advocacy is a strategy which calls for the greatest possible cooperation among groups who have as their common goal the creation of a more just world.61 In this area, religious and missionary institutes have valuable experience to share with the local Churches in Africa. Organisation like the AEFJN and the AFJN are specifically designed for this kind of advocacy and lobbying activities. However, there is need for greater collaboration and networking between local organisations in Africa and those in the northern hemisphere to coordinate efforts in highlighting specific issues.62 The Synod’s call to Episcopal Conferences at all levels “to establish advocacy bodies to lobby members of parliament, governments and international institutions, so that the Church can contribute effectively to the formulation of just laws and policies for the people’s good”63 is a welcome news. It is my sincere hope that the Synod’s proposition that the Church in Africa “requests to be present in the national, regional and continental institutions in Africa, to support the NEPAD –Peer Review Mechanism within the African Union”64 sees the light of day. 

      5. Building Bridges of dialogue and reconciliation

      It is a fact that in many African countries, ethnic and sometimes religious affinities are the main lines around which politics are organized. These have sometimes led unfortunately to division and strife that have devastated many African countries, and caused a lot of hurt and mistrust among communities.65 The ability to build political and national cohesion and bring the different groups to “accept that leaders of peoples have to negotiate with one another as representatives of their ethnicities and communities while seeking at the same time to elaborate policies that enable all the groups to find an interest in collaboration and compromise”66 has proven to be a Herculean task for many African States.

      Unfortunately, in some of these cases, Church officials have been found wanting: “divisions, based on ethnic, tribal, regional or national lines and xenophobic mentality, have been observed in some ecclesial communities and in the words and attitudes of some Pastors. Moreover, responses to the Lineamenta indicate certain strife between bishops and their presbyterate and a tendency of some bishops in national episcopal conferences to take positions favouring a specific political party. As a result, these episcopal conferences are no longer able to speak with one voice in an appeal for unity.”67 Such tendencies have put some local Churches in a poor position to be bridge builders and agents of reconciliation. The bishops have resolved “to work in unity... giving our nations a model of a reconciled and just institution”.68 Missionary institutes may be of help, as watchdogs to the bishops and the local Church when they stray from this commitment, or are dragged into factional disputes.

      6. Witness to intercultural, interethnic and international living

      The multinational, multi-ethnic and multicultural diversity of missionary communities could offer models of building communion and multi-ethnic cohesion in African societies. Most missionary institutes now have members from different local ethnic groups as well as from diverse nationalities. While it is true to mention that it has not been easy in some communities: subtle discrimination along national lines, north-south divide, domination by some ethnic groups; however, many of these communities offer real witness of multiethnic and multicultural living. It is a prophetic challenge to missionary institutes to strive to uphold the richness of intercultural living in their communities. It is a compelling statement to the diocesan Church, as well as the local community, of God’s inclusiveness, and to invite them on this practical journey of mutual respect and appreciation of cultural and ethnic differences in society; an invitation to peaceful coexistence; a testimony to the joy and enrichment that come with living in a multicultural and multiethnic society. In this way missionary and religious institutes will indeed become “salt of the earth” and “light to the world” in a multifaceted society.

      7. Proclaiming the Good found in Africa

      Africa is a land of immense beauty: of sand beaches and breath taking sand dunes, of virgin forests and numerous variety of wild life, of gorgeous birds and spectacular butterflies, of varied cultural and mineral riches; of a people who are capable of great ingenuity and labour, who are outstanding humility and resilience, who deeply value order and personal integrity, who esteem peace and revere peace-makers, who suffer hardship with enduring fortitude, who make sacrifices for family solidarity, who are truly warm in temperament and friendship, who sparkle with humour and delight in company, and who have an enduring sense of life and of God.
      Unfortunately, Africa has been known for the most part by the outside world as a land of tragedy and suffering, of disease and famine, of helpless victims, worthy only of pity; a land ridden by many conflicts and ruled by corrupt and despotic governments, a land that has become unfortunately the Mass Media’s stereotype example of whatever is wrong with humanity. “The modern media often tend to emphasize bad news and thus focus more on our woes and defects than on the positive efforts that we are making”.69 The ‘Aid Industry’, too, feeds on selling negative and outmoded stereotypes of Africans as helpless victims of endless wars and constant famines.70

      It is true that bad news travels faster than good news, but “this narrative of Africa as a land of hopeless, hapless victims is a far cry from the Africa missionaries and religious have come to know and love”71 through years of experience of working for and with communities in  Africa. It is therefore a moral duty of missionary institutes to proclaim and spread the good and positive news in Africa abroad, and resist the temptation of falling prey to the negative and sensational ‘Aid Industry’ marketing strategy. Like every other continent, Africa has its contradictions of the good, the bad and the ugly. We have heard enough of the bad and the ugly. It is time to proclaim the good!

Conclusion: A New Pentecost of opportunities!

      It is not an understatement to say that “the need for reconciliation on the continent is today more urgent than ever.”72 The Synod sees this “African Reconciliation Project” as a “New Pentecost” to regenerate and invigorate the African people, and indeed the whole human family in the path of genuine reconciliation, justice and peace. However, for it to be successful everyone who has Africa at heart must be engaged; for a heart full of love always has something to give. There is a Zimbabwean proverb that says “when spider webs unite they can tie up an elephant”,73 and another African proverb from the Synod message, which says that “an army of well organized ants can bring down an elephant”.74 Poor elephant!

      As the local Churches in Africa mobilize their energies and resources to engage the continent and its people in a dialogue of reconciliation, healing and progress, they will need all the help they can get, and will be counting in no small measure on their fathers and mothers in the Faith: the very missionary institutes that sacrificed so much to bring them the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace: “many of whom are still working there with zeal and heroic dedication...who have remained with their people even in times of war and grave crisis... and have even paid for their fidelity with their very lives.”75 It is important for these missionary institutes, individually and as a group, to reflect on their missionary activities in Africa in the light of the Propositions of the Synod and to see how best they can put their charism at the service of reconciliation, justice and peace. Their engagement or non engagement will go a long way in determining whether, at the end of the day, it will be said this time around that “when all was said and done, more was done than said”. This is my hope for this Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa!


1 Pius Rutechura, “Church in Reconciliation: Justice and Peace in the AMECEA Region”, AFER 50/3-4 (2008) p. 170.
2Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Instrumentum Laboris, n. 14.
3 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Instrumentum laboris nn. 14-15.
4 Among some of these issues are immigration, urbanisation, refugees, women and children issues, interreligious dialogue, role of missionary institutes, advocacy etc.
5 Mons. José Camnate, “Prima di tutto riconciliarsi”, interview in Nigrizia (June 2009) p. 59.
6 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Instrumentum laboris, n. 148
7 James  O’Connell, “A Continent in transition: balancing hopes and fears in Sub-Saharan  Africa”, SMA Bulletin, 123 (2006) p. 7
8 Thirty four of the world’s least developed countries are in Africa. While the rest of the world is seeing their development index inch upward, like the case in Asian countries, that of Africa seems to be going the opposite direction. UNDP Human development Report gives staggering statistics. Cf. Transparency International, 2004; 
9 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Message, nn.4-5, E Civitate Vaticana, 2009.
10 Cf. Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Instrumentum laboris, n. 11.
11 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Instrumentum laboris, n. 8.
12 The concise Oxford dictionary, s.v. “reconcile”.
13 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Lineamenta, Vatican City 2006, p. 44.
14 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Instrumentum laboris, nn. 8, 50-52.
15 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Propositions, n. 5, E Civitate Vaticane, 23 October 2009.
16 John Paul II, Ecclesia in Africa, 14 September 1995, n. 41.
17 Raymond Aina, “The mission of the Church in Africa Today: Reconciliation?” AFER 50/3-4 (2008) p. 219.
18 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Message, n.34; cf.  Instrumentum laboris, n. 64.
19 Many African countries seem to be lacking the basic “Social Contract” for co-existence as elaborated by Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, that is the mutual agreement of co-existence among the different ethnic groups in the countries of Africa, except the colonial decision that horded them together. 
20 We can mention the tragedy of the Rwanda and Burundi genocides; the rivalry between the Luos and the Kikuyus in Kenya, the ethnic divide between the Ibo, the Yorubas, the Hausas and the minority tribes in northern Nigeria; the ever recurring ethnic conflict between the Maprosis and the Kusasis, the Abudus, and the Andanis in Northern Ghana; the ethnic question in the Darfur conflict, etc. Political parties have used ethnic, tribal or regional sentiments to rally populations to their cause in a conquest for power, instead of fostering living together in peace. Cf. Instrumentum laboris, n. 50.
21 It has been calculated that in Sub-Saharan Africa there were 80 successful coups, 108 failed coup attempts and 139 reported coup plots between 1956 and 2001. Each time there were reprisals against supposed opponents. Most crimes committed against people are caused by the State. The brutality of the Armed Forces and paramilitaries against the people they are suppose to protect, done with absolute impunity, continue to go on in many African countries – Togo, DR Congo, Liberia, Cote D’Ivoire, Nigeria, Guinea, Zimbabwe etc. The armed forces have a lot to answer for and to be reconciled. cf. Raymond Aina, “The mission of the Church in Africa Today: Reconciliation?” AFER 50/3-4 (2008) p. 227; Chris Cunneen, “Exploring the relationship between Reparations, the Gross violations of Human Rights, and Restorative Justice” in Handbook of Restorative Justice: A Global Perspective, eds. Dennis Sullivan and Larry Tifft, London, New York, 2006, p. 357.
22 Some political leaders show an insensibility to the needs of their people. They follow their own pursuits and hold in disdain any idea of the common good. Lacking a sense of the State and democratic principles, they work out political deals which are unilateral, partisan, favour-driven and ethnocentric. At the same time, they foster division to secure their rule. In some places, the party in power tends to identify itself with the State. In this way, the notion of authority is conceived as “power”—parties of power, power-sharing—and not as “service”. Sadly, some women and men in political life are displaying a grave lack of culture in political matters. They unscrupulously violate human rights and use religion and religious institutions for their own purpose. Cf. Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Instrumentum laboris, n. 23.
23 It is unfortunate but true to say that in some instances religion and religious leaders have been part of the problem. One can mention the incessant religious violence in Nigeria that has claimed thousands of lives; the exploitation and milking of unsuspecting followers by the new religious sects and self-acclaimed prophets; the collusion between some religious leaders and government officials for material gains.
24 The use of the media to promote ethnic tensions and political division; the media was one of the accused institutions in the Rwandan genocide.
25 Here we are focusing on the role countries have played or not played in the destabilisation of their neighbours. For example, the role of Libya, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast in the wars of Sierra Leone and Liberia; the involvement of Chad, Central Africa, Sudan etc in each other’s instability; the role of Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola and DR Congo in the conflicts of the Great Lakes etc.
26 We have witnessed tragic scenes of xenophobia, where foreigners were looked upon as symbolizing the misfortunes of society and became scapegoats. As a result, persons were burnt alive and hacked; families scattered and villages destroyed. Examples of this include the recent violence against African immigrants in South Africa, the expulsion of Ghanaians from Nigeria in the 1980s, the earlier expulsion of Nigerians from Ghana in the early 1970s, the killing and expulsion of Ghanaians from Ivory Coast after the ASEC – Kotoko soccer match in 1994, the singling out of Burkinabes during the Ivorien conflict, etc. Cf. Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Instrumentum laboris, n. 50.
27 Africa prides itself of having a culture of solidarity, but it appears to be ethnocentric solidarity. I am often amazed how little African civil groups show public support for events happening beyond their borders, unlike their Western or even Asian counterparts. For instance, how many African countries organised a public march of support for the people of Darfur, or to press for free and fair elections in other countries, or against the excesses of xenophobia either in African countries or in countries outside Africa. Not even in cases of tragedy – drought, flooding, sporting disaster – has there been a show of support from other African brothers and sisters. Inaction is also a crime.
28 The over 300 years Trans-Atlantic slave trade is the worst human tragedy in history which has left profound scars on both Africans and Europeans alike, but most especially, on people of African descent in the Diaspora. It ravaged many regions in Africa, took thousands of able youth away, cruelly fostered tribal wars and distrust among neighbours, and diverted energy from ventures like agriculture and legitimate trade.
29 There are issues for example of the British use of excessive force against the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, the brutal, bloody and illegal ways the White settlers in many parts of Southern African countries like Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia, South Africa etc took away tracks of fertile lands from the indigenous Africans and appropriated them to themselves.
30 The key events that began the downward spiral of African instability; e.g. the unresolved questions like the role of the CIA in the overthrow of Nkrumah, the role of Belgium in the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the involvement of the US and Russia in the ideological war in Angola; the French legitimatisation of dictatorships in Togo, Gabon, Congo, Burkina, Chad, Cameroon, which aids the institutionalisation of impunity and abuse of power.
31 It is estimated that about $284 billion have been spent on arms and conflicts in Africa between 1990 and 2005, which is about the same amount given to Africa during the same period as foreign aid. What was the money used for: to destroy, kill, maim, rape, and displace hundreds of thousands of Africans. Those responsible for aiding this trade of death should be invited to the reconciliation party. Cf. International Action Network on Small Arms, Oxfam International and Safer world, Africa’s missing Billions: International Arms Flows and the Cost of Conflict, IANSA, October 11, 2007, pp. 1-38.
32 There are places and peoples torn apart by violence fuelled by demands for oil, diamonds, gold and fish: the Blood diamonds of Sierra Leone, the conflict in the DR Congo, and the environmental degradation and the insecurity raging in the Niger-Delta of Nigeria etc. How many lie dying because of trade embargos and imposition of systems of trade by international financial institutions that leaves African markets flooded with finished goods from abroad and kills the fragile local industries. Likewise, raw materials are exploited with permission which lack any precise criteria. At the same time, financial returns are largely detoured in ways which result in their unequal distribution in society. Programmes proposed by international financial institutions for restructuring the African economy seem to be having a dire effect. International aid to institutions concerned with the fate of entire populations often times comes with unacceptable conditions. This “imposed” restructuring has consequently lead to, on the one hand, a very fragile African economy, and, on the other, a deterioration of the fabric of society, seen in increased crime, the widening of the gap between the rich and the poor, and a massive migration from rural areas, leading to the overpopulation of cities. Multinational organizations continue systematically to invade the continent in search of natural resources. In complicity with African leaders, they oppress local companies, buy thousands of hectares of land and expropriate populations from their lands. Their adverse effect on the environment and creation affects the peace and well-being of the African people and, thus, the prospects of their living in harmony. The activities of the Chinese and Indians in Africa, especially in the timber and mining sectors, are becoming very worrying as they have no respect for the least of international standards. Recently, a court case in the UK has exposed and convicted a UK company, Mabel & Johnson, of a systematic policy of inducing favours in the form of contracts from African political and high public officials through bribery and corruption. Cf. Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Instrumentum laboris, nn. 23; 25. 
33 We are talking about the inhuman treatment meted out to African immigrants in western countries: workers’ salaries are insufficient, if indeed they are paid at all. In some places a true slavery still exists; harsh and oppressive immigration laws; and outright discrimination, even in ecclesial settings. It is common knowledge that Europeans migrated en masse in the past centuries and as recently as the 20th century during the World Wars, to Africa, America, Asia and Australia. Now that the receiving nations of yesterday are returning the favour, it has become a problem for Europe. Now or then, it is the poor and the vulnerable that migrate looking for a better life. What is globalisation if goods and money (even drugs) can cross borders, but not human persons?
34Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Instrumentum laboris, n. 45.
35 John Paul II, Message for the World Day of Peace: “No Peace Without Justice, No Justice Without Forgiveness” (08.12.2001) 14: AAS 94 (2002) 135.
36 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Instrumentum laboris, n. 8.
37 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Propositions, n. 14.
38 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Message, n. 8.
39 We already have examples of these repetitions today; the culture of “electoral decorations” called democratic elections; the phenomenon of replacing the old guard dictators with their sons, who continue the same oppressive systems and build a family dynasty (Eyadema Togo, Bongo Gabon, Kabila Congo; who is next?); and not long ago, we witnessed the high handedness of the new military junta in Guinea on an opposition rally killing scores of persons. How long will such flagrant impunity go unpunished?
40 It is common knowledge now that Germany was made to pay compensation for the World Wars it unleashed on the world as well as reparations to the Jews; Recently, the Libyan leader was made to pay huge compensations to families of the victims of the Lockerbie plane crash allegedly masterminded by Libyans, and also to families of victims of IRA bombings because it is believed that the bombs used were supplied by Libya.
41 A BBC report on March 15, 2000 estimated that there were 100 million illicit small arms circulating in Africa. In 2000 and 2001 Slovakia, for example, exported arms, which it was shedding to enable it enter the European Union, to Liberia and Angola. As Pope Benedict rightly observed, “the countries of the industrially developed world profit immensely from the sale of arms, while the ruling oligarchies in many poor countries wish to reinforce their stronghold by acquiring even more sophisticated weaponry.” Cf. Benedict XVI, Message for the World Day of Peace: “The Human Family: Community of Peace” (08.12.2007), 14: L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, 19-26.12.2007, pp. 8-9; John B Kwofie, “Presentation of the Lineamenta for the Second Special Synod for Africa”, SMA Bulletin 123 (2006), p. 58.
42 From my personal experience in the USA, there is an unhealthy relationship between African Americans who are descended from the slave trade and recent African migrants from the African continent, unlike the other groups in the US - the Irish, the Italians, the Asians, etc. And this is a direct result of the slave trade. As a result the African continent does not benefit fully from the cultural and financial wealth in the form of investments from the people of African descent in the new world, in contrast to what Europeans and now Asians enjoyed from this. However, I believe a meaningful ceremony of reconciliation and some form of reparation to the African Diaspora by African Chiefs can go a long way in healing this relationship. I remember an episode in a Ghanaian village where a woman of African descent from the Diaspora approached a local chief to buy land because she had decided to settle in Ghana. The chief, first of all apologised to her for the role of Chiefs in the slave trade, and in compensation gave her a piece of land for free. This is an example that can be built on.
43 Some few years back it was alleged that forty four Ghanaians were killed in cold blood in the Gambia by Gambian forces. Of course the Gambian government denied any knowledge. Thankfully, with sustained pressure on the Gambian government by their Ghanaian counterpart at the recent AU summit in Libya, Gambia acknowledge the killing of only six Ghanaians and agreed to pay compensation. This is just a start, but something that must be taken seriously to avoid reprisals and revenge killings later.
44 We now know that it is possible for the Swiss banks to disclose the names of persons having bank accounts with them thanks in not small measure to the world financial crisis, and the pressure from the Obama administration to bring to justice those who evade government taxes through these secret off-shore bank accounts. This could be a good omen for the African people.
45 Instrumentum laboris mentions the demand for justice by minority groups through armed conflict. While this is not the way to go, lack of some form of compensation will continue to breed these kinds of responses. We have the example of the Niger Delta, and the revenge killings in the wake of religious violence in Nigeria.
46 Cf. Code of Canon Law 1983, Canons 1312; 1341.
47 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Instrumentum laboris, n. 44.
48 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Propositions, n. 5.
49 Raymond Aina, “The mission of the Church in Africa Today: Reconciliation?” AFER 50/3-4 (2008) p. 229; Cf. Hendricks Jr., Politics of Jesus, p. 253.
50 John Paul II, Message for the World Day of Peace: “No Peace Without Justice, No Justice Without Forgiveness” (08.12.2001), 14: AAS 94 (2002) p. 139.
51 Waliggo John, “Making a Church that is truly African”, in Inculturation: Its meaning and Urgency, John Waliggo, et al (eds.), Nairobi: St. Paul Publication, 1986, p. 24; quoted in Raymond Aina, “The mission of the Church in Africa Today: Reconciliation?” AFER 50/3-4 (2008) p. 219
52 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Propositions, n. 3.
53 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Message, n. 17.
54 Cf. Jean Marc Ela, René Luneau, Christiane Ngendakuriyo, Voici le temps des héritiers – Eglises d’Afrique et voies novelles, Paris Karthala, 1982, p. 235-236; Kalilombe Patrick, “Missionary Societies in Africa Today”, African Ecclesial Review (AFER), 31/3 (1989) pp. 183-189; Koek John, « La relation des missionnaires à leur Église d’accueil», Bulletin SMA, 93 (1994) pp. 18-36.
55 P. Kalanda, “Missionary collaboration with the local churches in AMECEA countries –evaluated”, AFER 31/6 (1989) p. 332.
56 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Propositions, nn. 5-13, E Civitate Vaticane, 23 October 2009.
57 Cf. Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Instrumentum laboris, n. 7.
58 Cf. Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Instrumentum laboris, n. 9.
59 Cf. Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Propositions, n. 18;  Instrumentum laboris, nn. 128-135.
60Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa,  Instrumentum laboris, n. 122.
61 Cf. Michael McCabe, “Advocacy and Lobbying as imperatives of mission today: a theological reflection”, SMA Bulletin 123 (2006) p. 100.
62 For example, if there is a concerted effort to prevent the main protagonists in the Ivorien crisis (Laurant Gbagbo, Henri Konan Bédié, Alassane Ouatarra, Guillaume Soro etc) from contesting the forthcoming general elections, through locally organised peaceful marches and pressure from Church leaders as well as lobbying international bodies like the ECOWAS, AU, EU, UN etc, there may be a chance to end the stalemate that currently prevails in that country.
63 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Propositions, n. 24.
64 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Propositions, n. 24.
65 One of the worst cases, apart from the Rwandan Genocide, is the 1966 Hausa and Kanuri massacres of Igbos in Northern Nigeria that were a precipitant of the Biafra secession and civil war, and it continues to be a factor in the often religious violence in the north and revenge reprisals in the south.
66 James O’Connell, “A continent in Transition: Balancing Hopes and Fears in Sub-Saharan Africa, SMA Bulletin 123 (2006) p. 45.
67 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Instrumentum laboris, n. 53.
68 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Message, n. 18.
69 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Message, n. 6.
70 Cf. Kieran O’Reilly, “Speech to the Second Synod for Africa”, VIS News, 8.10.2009.
71 Kieran O’Reilly, “Speech to the Second Synod for Africa”, VIS News, 8.10.2009.
72 Instrumentum laboris, n. 147
73 Cf. Michael McCabe, “Advocacy and Lobbying as imperatives of mission today: a theological reflection”, SMA Bulletin 123 (2006) p. 100.
74 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Message, n. 15.
75 Second Special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Message, n. 13.

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