The Church in Africa at the service of reconciliation, justice and peace

Polycarp Pengo, Archbishop of Dar-es-Salaam

Introduction: Why the Topic for the 2nd Assembly of the Synod! 

The existing political and social situation in Africa is what prompted the theme for the 2’ Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa — “Reconciliation, Justice and Peace.”

In convoking the Second Special Assembly for Africa the Holy Father Pope John Paul II said: “Responding to the wish of the Post- Synodal Council and the desire of the bishops in Africa, I take this occasion to announce my intention to convoke a Second Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa” (13 November 2004). The wish and desire of both the Post Synodal Council and that of the bishops in Africa are prompted by the lack of harmony on the continent, the perpetual! civil wars in the various parts of the continent and unsatisfactory political and social conditions in most of the countries of Africa (cfr. For example, Pope John Paul II’s address to participants in the Post-Synodal Council of the Special Assembly for Africa on 15 June 2004 and The SECAM Plenary Assembly which took place in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) in January 2007. See also Pope Benedict’s Apostolic intention for January 2008)

Therefore, the Second Special Assembly of the Bishops for Africa is intended to reflect on what the Church both Universal and on the Continent can do to realize Reconciliation where conflicts have taken peace, Justice for all people to result in more lasting peace and harmony in African societies.

I. The Role of the Church in Pre-Independent Africa:

People like to present pre-colonial Africa in glorious colours characterized by tribal and societal harmonious relations. Yet, that picture does not seem to be supported by actual facts of history. Tribal! wars were spread all over the continent. Internal conflicts and domination were such that chiefs and even kinsmen sold their own subjects into slavery for personal gain. Fear of witches, unjust evil spirits etc. was rampant in traditional Africa. In many cases the very concept of reconciliation was almost impossible since asking for pardon was considered a sign of weakness.

I believe that one can safely say that during the colonial! period the situation seemed much better. This was not so much due to the brutal show of force that went with colonialism, but mainly depended on the Christian message of evangelization concomitant with the spread of colonial! power in Africa.

Pre-evangelization Africa lacked peace, justice and even a sense of true reconciliation because the supreme God was considered too distant to be involved with petty affairs of human societies. In the absence of the supreme divine power, lesser powers often very malignant filled in the vacuum for their own interests and arbitrary vanting of authority not to be questioned but, at best, only placated by means of unreasonable costs such as human sacrifices.

Thus, the main role of the Church in Traditional Africa was to preach that the supreme God with his infinite powers was not far removed from human society. The Church, in other words, preached the God who is with His people (Emmanuel) thus denying lesser powers of supreme authority over human beings. The Church preached of peace dependent on the just God who has supreme authority over everything. Catechizing young people especially in her schools was one of the most effective means for the Church to realize that goal.

II. Why Today’s Situation?

Soon after independence from colonial powers most of the young African nations took the following two steps with varying intensity:

a) Many prominent future leaders of the nations were sent to study in atheistic communistic regimes— Russia and China in particular.

b) Church schools were nationalized leaving very little or no chance for proper catechesis for young people in state-run schools.

These two factors, in my opinion, account to a great extent for the actual absence of concern for God and religious values in many African countries. Hence, the prevalent desire in Africa for freedom from religious and moral obligations which is doing such damage to peace and justice in Africa.


What to expect From the Second Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa?

It is my ardent hope that the Second Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa will awaken in all the pastoral agents of evangelization in Africa the need to make God and religious values present in societies re-establishment of church run schools wherever permitted should be availed promptly. It is from such schools that one can expect to produce both good politicians and committed religious leaders for African’s future.