The Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) and the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa (White Sisters) are commemorating the 125th Anniversary of the Campaign against the Slave Trade in Africa begun by their founder, Cardinal Lavigerie Charles. Our correspondent in Rome talked with Fr. Richard Baawobr, Superior General of the Missionaries of Africa.
What does today’s anniversary mean?
We launched the celebrations on 11 November 2012 at the Church of Jesus in Rome, and the closing ceremony will be on 8 September 2013, in Ouagadougou in Burkina-Faso. The general theme for this year’s celebrations is, “I am a man and nothing human is foreign to me – Let us break the chains!”
Celebrating this anniversary is an occasion for us to: firstly, thank God for the achievements of this campaign, the major one being the abolition of the slave trade in Africa and the putting in place of the laws to enforce it. The second reason is in keeping with our conviction that commitment to justice and peace is part of what it means to share the Good News of Jesus with others. Thus, the 125th Anniversary celebration enables us also to deepen our reflections and commitment to justice and peace, especially in the fight against modern-day slavery, following in the footsteps of our founder. Several Chapters have invited us to integrate the commitment to Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) in all our pastoral work. In our reflections, we are focusing on these issues: new forms of slavery, poverty, land grabbing, human rights in Africa, human trafficking, child slavery, and migrants.
These are then the new forms of slavery...
In general, we can say that everything that dehumanises people, that violates their human dignity and rights, that reduces human beings to mere commodities that are sold and bought for a profit like any other “good,” is a form of slavery. So, the list is very long: poverty, human trafficking, human sacrifice, drug-addiction, all types of child exploitation – including sexual mutilation of female children, street children, prostitution (forced or not) – forced labour, marital slavery, forced marriage, debt bondage, etc. In order to fight these forms of slavery, it is important that we acknowledge the fundamental truth that we are born equal and that God loves us all equally, irrespective of our gender, culture, colour, and social condition. Like the prophets of old, to announce the Good News necessarily brings us to open our eyes and those of others to the different things that de-humanise us.
What strategy are you using to fight today’s forms of slavery?
We have a lot to learn from our Founder. We do not have to re-invent the wheel, but rather to be bold and courageous as he was. We need to do the following:
- Inform the public opinion about the existence of these forms of slavery, through conferences, talks, and other mass media. According to Lavigerie ‘informed public opinion’ was a key instrument in this fight: “My first appeal then, is to public opinion. It is the queen of the world. Sooner or later, it forces all the powers to follow it and obey it” (St. Gudule, Brussels, 15 August 1888).
- Invite the public to put pressure on their respective governments to enact laws abolishing these forms of slavery (if they do not exist) and put structures in place to reinforce these laws. The collaboration of others is indispensable.
- Collaborate with all who are committed to fight against modern forms of slavery, irrespective of their religious affiliations. Lavigerie said: “Slavery, as it is practised in Africa, is not only, in fact, opposed to the Gospel, it is contrary to natural law... Now the laws of nature apply not just to Christians but to all men. That is why I appeal to all, without distinction of nationality, or party, or religious confession” (Church of Jesus, 23 December 1888).
- Integrate in our catechetical and pastoral activities issues related to human dignity and rights. Lavigerie rightly considered Evangelisation to be the most effective long-term means to fight slavery and the slave trade. It cannot be different today!
Many of our Provinces have planned activities to raise awareness about local forms of modern slavery. These include conferences, drama sketches, tours, publicity with T-shirts, etc. It mobilised our energies in very real ways throughout the Provinces. In all these events, the collaboration between the brothers and sisters of the same Founder is obvious and appreciated.
This year, the Protestants will celebrate the 200th anniversary of Dr. David Livingstone’s birthday (19 March 1813 – 1 May 1873). He was one of the great explorers who opened Europe’s eyes to the atrocities of the slave trade in Africa. Is there a connection between Lavigerie and Livingstone?
Lavigerie and Livingstone never met and never corresponded. However, the interest that Lavigerie had in the Evangelization of Sub-Saharan Africa, made him read Livingstone’s writings of when he was an explorer in Africa [1852-56, 58-64, 66-73]. One of the topics that Livingstone wrote extensively about was ‘slavery and slavery trade’ in Africa – especially in Central and Southern Africa. His writings and live witnesses in England greatly influenced the English to become anti-slavery activists. He proposed a solution to uproot slavery and the slave trade from Africa through Christianisation, Civilization (education and good governance) and Commerce (legal and ethical), commonly known as the “3Cs.” Lavigerie took up this vision as one can see in his ‘Secret Memorandum’ of 2 January 1878, addressed to Cardinal Alessandro Franchi (Prefect of Propaganda Fide 1874-78), on the African International Association of Brussels and the Evangelisation of Equatorial Africa. In addition, in some of his instructions to missionaries sent to Equatorial Africa, for example that of 1879, Lavigerie referred to the writings of Livingstone on slave trade.
Both Lavigerie and Livingstone are two men who loved Africa and the Africans and who, each in his own way, tried their best to combat the African slave trade. Lavigerie’s constant reference to Livingstone inspires us to an ecumenical collaboration in the struggle against modern slavery, especially in Africa. The “3Cs” of Livingstone embraced by Lavigerie are still very valid instruments to contrast today’s slaveries. (C.C.)
Father Pedro Pablo Opeka is a Lazarist missionary who was born in 1948 in a suburb of Buenos Aires. He has always worked with the poor, in Argentina at first, then, since 1975, in Madagascar. Here he founded the humanitarian association Akamasoa (‘good friend’ in the local language) which has helped some 500,000 people since 1989. Today Akamasoa sustains nearly twenty thousand people – including nine thousand children, of which seven thousand go to school. Southworld met father Pedro on a very important day for the whole Church.
A few hours before this interview, the Conclave in Rome elected another Argentinean, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as the first Latin American ever to become pope. He chose Francis as his name…
A Conclave often holds surprises. This time the surprise came from Latin America. The church in South America has reflected greatly on getting closer to the poor, defending them, and being with them. In my opinion, this election is going to give new impulse to this pastoral guideline and to the whole church in South America, where most Catholics belong to the lower social classes. Cardinal Bergoglio, as a bishop, used to visit penniless maternity wards in the slums, in order to encourage the mothers. He also went to prisons, and on Holy Thursday often washed prisoners’ feet. The name he chose, Francis, outlines an entire programme.
The poor are also your main concern. You have been among them for a great part of your life. What pushed you to be so close to them?
This desire came to me directly from the Gospel, from Christ who was a friend of the poor and from the love He had for them. I decided to be a friend of the poor, too, and I went to the slums when I was 17; then in the Andes, among the poorest, the mapuche natives, and later among the matacos, in the North. I also entered a religious order that deals with poor people in its daily activities, the Lazarists. Their primary goal is to evangelize and help the poor, to help them regain their dignity. We are all brothers and sisters, the Gospel says, and the closer we are to the poor, the closer we will be to God, living Jesus’ life, and fulfilling His message.
We spoke about material poverty, but poverty can also affect the spiritual side of men…
Yes, that is true! Poverty is a concrete matter for many people, but others are poor from a spiritual and moral point of view, they lack a firm foundation in life. A missionary must obviously turn to the poorest, the forgotten, the oppressed, and those who have lost their dignity. However, Jesus proclaimed his Gospel for everybody, including those that can be called the ‘poor rich people of Europe’. They are wealthy; nevertheless, they are empty-hearted. Therefore, we must also help them to regain a sense for their lives, a goal, which is brotherhood. It is easy to explain, but not that easy to accomplish. It is difficult to live the daily life of the poor. Conflicts occur even among brothers, and we must solve them, relying on mutual understanding and agreement, on pardon. As for myself, I have been robbed, I have felt delusion, people have lied to me, but I still stand firm, with the poor, and we go on, together.
After leaving your home country,you went to Madagascar. What living conditions did you find there?
They needed everything, everything! First, they needed to be listened to; they needed someone to listen to them and to understand them. They also needed to be fed. Thousands of children were hungry! When you are hungry, you must be given bread, then, when you have had something to eat, you can speak of everything else. Hunger is deaf. So, we gave the children and their parents something to eat, and then we spoke to them. I told them: “If you love your children, if you care for them and for their lives, let’s get out of this all together. We will send the kids to school, and we will create a rule in order to be able to live together.” They were surprised, but they accepted, and then, when they saw that we did what we had promised, they began to trust us. When you trust someone, everything becomes possible, even without money.
For many years, Madagascar has been experiencing profound political instability. What consequences have the people felt?
Poverty has risen, there are fewer jobs, and people are struggling to stay alive. We do not live, we survive: 80 people out of 100 are considered poor. Since independence, the government has forgotten its people, as many politicians did in the rest of Africa. That is why we need a spiritual authority, like the pope, to remind presidents all over the world that power must not be used in order to get rich. Power is a service to the people and especially to the poor. The pope can set an example, and Benedict XVI already did this, when he renounced his power.
Europe is currently facing an economic crisis. Can Europeans take example from the poor you work with?
When Europeans talk about the economic crisis, people in Madagascar do not understand what they mean. You call this a crisis – in Madagascar we are dying, we live below the poverty line! You, the ones living in Europe, you have everything! Every family has up to three cars, and a house. You have social security systems, you have drinking water, and you can go on holiday. And you talk about crisis. In Madagascar, we have nothing: no jobs, no welfare state, no schools, no hospitals, no water, no roads. Europe and North America should be humbler. Limits should be put to dilapidation. I do not have a magic formula; we must seek a solution together, because happiness is plural. One cannot be happy on his own. (D.M.)
We asked some bishops, local priests, and missionaries around Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, about their expectations from a Pope coming from the world’s south.
A struggle for democracy and freedom, communion with the poor and the defenceless, commitment to dialogue among faiths and ethnic communities: this should be the basis of Pope Francis’s relationship with the African Churches, according to some Bishops and religious in this continent.
Monsignor Matthew Hassan Kukah, Bishop of the Nigerian diocese of Sokoto, said that the new Pontiff will have to guarantee above all “the moral support of the Universal Church” to the Bishops and populations of Africa, which is on a path of growth. “As emphasized in 2009 by the Second African Synod, in the continent democracy, spaces of freedom, and dialogue among religious and ethnic communities are primary issues”, said Monsignor Kukah.
The Bishop expressed hope that the new Pope will develop a “more critical view on social injustice and the erosion of human dignity.” This also refers to the continuing attacks and repression in North Nigeria, today among the most difficult areas of the continent. “The poor are not only the ones without money, but also – and maybe above all – those not able to defend themselves”, explained Bishop Kukah.
“The choice of the name Francis draws hope that the Saint of Assisi will become the model of a papacy focused on the poor and destitute,” said Monsignor Anthony Ireri Makobo, Apostolic Vicar of the Kenyan diocese of Isiolo. The Apostolic Vicar expressed joy over the choice of Pontiff from the world’s South, and in particular Latin America. “The Church of South America is full of life, just like the one in Africa,” stressed Monsignor Makobo.
“We thank the Lord for the new pastor, we pray that he succeeds in his mission, very similar to ours here in Ivory Coast: brotherhood and peaceful coexistence with other faiths require a gesture of openness on the part of the universal Church” said the Bishop of the Archdiocese of Korhogo Bishop Marie-Daniel Dadiet. “The first words and the first acts of Pope Francis are encouraging signs of the path he wants to follow, being close to all – the great and the little, the powerful and the weak – and encouraging the faithful to open themselves to others.”
“We expect that the new Pope will stress Interreligious dialogue, which is an opportunity for the Catholic Church and all other monotheistic religions to get to know each other in mutual respect, establishing good relations of brotherhood, understanding and friendliness. These are needed more than ever in today’s world,” insisted the bishop
This new Pope of the Roman Catholic Church is the first from Latin America, from the Jesuit order, and the first to take the name of Francis.
“We’re happy because we have a new Pope and because the choice of a Latin American shows that the Church is opening, is now focused on the entire world. It’s not just a church focused on Europe. Pope Francis will revitalize the Church in its mission of making disciples in all nations. We are waiting for him here in Brazil for the Youth Day in July.” According to José María Aracendo, president of the Episcopal Conference of Argentina, the new Pope “will deepen the space of evangelizing and the nearness of the Church to the people and their problems. Pope Francis will give new strength to a missionary Church at the service of mankind”. The hope of a phase characterized by “fraternal missionary work” was expressed also by Monsignor Jorge Lozano, Archbishop of the Argentine city of Gualeguachú.
Fr. Benedict Joseph, spokesman for the Episcopal Conference of Sri Lanka, hopes that Pope Francis will focus on missionary work. “We are happy for Latin America, but also for Asia and the entire Universal Church, now called to face the world’s challenges with a different spirit,” said Fr. Joseph. The need to revive the Church, according to the Episcopal Conference spokesman, is made more pressing by the uncertainty of the administration of the Vatican government. “The choice of a non-Italian Cardinal, who doesn’t come from the Curia, raises hopes for a pontificate open to the world like never before.”
From Jerusalem, through the site of the Custody of the Holy Land, the Custodian Pierbattista Pizzaballa OFM, didn’t hide his surprise: “I was very surprised when I heard the name. I wasn’t expecting it and I was shocked. A day earlier, I was speaking about it with the Apostolic Nuncio in Jordan, who hoped that the new Pope would take a name such as Joseph or Francis, as a prophetic gesture for the future. And it happened. I feel that there is a plan in this name.”
The future of Christians in the Middle East is among the most delicate issues that the new Pontiff will have to address. “In this sense, I believe that the election of the Pope was seen as a sign of peace and hope in charity. The Pope belongs to everyone, especially those suffering,” said Monsignor Jean Benjamin Sleiman, the Latin Archbishop of Baghdad.
In Iraq, the election of Pope Francis “was an important event for the Chaldean Church, Middle East Christians, and the countries that went through the Arab spring” because his witness “will direct and guide people from the winter to a true spring,” said His Beatitude Mar Louis Raphael I Sako, Patriarch of Iraq’s Chaldean Church.
According to him, the violence and hardship endured by Argentina in the recent past, including the years under a murderous military dictatorship, are a fundamental part of the new pontiff’s upbringing. “It is a positive aspect, because he personally experienced these times and will thus be able to encourage people to believe in change, and not give in to desperation and discouragement,” the Patriarch explained.
For Patriarch Sako, the Jesuit pope has already given new life to mission. “He has demonstrated that the Church’s universality is not limited to one country, language, or ethnic group, that it is open-minded, an evidence of the greatness of serving the Gospel.”
Catholics in mainland China hope that Pope Francis will help establish Sino-Vatican relations and visit China some day. This wish was not fulfilled by previous popes, but some – and among them a priest in the northern Hebei province – even warned the pontiff not to compromise with atheists and Communist authorities, hoping that the new Pope will care about the clandestine Church, especially with regard to the appointment of bishops.
The priest also hoped the Pope would be cautious with those Holy See officials leaning towards “compromise” with Beijing authorities because such a compromise would deepen the wounds of Catholics in China and widen the rifts between them.
A nun, who had studied abroad, said that the Pope will help improve Sino-Vatican relations and the development of the Church in China. “The appointment of bishops can be resolved in a better way, not an extreme one. Catholics in China might increase their collaboration and exchange with Church organizations in different countries,” she observed. Therefore, the official and clandestine Church communities in China can be gradually united.
As Pope Francis is well known for his simple lifestyle, Catholics in China hope his leadership will help the Church, including the Catholic clergy and sisters in China, not to succumb to secularization and to strengthen their spiritual life.
“This will help the training of Catholics in China since the moral life of some priests and sisters in China is poor. The pope’s simplicity of life will influence the Church,” a sister said.
“I really hope the Holy Father will care for the little flock in mainland China,” a laywoman in eastern China said, “we are like a feeble limb of Jesus Christ.”
Meeting the needs of the poor, a simple lifestyle, evangelic freedom, openness to dialogue. These are some of the features of the new pope according to Monsignor Bruno Forte, Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto (Italy).
What can be said about Pope Francis’ first acts?
I think he wanted to send, from the beginning, a message of unity, a signal to the entire world, combining universality and local identity. The name he chose, Francis, is noteworthy. It outlines a programme and a lifestyle. The lifestyle of someone who is humble, simple, close to the poor, loved by his people, and nonetheless respected by the ones who fear his evangelic freedom. In other words: a shepherd speaking in a simple and spontaneous manner. Asking for the people’s prayer before imparting the urbi et orbi blessing is a meaningful act.
Why did Pope Francis give such great importance to the city of Rome?
He is the bishop of Rome, or, more properly, the shepherd of Rome who, in God’s plan, presides in charity over all the churches in the world. His insistence on his relationship with the single local church of which he is now the bishop is something wonderful and moving. On the other hand, he is the first Latin American among Peter’s successors; Latin America is the continent with the highest number of Catholics, but it also experiences poverty and terrible inequalities. As he said, “my brother Cardinals have gone to the ends of the earth” to get the new bishop of Rome and this undoubtedly sends a message of hope and light to all the poor people on earth, to everybody waiting for justice and for attention.
How will Pope Francis speak to the contemporary world?
He will be the bishop of the destitute, the servant of the poor, the friend of the little ones, and in this way he will be able to give hope and peace to everybody. I feel that he will help the Church in giving an answer to the basic questions once asked by the Latin American theologian Gustavo Gutierrez: “How should we speak about God revealing Himself as love, in a context marked by poverty and oppression? How should we proclaim the God of life to those experiencing an untimely and unjust death? How can the gift of his love and justice be seen by innocent sufferers? What language should we use to tell those that are not considered people that they are children of God?” Pope Francis answers these questions with his smile and his simple acts, and he reminds us that God reaches every heart and speaks every language, that He is close to every human who is suffering because He speaks the language of love!
In his first speeches, the Pope underlined the word “brotherhood”…
In his first words he presents himself as a brother, as a bishop of the Church who presides in charity, determined to evangelize the people of Rome and then the others with new enthusiasm. Certainly, the new pope will continue giving an impulse to ecumenical dialogue ensuring that followers of other religions can trust him. As he said, he wants to be a servant of “confidence” among us and “brotherhood” among all peoples. His frankness, his deep sense of God will touch many hearts and will give way to truly unprecedented dialogues and meetings. Even non-believers will find a message for their lives in the words of this witness of God as a friend of humanity, in this bishop of Rome who is a servant of God’s servants: I am certain that everybody will feel respected, welcome, understood, and loved by him.
What did you feel when you heard the new Pope’s name?
I was very happy for the choice made by the Conclave. As I said, Pope Francis will certainly give strength and vitality to the Church. He will bring a change in the Church, which needs to proclaim the simple and revolutionary message of the Gospel to the contemporary world in a more widespread and up-to-date way. I personally appreciated the qualities of Pope Francis during my many visits to Argentina.
The synods of bishops call for a long process to assure the participation and contribution of all local Churches to the teaching service of the Church. When the Vatican II instituted the Synod of Bishops, the aim was to find and foster a concrete path to assert the collegiality of the magisterium: of the bishops with the Pope and of the people of God with their bishops. The task of the bishops to listen to the grassroots was strongly emphasized; and the Lineamenta and the Instrumentum Laboris prepared before each synod are tools to be used. In other words, the Church recognizes to be a community of disciples who need to discover and deepen the message of Christ, before being a community of apostles which strive to spread it out in the process called evangelization.
The Instrumentum Laboris of the forthcoming Synod on the New Evangelization clearly takes into consideration the suggestions submitted to the Secretariat of the Synod from bishops around the world, from Catholic Universities, and other apostolic bodies in the Church. The attention to the documents of the Vatican II - which is the Magna Charta of the new evangelization in the third millennium - is now more explicit.
What I find a serious omission is the lack of formal recognition of the contribution of the local Churches and apostolic bodies. Also, the criteria followed by the Secretariat of the Synod to accept certain suggestions and to exclude other ones are not clear. The only bodies mentioned in the footnotes are: Popes, Roman Congregations and Pontifical Councils. Yet the strategy of John Paul II with the five continental synods seemed to recognize the continental specific identity and differences of local Churches. The systematic overshadowing of the continental magisterium by the Secretariat of the Synod seems to be not an accident or an occasional oversight, but a policy which is not consistent with the broad understanding of Catholicity express in Lumen Gentium, where Catholicity includes elements of pluralism.
As a missionary with 40 years of involvement in African, sent by vocation to found and develop local Churches with their own explicit identity through inculturation, I feel the lack of recognition of local Churches as part and parcel of the universal magisterium of the Church to be a disqualification of the missionary endeavour. From my research, the reception of Synodal documents in Africa, both active and passive as it were, is modest to state the least. The reasons might be many but I would like to mention four:
* The celebration of the synod outside the frame of a given continent turns it into as a kind of bureaucratic initiative with hardly any real and lasting impact on local Churches.
* The time and space separation between celebration and document; for instance, Africae Munus was published two years after the actual celebration of the African Synod in Rome.
* The very poor involvement of local structures in the preparation and the dissemination of the document of a synod.
* The frequency of the synods: a new synod every three years gives little time to receive and digest the finding of the previous one.
All these causes end up torpedoing the intention of Vatican II, which rediscovered the synod as tools of participatory magisterium and a visible sign of collegiality. I say ‘rediscovered’ because during the first millennium the Synods were the most common tools of regional magisterium.
I have been involved in the study and reflection on the New Evangelization since the nineties of the last century, when John Paul II launched this new expression which became soon a slogan, and little understood as slogan usually are. Not all were in favour of the terminology for a variety of reasons. Then as now, I found the words rather foggy: it is not clear what the limitations of the ‘old’ evangelization are, and what should be done to allow the ‘new’ to emerge with clarity and freshness. The confusion favours the assertions of those fundamentalist groups which claim that the ‘new evangelization’ is the return to a pre-Vatican II Church, though the world is totally different. Hence I would encourage the identification of old traits to be phased out:
* less confession and more reconciliation: in an era of growing fundamentalism when religions are used to inject violence in civil society and blowing oneself up is considered a highly acceptable martyrdom, we need new and more convinced commitment to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, collaboration and solidarity.
* Less devotions and more discipleship: through a better and more widespread reading, actualization and internalization of the Word of God for personal and social conversion and transformation. Often devotions are self centred, little rites to snatch God’s favours and to ward off curses and fears.
* Less administration and more celebration of sacraments: the community is the celebrant and the priest is the president of the celebrating community. Today, many perceive the ordained minister as the real celebrant and the rest of the faithful as assistants only.
* Less religious apostolate and more social ministry. We need a more systematic commitment to the dissemination and contextualization of the Social Teaching of the Church, which implies as clearer recognition and autonomy of lay apostolate for the penetration of Gospel values in the realms of politics, economics, finances at national and global level. Clericalism is to be plainly denounced as one of the most serious limitation and mistake of the old evangelization, which generated the conviction that ordained ministers are the Church, though they set up less is than 1% of the full membership of the Church.
* Less soul focused redemption and more holistic salvation which is both in this world and in the fullness of the Kingdom to come. Salvation is not only for human being but for the whole of creation. This entails a more systematic attention to integrity of creation. The old evangelization was so concerned with redemption from sin that the mystery of creation was by far overlooked.
Last Christmas, many Christian churches were bombed by Boko Haram. John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, archbishop of Abuja, declared to Vatican Radio “we have done much to encourage dialogue with Islam, to promote respect and harmony. We need to hope that, besides events such these, we can continue the journey of dialogue and reconciliation. Most Nigerians want to live in peace. Now many young Christians are angry. We are trying to calm things down, but we must be clear with the government. The only way to diffuse the situation is to show to those who lost brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, that the government is able to rise to the challenge and eliminate the danger of terror attacks against innocent people”.
This was not the first bloody Christmas in Nigeria. On December 24, 2010 Muslim attacks on Christians left tens of victims. After the violence erupted in Jos in summer 2011, Felix Alaba Job, archbishop of Ibadan and president of the Episcopal Conference, declared that “security services have been monitoring Boko Haram for the past five years, yet they did not take any step to stop it. There are many security agencies in Nigeria, and no one seems capable of explaining conclusively who they are and what they really aim at”. Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, archbishop of Jos, says “Boko Haram and other local groups used to fight with bows and arrows. They have now started using bombs. We need to know if this is the result of local support or if there is an international connection”.
The Catholic Church asked the government to act against Boko Haram before the activities of this group degenerate in a true inter-confessional war. The bishop underlined that “the activities of Boko Haram aim at destabilizing the country. In using religion as the inspiration of their violence, we risk falling in the trap of the fanatics, this would destroy peace and divide the nation”.
On November 4, 2011, a new series of coordinated attacks hit the police headquarters, various local police stations, six churches in Damataru and caused the death of 150 people. Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme of Maiduguri declared “the causes of the violence are many. There are social, economics, political and religious factors. On the one hand there is a strong indoctrination of the youth to fight for the cause. In case they die, they are assured paradise. On the other hand, youth are brain washed by politicians who see their star fading, yet they want to remain in control and benefit from their position of power. Corruption is at the root of our social evil, and undermines the politics and economy of our country”.
In a recent interview, Matthew Kukah, bishop of Sokoto, said most analyses offerd by the media were superficial. “The dichotomy that pitches Christians in the south against Muslims in the north is a false. It ignores the millions of Christians that are in different parts of northern Nigeria ... The north, the poorest part of Nigeria, it is where you have the highest concentration of non-literate citizens and households that are vulnerable in terms of economic power. There is almost a total disconnect between the elite in the north and the ordinary people. There is a feeling of frustration - even Boko Haram has articulated this point. A lot of anger from ordinary people in the north is anger against their own elite whom they find are really not prepared to deal with the principles of Islam and are not addressing the social conditions around them”.
At the same time, bishop Kukah refused to believe that a religious war is close at hand. “I don't think anybody should become so paranoid – the bishop said - as to begin evoking the spirit of what happened in 1966. I think the events of the past weeks are significant: 20 or even 15 years ago Nigerians would have been out on the streets calling for the military. Today, a delegation of Muslim leaders went to the cathedral in Kano to address the Catholics whilst they were worshipping. We have cases of Muslims banding together and creating a wall to ensure that Christians can pray freely. I think many Nigerians are gradually moving beyond their religious frontiers. The ordinary people of Nigeria have now found their voices across ethnic and religious lines. It is good for democracy. I think our country is the better for it”.
The South African Catholic Bishops Conference has recently published a document on land reform. The bishops write about an issue which has wider implications and is a live topic in many other countries. We present here a slightly abridged version of the document.
The year 1994 held high hopes for many people in South Africa in terms of change and fulfilment of their dreams. Coming from a history of dispossession and the unequal distribution of land, many were looking forward to a more just and equitable land restitution and redistribution. At the time of the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela, only 13% of the land of the country was in the hands of black people, while 87% remained in the hands of white people.
Since then, many studies and many efforts have been made to redress this massive imbalance. However, in the first 16 years of democracy, only 6,9% of the land was redistributed. Furthermore the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform acknowledged that, of the land redistributed, 90% remained underproductive. This highlights our failure as a country to address this crucial issue which poses a serious threat to the food security of the nation, adding to a rapidly growing frustration among the millions of landless people in our country which can explode at any time. In fact the ongoing invasions of state, municipal and private properties by landless people are a sign that the growing frustration of landless people is already exploding.
Since a successful land reform policy is still proving to be elusive, all stakeholders have an urgent duty to engage with each other and with the government to ensure that the obstacles to progress are swiftly addressed. We, as the Catholic Church, are one such stakeholder, having been, ourselves, engaged in efforts to ensure a more just use of our own land. We therefore believe that we have an important role to play in the development of a just and viable vision for land reform in our country.
Our vision for land reform is informed by understandings of the land revealed in our Sacred Scriptures and in documents of our Church Tradition. Biblical stories such as the exodus from the slavery in Egypt inspired the dispossessed and oppressed people in South Africa to dream about liberation and a different South Africa. Thus, liberation in 1994 is not the end of the story. It must be completed with rooted-ness, landed-ness, and belonging, where people may live out their covenant relationship with God, the ultimate creator and owner of land.
In the Old Testament, in response to the Israelite assertion to own the land, there is an insistence that the earth belongs to God and that God has given it as a heritage to all the children of Israel. It is therefore to be shared among all the tribes, clans and families. So, whereas in Egypt and Babylonia all the land belonged to Pharaoh or to the king, in Israel, God is the true master of the land, and people are simply the administrators or stewards.
God’s ownership of the land has specific consequences. Nobody has the right to dispossess a person who has the use of land, for this would violate a divine right. The prophets (Isaiah 5:8; Micah 2:2) are particularly energetic in their condemnation of abuses of the rich who force the poor and small farmers to give up their family holdings.
Care for the land, therefore, implies seeing it not simply in material terms as geographical space, but in moral and theological terms as an opportunity for sharing and caring for the poor, the dispossessed, the stranger, the sojourner, the widow and orphan; in other words, those who have no status in the community, since being without land means to be without power and dignity. This same spirit of sharing was at the heart of the early Christian community in the Acts of the Apostles (2:44-45; 4:32-37) where all things were shared in common.
In the same vein, "the question of equitable agrarian reform in developing countries should not be ignored. The right to food, like the right to water, has an important place within the pursuit of other rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life. It is therefore necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination."
In the social teaching of the Church, the process of the concentration of landholdings is judged a scandal because it clearly goes against God's will and salvific plan, inasmuch as it deprives a large part of humanity of the benefit of the fruits of the earth. Perverse inequalities in the distribution of common goods and in each person's opportunities for development, as well as the dehumanizing imbalances in individual and collective relationships brought about by such a concentration, are the cause of conflicts that undermine the very life of society, leading to the break-up of the social fabric and the degradation of the natural environment.
The social teaching of the Church takes the principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods as its basis in identifying the criterion of the productive use of the land for the exercise of the right to ownership of it, and in condemning the ownership of large land estates (latifundia) as intrinsically illegitimate.
While the Church upholds the right to private property to assure the exercise of personal and family autonomy as an extension of human freedom, this right is not unconditional, but entails some very precise obligations. It is basically an instrument to implement the principle of the universal destination of material goods, and hence a means and not an end. The right of every person to the use of the goods needed in order to live sets a limit on the right of private property. Hence, "when a person is in extreme necessity he has the right to supply himself with what he needs out of the riches of others".
This doctrine was expounded by St Thomas Aquinas, and it helps in evaluating some complex situations of major socio-ethical importance, such as the expulsion of peasant farmers from land they have been farming, without guaranteeing their right to receive a portion necessary to sustain life; or, again, cases of occupation of uncultivated land on the part of peasant farmers who are not its owners and who live in conditions of dire poverty.
A socially responsible use of the right to property is suggested to be the promotion of family-owned and farmed enterprises that use family labour for the most part, but can tap into the external labour market by taking on paid workers. Such farms should be large enough to allow the family sufficient earning, to retain possession of the farm, to have access to the land credit market, and to ensure sustainability of the rural environment also through appropriate use of inputs.
The social teaching of the Church does not consider individual property the only legitimate form of land ownership, but also holds common property, which is a feature of the social structure of many indigenous populations, in particular consideration.
While the insufficient usage of large landholdings justifies expropriation, it must be emphasized, however, that according to the social teaching, agrarian reform cannot be confined simply to redistribution of the ownership of land. Expropriation of land and its redistribution are only one aspect — and not the most complex one — of an equitable and effective policy of agrarian reform.
The more farmers know about the productive capacities of the land and other inputs, and the various possible ways of satisfying the needs of those for whom the fruit of their work is intended, the more fruitful this work will be, especially as a means of personal fulfilment through the use of their own intelligence and freedom. Priority must therefore be given to setting up a system capable of providing the broadest possible range of knowledge and technical and scientific skills on the various educational levels.
See part 2 here.
The social tradition of the Church derives from the social implications of the Gospel and from the demands of social justice that are central to the relationship between God and the people in the biblical tradition. The prophetic tradition is just one outstanding example of how faith and fidelity to Yahweh requires just and life-giving relationships among human beings. Moreover, the message of the Gospel brings out the mystery of Christ and human dignity; the human vocation to communion, and the demands of justice and peace, all of which are summarised in the ìlaw of loveî that Jesus leaves to his disciples. This law is much more than an ethical norm: it is part of the revelation of God, of the nature and relationship with the Father. Therefore, the Social Gospel is integral part of the evangelising mission of the Church and leads to social transformation.
Throughout Christian history there are uncountable instances of persons and communities who responded to social questions, dilemmas, situations of injustice and oppression. Confronted with such issues, Christians have looked at them in the light of the Gospel and discerned what position to take and how to respond, putting into action their social responsibility. Outstanding examples feature in the life of the Fathers of the Church (e.g. John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, Benedict, Cyril and Methodius, among many others), then in the life of very many saints in all ages (e.g. Anthony, Thomas Moore, BartolomÈ de las Casas, Vincent de Paul, Daniele Comboni; down to the very many social apostles of the XIX c. and then figures such as Dorothy Day, Edith Stein and Maximilian Kolbe, and Oscar Romero closer to our days) and the expression of prophetic lifestyles and lay movements that have witnessed to the Gospel and regenerated social living in their times.
This led to the social praxis of the Church, namely the process in which social issues elicit various responses along with pastoral reflections promoting social transformation as the process unfolds. As new social issues arise, new discernment takes place, still enlightened by the Gospel, but also assisted by the social wisdom accrued earlier on in history; all in all, we are never the first ones to face social questions and it is very helpful to enter into dialogue with ancestors in faith who bear witness to the fruitfulness of the encounter between the Gospel and the problem that mankind encounters on its journey through history. Further discernment and evaluation in the light of faith lead to the recognition of principles for reflection on social questions, criteria for judgement and directives for action by the social teaching of the Church, and which constitute the starting point for the promotion of an integral and solidarity humanism.
The Churchís social teaching (known also as Social Doctrine of the Church) plays a guiding role in the struggle for a just society, but it does not offer easy answers to hard questions, and even less does it offer a blueprint for a perfect society. Rather, the social tradition presents principles for reflection, or values and assumptions that inform a fully humanised society. Therefore they are expected to be part of the world-view, of the reference values with which a solution to social questions can be constructed. In other words, the process of discernment reflects what value and meaning we give to life, to humanity and the human place in nature and society: such assumptions inform choices, attitudes and social behaviour and therefore give a specific orientation to the solutions sought for. Whereas principles for reflection constitute a firm and lasting point of reference, guidelines for action can change from situation to situation, in time and place; in fact, these are contingent judgements, based on the available information and human knowledge.
This points at the importance of criteria for judgement, at a level that lays in between principles and practical guidelines for action. These are assumptions that offer a perspective on how to establish a dialogue between principles for reflection and the specific situations at hand. Both human, social sciences and theological reflection play a role in this process. There is a need to understand critically and systematically the issues at hand, to find out what is happening, how and for what reasons; on the other hand, we need also to grasp the meaning of it all, and how we are called to respond to it in virtue of our humanity, which we fully understand in our relationship with God.
In other words, as the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (19) puts it, ìsocial doctrine [proposes] to all men and women a humanism that is up to the standards of Godís plan of love in history, an integral and solidarity humanism capable of creating a new social, economic and political order, founded on the dignity and freedom of every human person, to be brought about in peace, justice and solidarity.î
A large body of documents of various natures makes up such living, on-going legacy, both at the level of local and universal Church. Among other contributions, social Encyclicals stand out for their authoritative weight. These are the end result of a process of action and reflection started at the grassroots level through the action and prayerful reflection of Christian communities. Social encyclicals are not meant to propose any new world order but to unmask the underlying patterns of domination that are responsible for the social evils being analysed. Their function, therefore, is to set people free, unmasking social sin and directing ethical behaviour. Because they are a historical response to social issues, they might be historically limited, in the sense that there are ever new situations and major transformations taking place in society; but when read in historical perspective and within a living social tradition, social encyclicals remain a powerful source of inspiration and wisdom enlightened by faith.
The proclamation of the Word of God aims at Christian conversion, i.e. the complete and sincere adherence to Christ and his Gospel through faith. This conversion is manifested and realized through the Christian journey of the catechumenate, sacramental life and active belonging to a local Church. In this personal journey, marked by sacramental life and liturgical celebrations, the roles of the ordained ministers, liturgy and catechesis centred ministries are paramount. Evangelization offers the tools for conversion and aims at creating a new heaven and a new earth, where the Kingdom of God inhabits, that is a kind of social conversion from social sins and sinful structures whereby Godís presence and action in history is made socially visible. That is what Paul VI hints at in Evangelii Nuntiandi: ìBetween evangelization and human advancement-development and liberation there are profound links. They include links of anthropological order, because the man who is to be evangelized is not an abstract being but is subject to social and economic questions. They also include links in the theological order, since one cannot disassociate the plan of creation from the plan of redemption. The later touches the very concrete situations of injustice to be combated and of justice to be restored. Also includes links of evangelical order which is that of charity that cannot be proclaimed without promoting in justice and in peace the true, authentic advancement of manî (EN, 31)This passage implies what John Paul II repeatedly states in Centesimus Annus that the Social Doctrine is an important and specific part of the proclamation of the Gospel.This is why evangelization should be continually contextualized and inculturated, that is adapted to the different situations constantly being realized, about the rights and duties of every human being, about family life, about life in society, about international life, peace, justice and development ñ a message especially energetic today about liberation, making the Gospel resound in the complex world of production, labour, business, finance, politics, laws culture, social communication where man and women live. In this socially oriented evangelization the apostolate of the laity has to play a unique function. From this point of view we may assert that the ministry of Justice and Peace is a ministry which hinges first and foremost on the laity and religious brothers and sisters rather than on ordained ministers.
The principle of Common Good, according to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (CSDC) is the number one pillar of the Christian Social Doctrine and Ethic. It reads: The principle of common good, to which every aspect of social life must be related, if it is to attain its fullest meaning, stems from the dignity, unity and equality of all people. The common good does not consist in the simple sum of the particular goods of each one of a social entity. Belonging to everyone and to each person it is and remains ëcommoní, because it is indivisible and because only together it is possible to attained it, increase it and safeguard it effectiveness, with regard also to the future (164). Such an education is obviously paramount in order to challenge first, and then to change, transform and convert the western individualistic culture which is gradually poisoning the world, undermining the communitarian values of the traditional cultures of other continents. We can pinpoint a few areas of action.
Environment and Alternative Energy Sources - It is a rather complex item which implies among other things concrete and planned action against exploitation of natural resources, unplanned felling and burning of trees, deforestation, pollutions of rivers, genetic manipulations of plants and animals, unlawful disposal of chemicals and atomic wastes. Crucial too is the speedy shifting to alternative energy not depending on fossils, such as petrol and charcoal; what is meant is solar and aeolian energy sources combined with a refusal of one person one car culture and living habits.
Struggle against all forms of slavery - Particularly women and children are the victims of always newly re-emerging forms of slavery linked to sexual exploitation favoured by easy movement of people from one continent to another, high juvenile unemployment, wild and massive urbanization, perverse tourism, separation of family members such as husband and wife due to massive migrations, street children, child abuse, child labour.
Unjust International trade laws - Situations of economic neo colonialism, injustices in the international trade relations and commercial exchange in particular between the Nord and the South, with the former enforcing strict protectionist regulations at home and the latter forced to be open to the invasion of the products from the North, preventing the rise of locally rooted economies and stifling the springing up of indigenous entrepreneurs for jobsí creation.
Gender issues - Promotion of equal opportunities, abolition of cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation which affects no less than 135 million women; forced marriage; access of girls to education; women in public administration and politics.
Migrations - Urbanization problem and the massive growth of cities are others areas of concern, especially where demographic pressure is great and where human problems are often aggravated by the feelings of anonymity by masses of people. Efforts should be concentrated in the big cities where new customs and styles of living arise together with new forms of culture and communication.
Marginalized groups and minorities - The ministry of JPIC would foster human rights for minorities, marginalized groups, groups in danger (Natives in Latin-America), religious minorities and displaced persons.
Good governance and the rule of law -Respect for democratic systems, such as regular and transparent elections. In several African countries, rejection by the losers of the election results is a common future. The opposite is true as well: those in power never lose the elections because they use the machinery and finance of the state for their electoral gains. Good governance entails, as well, clear independence and separation of the judiciary, legislative and executive bodies. Another dangerous very entrenched opinion is that the one at the helm and his/her entourage are above the law. Civic education would be a crucial initiative for the promotion of both: good governance and the role of law. There are dioceses that have set up schools of politics, which offer something not offered by the faculties of political science in public universities.
Transparency and Accountability - Accountability, especially in the field of finances, is often very fragile on account of lack of documentation of injustices, corruption, impunity, dishonest use of resources, land grabbing, corruption in the financial system and misuse of donor funding.
Conflict Management and Peace Education - Particularly in areas affected by hostility and insecurity, caused by ethnicity, religious differences and politically motivated clashes. The ministry of reconciliation should go beyond the walls of the confessional box, the more so since all cultures and human groups have a great wealth of rituals, symbols and celebration to boost reconciliation. It is a real pity that the Catholic Church has privatized the process of reconciliation, turning it into the highly private sacrament of penance. We do hope that the ministry of JP will help to renew the theology and praxis of the ministry of reconciliation in the Church.
Advocacy - Advocacy is a newly emerging ministry in the area of JP. We say Advocacy, which is remarkably different from Lobbying. Advocacy is at the service of inculcating ethical values in public life and laws, whereas Lobbying is at the service, often with devious means of corruption and threats, of the interests of private groups and multinationals. What we have mentioned above concerning the offices of Brussels (AEPJN) and of Washington (AFJN) are initiatives in the area of advocacy.
The Church Social Actor
Professor George Kinoti of Nairobi University wrote that the Church is a boat with two oars: the religious and the social. When one of them is idle, the boat starts spinning around at the risks of sinking. Yes, every Christian Church, from the universal one, to a diocese, to a parish, to a small Christian community ought to be sacrament of salvation for all: human persons and the cosmos at large. This integral salvation inevitably implies the social and the religious. In the mystery of the person of Jesus the two oars are embodied by the human and the divine.
Forty years ago, in 1971, the Synod of Bishops on Justice in the World wrote: Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Churchís mission for the redemption of human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation. (JW, 6)
The African Synod in 1994 was also very explicit: If the proclamation of justice and peace is an integral part of the task of evangelization, it follows that the promotion of these values should also be a part of the pastoral program of each Christian community (Ecclesia in Africa, 107)
The message is clear: now is time for action.