The reception of the first African Synod was modest for several reasons. When the document of the first Synod, Ecclesia in Africa, was published in 1995, Africa was in a transition. The continent and its peoples were very weak both at home and on the international scene. The Church was still living in a ‘yes, sir’ mentality. Now, with the rise of stronger sense of self, and the greater responsibility placed on the local Churches, there is also a renewed inner strength. Ecclesia in Africa was the product of an African discussion still influenced from outside. The new document is different; Africae Munus is not a static document.
I was in Rome during the celebration of the Synod. I have a good memory of the discussions of those days. Participants had identified a strand of social transformations in the light of the Christian message. A transformation understood now in the light of the social doctrine of the Church. They identified in building the kingdom of God the most important action for the credibility of the Church in Africa. They realized what that meant facing dictatorships and the acceleration of democratic changes; and the role of the laity on all this.
During the flight taking him to Benin, where he signed the document of the Synod, Pope Benedict XVI spoke with the journalists present there. He proposed his view of Africa, the source of a fresh human approach good for the whole world. In Africa, he said, we must “dare” more and “go beyond”, we need “to give, as well as receive.” He said societies must oppose “the unconditional submission to the laws of the market and finance,” but also the “exacerbated and sterile nationalism and tribalism, which can become deadly,” and finally to the “extreme politicization of the religious tensions at the expense of common good, and the disintegration of human values, cultural, ethical and religious”. The Pope insisted on hope: “When I say that Africa is the continent of hope I do not do the easy rhetoric, but simply express a personal belief, which is also that of the Church. Instead, too often our spirit stops at prejudices or images that give a negative view of African reality and the result of pessimistic analysis”.
I have been in missionary ministry in Africa for over 40 years, and I am more than convinced of the truth of Benedict’s words. To recover the joy of life that flows from deep spiritual values and the contact with nature, the secularized and technological Western world needs an injection of Africa. In with many sport teams the arrival of African athletes coincides with the rising of a new star. In the XIX century, the descendants of enslaved Africans revived the faith and spirituality of the United States with their spirituals: a combination of songs and music; prayer, poetry and hope; sorrow for slavery and joy for the faith they received. In 1864, Daniel Comboni summed up his program and missionary methodology with the slogan Regenerating Africa through Africa. Today we should add: regeneration of Africa and the rest of the world with Africa. The anthropological sciences assure us that the human adventure began in Africa. The first humans appeared in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. From there they began to migrate to other continents. Today new inspirations from Africa, spiritual and human, religious and social, can rejuvenate the world.
The two African Synods of 1994 and 2009 strongly affirmed the global task of Africa. John Paul II in the exhortation Ecclesia in Africa spurred the local Churches of Africa to bring the faith, received with enthusiasm, in those areas of the continent not yet evangelized, as well as in the rest of the world. Benedict XI is now asking the African communities to promote reconciliation, justice, peace and the integrity of creation as visible and convincing fruits of their faith.