Vatican City (Fides Service) - The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, signed the post synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Africa in Yaounde, Cameroon, on 14 September 1995. The document was drafted, the Pope said, at the request of the participants at the Special Synod for Africa “to bring to the attention of the whole Church the results of their reflections and prayers, discussions and exchanges”. Its highly significant promulgation in Africa opened the celebration stage of the Synod held in Rome from the 10 April to 8 May 1994. It was John Paul II’s first major document on Africa.
The introduction traces the Synod’s remote origins and main stages of preparation: starting from the Second Vatican Council, and then the Symposium of the Bishops’ Conferences of Africa and Madagascar inaugurated by Pope Paul VI in Kampala, Uganda in 1969, up to the drafting of the basic documents for the work of the Synod, the Lineamenta and the Instrumentum Laboris.
Chapter one of Ecclesia in Africa explains why the Synod was “an historic moment of grace”, lived by the Synod fathers keenly aware “of what it means to be Catholics and Africans”. Chapter two traces the story of the continent’s evangelisation from the first centuries to the great missionary endeavours of the 19th and 20th century. With the Synod, the Pope renders fervent homage to missionaries. And he asks “Where are the hope and optimism brought by the Gospel?” thinking of Africa today, recalling that the Synod compared the continent to the man found half dead on the road to Jericho and expresses the hope that “the Church will continue patiently and tirelessly its work as a Good Samaritan”.
Chapter three deals with the priority subjects of evangelisation and inculturation, starting from Christ’s missionary command to the Church and handed on by the Synod: “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1,8). Inculturation, the Holy Father said, “includes two dimensions: on the one hand, "the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity" and, on the other, "the insertion of Christianity in the various human cultures”. At the heart of evangelisation there must be love and respect for the person, expressed concretely in assistance for integral human development and the promotion of respect for the dignity of every human being.
Chapter four deals, in view of the third Christian Millennium, with “present day challenges” facing the Church in Africa. It also stresses the dignity of the family, “the foundation on which the social edifice is built”.
In Chapter five, with the title “You will be my witnesses in Africa” John Paul II appears to rally all forces of evangelisation as he mentions the different operators of mission, underlining the first form of witness through personal holiness open to the assimilation of every good value of the society in which we live. He expresses his hope for the formation of an active laity in the Church, committed to its social duties in a Christian spirit.
Chapter six “Building the Kingdom of God”, focuses on the need to promote justice and peace in present day Africa. For the protection of human rights the Church has an urgent prophetic role. A role which demands that all Christians assimilate the Church’s Social teaching.
This chapter also mentions the serious problems afflicting the continent: youth without a future, the scourge of AIDS, diseases, the tragedy of many wars causing unspeakable suffering. In this sense the Pope says the evil sale of arms must stop and solutions must be found to the serious predicament of refugees. The Holy Father does not fail to mention the question of international debts, an extremely heavy burden in almost every country of Africa, and he appeals “to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and all foreign creditors to alleviate the crushing debts of the African nations”.
Chapter seven extends the vision of mission. For John Paul II what is needed is “organic pastoral solidarity” on the continental scale, which goes beyond the borders of dioceses and nations. This is achieved first of all by African fidei donum priests, missionary institutes which welcome African members and also by the activity of the Pontifical Mission Societies.
In the document’s Conclusion the Pope urges the People of God in Africa to prepare for the Third Christian Millennium by implementing the guidelines he presents in the Ecclesia in Africa document. (S.L.) (Agenzia Fides 11/4/2005)