The Path of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa

Monday, 11 April 2005

Vatican City (Fides Service) - On the solemnity of the Epiphany 1989, the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, announced his intention to convoke a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa. The publication of the Lineamenta in July 1990 in Lome (Togo), during a meeting of the African Bishops’ Conferences, marked the beginning of the stage of reflection and preparation which led to the drafting of the Instrumentum or laboris working paper, published in February 1993 in Kampala (Uganda) during the Pope’s ninth pastoral visit to Africa.
The Special Synod for Africa with the theme “The Church in Africa and her evangelising mission towards the year 2000: ‘You will be my witnesses’ (Acts 1,8), opened with great solemnity and festivity with a Mass which included with elements of African culture in Saint Peter’s Square on Sunday 10 April 1994. Sadly the Bishops of Rwanda were unable to be present. In his homily Pope John Paul II voiced deep concern for Rwanda and he said “I wish to remember now the people and the Church of Rwanda, sorely tried at this moment by an awful tragedy, linked with the assassination of the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi. I share your suffering dear Bishops in the face of this new catastrophic wave of violence and death which, sweeping across this beloved nation, has caused tremendous shedding of blood, even the blood of priests, Religious and catechists, innocent victims of such insane hatred. Together with you gathered for this African Synod and in spiritual communion with the Bishops of Rwanda, unable to be with us today, I feel bound to launch an appeal to stop the homicidal hand of these criminals. Together with you, I lift up my voice to say to everyone: this violence must stop, this tragedy must stop, this fratricidal killing must stop!”.
The work of the Synod for Africa, the first in the history of the Church, was influenced by the tragic news coming from Rwanda. On April 14 the Pope celebrated a special Mass for the people of Rwanda and the Synod Fathers launched a “pressing appeal” for reconciliation and negotiations for peace in Rwanda. In the messaged signed by the three Presidents delegate, the Synod Fathers expressed “profound sadness for the tragic events” and urged “all those involved in the conflict to silence the arms and put an end to the atrocities and killings”. The appeal was in answer to a letter from the Rwandan Bishops saying they were unable to attend the Synod because of the tragic situation in their country.
For a whole month, following the Instrumentum laboris, the Synod Fathers discussed the theme of evangelisation in general from five aspects: proclamation of the message, inculturation, dialogue, justice and peace, means of social communications.
In the “Message to the People of God” drawn up by the Synod Fathers at the end of the assembly, the 315 participants described the event as “Synod of the Resurrection, Synod of hope” and they thanked God and the Pope for its convocation. After rendering homage to the heroic work of many generations of missionaries “to bring to us that which they held most dear: Jesus Christ”, they spoke of a new beginning in the history of the evangelisation of Africa. They presented the theme of inculturation in its many aspects and dimensions, and listed the main topics discussed (family, justice and peace, war, political involvement, poverty, disease, self financing, means of social communications, formation…). The Message also consisted in a series of appeals to different categories of people: priests, families, ecclesial communities, schools and research centres theologians, laity, religious men and women, catechists, seminarians, youth, women. “In thanksgiving for the faith that we have received and inspired by great joy, we turn towards to the Year 2000 which is approaching - the Synod Fathers said in their final Message -. We are filled with hope and determined to share the Good of Salvation in Jesus Christ with every man and woman”. (S.L.) (Agenzia Fides 11/4/2005. righe parole)