The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace


This is the introduction to the long section (nos. 37 – 81) about the work the Church is supposed to do ‘first, as a sacrament of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace in Africa as rooted in the Risen Christ.

3.1 - No. 37: “Having been envisioned as a Church-Family, the Church in Africa aims at reminding everyone that they are brothers and sisters (Mt 23:28), and that they all have the duty to seek in all things what contributes to building fellowship, peace (Rm 14:19) and justice. In God’s plan, the Church is not a means which can be used for any ideology whatsoever. On the contrary, in the mystery of the communication of God’s love to humanity, she is the sign and instrument of the communion of the human family with God himself, communion among men and communion with the whole of creation. She bears in her bosom the Word and the Bread of Life and of Love”.

3.2 -Reconciliation issue is very clearly and simple, the Victim is Jesus himself. Restored to life in a transfigured humanity, He now begins by healing and forgiving his disciples, commissioning them in turn to carry forth his message and mission to the whole world. When Christ reconciled the world to God, he himself certainly did not need reconciliation because He was sinless.
The story of the disciples of Emmaus, which speaks about the process of reconciliation between Jesus, who appears as a stranger retelling the story of Jesus, and the two disciples, who have left the community without hope of seeing Jesus again, ends with Jesus being recognised in the breaking of the Bread and the reconciliation was fully achieved. All this speaks clearly and surely of the way Jesus, the Word and the Bread of Life, helps in the reconciliation process.
If we take into consideration the phenomenon of colonialism in Africa, we can easily outline two aspects of that atypical history:
a) Christians conquered foreign lands without a plausible reason.
b) Between Africans and Christian Europeans, relationship was never easy and cordial and very often difficult.
To get Freedom and Independence it was necessary, for the Africans, to wage a war. At the moment of reconciliation Victims and the Reconcilers had to struggle, sometimes, to reach peace. Can we speak of Christian reconciliation?
Reconciliation is the work of God, and not just a human achievement. So a full Christian Reconciliation, in the frame of colonialism, can only be achieved by referring to Christ’s Death and Resurrection. That way is not easy because “God initiates the work of reconciliation in the lives of the victims”.

3.3 – The second point to be tackled is Justice, which is usually defined ‘unicuique suum’. Give everybody what is his or hers.
Jesus has given us in the Gospel several examples of “being just” towards the Father and the civil Society. In Luke 20: 21-26 Jesus who was asked to pay the ‘didrachma’ for himself and Peter. Luke and other Evangelists refer the question of the ‘tribute’ to be paid to Caesar. Jesus indicates the heavenly Father as reference of our perfection and justice.
As we have seen, the text on ‘salt and light’ ends by saying: “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father”.
Justice has to be practiced in private and public relationship, by respecting first and foremost the human person. Then come all other duties, respecting reciprocity in social relations and true laws for the betterment of community, of nature and environment.
Sometimes we stress, almost uncritically, the topic of corruption at social and governmental level, but that does not absorb the full meaning and the concern of justice. In our experience we see, unfortunately, that justice is not an easy and common virtue.

3.4 – The definition of Peace is well known: “Opus iustitiae pax”: Peace is the fruit of justice; or the other: development is the new name for peace… (Paul VI).
The Risen Lord, on the evening of that same day, greeted the disciples by saying: Peace be with you. It is the first fruit of Resurrection as a clear message of Reconciliation with God.
St. Gregory of Nyssa comments:” He is our peace, who has made both one. Since Christ is our peace we shall be living up to the name of Christian if we let Christ be seen in our lives by letting peace reign in our hearts.
Pope Benedict has given as theme for the next year ‘day of peace: “The human person: the heart of peace”. Peace is the apex of life on earth, but we cannot reach it unless we work hard for Reconciliation and Justice. Our history is full of wars and negotiations to build up peace. Are we going to reach, here on earth, that goal?

In no.39 of ‘Lineamenta’ we read: “From a tradition marked by sacredness of life, fellowship and a sense of the Word comes the characterisation of the Church as Family of God”.
If we use the rich and meaningful title ‘Family of God’ as synonym or image of ‘Church’, we have to take into consideration that the traditional African family is changing, fading away, under imported cultural values and the many local problems of different nature, socio-economical as well as religious. So, I think, we cannot refer, sic et simpliciter, to that definition of the Church.
In no. 40 it is said more precisely:” The mission of a Church which wishes to be the Family of God in Africa can only be understood as flowing from this communication of life and the unity-fellowship which comes from the peace given to us by the Blood Christ poured out for u. We can say, then, that if we truly enter into this mystery of the Church-Family of God, and if Africa is afflicted by poverty, corruption, injustice and violence (cfr. nos.11-23), the Church is to be a community which heals, reconciles, forgives and encourages”.
So we better speak of vision, rather than a reality.

3.5 – Here there are two descriptions of the Church: one negative and the other positive.
A) Negative: In God’s plan, the Church is not a means which can be used for any ideology whatsoever. It is not clear the meaning of this observation: the words ‘any ideology’ could indicate social or political solutions, which would not help but rather jeopardize the mission and the work of the Church.
B) Positive: The second is the theological definition of the Church as “mystery of the communication of God’s love to humanity” gives a powerful and clear ground to build upon her mission of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace, avoiding any form of misinterpretation of her mission. In this sense we speak of ‘sacrament’, which stands as visible sign of supernatural action. Reconciliation, Justice and Peace must be rooted in the practice of the Beatitudes.
In this context we read the quotation of Pope Benedict XVI, as conclusion of no. 40: “The Church is God’s family in the world. In this family no one ought to go without the necessities of life” (Deus Caritas est, 25b). In other words: human promotion should spring from faith and charity. Any other proposal would spring more from social-political than Christian source.

3.6 –The Church’s Social Doctrine and her Evangelising Mission. (nos.41 – 52)
The clear link between human development and Church’s Mission is immediately reaffirmed, and that orients reflection and proposal towards God. “For the Church, “to evangelise is to develop man in all the dimensions of this vocation as a child of God” (Symposium S.E.C.A.M., Kinshasa, 1984). The Social Doctrine of the Church has a long outstanding tradition, which has been duly publicized through the printing of the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, in 2004.

3.6.1 – Fundamental Principles of the Social Doctrine:
a) - The Theological and Anthropological Foundation (nos. 42.43).
The Church’s specific mission is to be the reflection of God’s love in the world for every human being. Humanity, therefore, in the course of history, is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine, which is guided by the principle of the dignity of the human person.
God created man in his image (Gn 1:27), made him steward of creation (Gn 2:15; Wis 9:1-5). Work is the place where man exercises his role as steward. At the same time, the sacred texts draw attention to the temporal character of earthly realities (1 Tim 6:6-10; 1 Cor 7:29-31).

b) – Fundamental Principles on Justice (nos. 44- 47).
Every person has a duty to work and enjoy the fruits of one’s labour, the sacred texts emphasise the solidarity of all creation as a fundamental principle which guarantees unity, justice and peace.
The universal destination of goods requires everyone’s efforts to ensure that all peoples will have the necessary conditions for their integral development. The Church highlights her preferential choice for the poor (the primacy of Christ’s charity). (44)
New technology and scientific knowledge should be placed at the service of man’s primary needs. (45)
The common good is the social and community dimension of the moral good. Responsibility for the common good does not rest with the State only, but also individual.
The just order of society and the State is essential duty of politics. (46)
To achieve this order calls for the collaboration and participation of all components of society. This is why the Church insists on respect for, and application of the principle of subsidiarity. The Church is opposed to any excessive forms of centralisation, bureaucracy, presence of the State and its administrative structure. One of the implications of the principle of subsidiarity is participation. No citizen can shrink from this duty of participation in making his own the joys and sufferings of others, nor can the People of God, the Church, avoid this duty of participation. (47)

3.6.2 – Temptations to Overcome. (Nos. 48-52)
In order for the Church to fulfil her mission and make the Kingdom of God present in history, calls for solidarity with all creation. This requires an ongoing conversion. God alone is capable of delivering us from evil and temptation, following Christ’s example. (48)
The first temptation (Lk 4:1-5). is to transform stones into bread Christ as the True Bread of Life calls us to conversion and creating a real, solid culture of work done well.(49)
In the second temptation (Lk 4:5-9) Jesus reveals a criticism of politics in presuming to be the exclusive mediator of liberation, thus making itself Absolute…African politicians are not spared from this temptation : Several politicians tend to ignore religion or want to get rid of it…to set themselves up as master of life. There is only One who guarantees life; he is not an idol in the least, but the true God. We have to mention the victims in the recent history of our countries, the men and women brutally torn to pieces by the bullets of African and foreign dictators. Christians sometimes succeed in organising the political and economical destiny of their peoples, but at times they are source of division, inter-ethnic wars, corruption and other evils which trouble the continent. (50 -51)
The third temptation (Lk 4:9-13) reveals the causes of economic and political illusions: the Christian logic is to ask oneself about the goal of faith in this world: the Kingdom is present and must be seen and experienced at the present moment “. (52)
Conclusion: I think that it is not enough to speak about the necessity of “effective Christian witness”, there is a high need of Christian Leaders and Professionals, as we are going to say later on.