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


The Church’s mission is to proclaim the good news of salvation, a salvation that frees man, every man, in every way: spiritually, morally, culturally, economically and socially. This is the mission of the Church-Family of God in Africa. All members of the Church are called to this task, whatever their place and circumstances of life. (53)
This is the introduction to the longest and the most ‘down-to-earth’ Pastoral chapter of the ‘Lineamenta’. I am going to present a sketch of it

4.1 – The Church in Her Hierarchical Aspect and Witness in the World

4.1.1 – The Role of the Bishop and Bishops’ Conferences.
The bishop is the first Pastor of the local Church, thus this responsibility falls primarily on him. He is to manifest a genuine determination in finding solutions to problems by detecting their real causes. The bishop is to be a reconciler without any preconceptions. The bishop’s action will be effective in collegiality and solidarity with his confreres in the episcopacy. Bishops conferences should re-establish and make truly operational various Justice and Peace Commissions. Each bishop’s conference will have to exercise particular pastoral care in responding to the needs of the various segments of society (groups of experts) (nos.53-56).

4.1.2 - Justice and Peace Episcopal Commission (each conference or each diocese ought to have a commission) (no. 57)

4.1.3 – Priests, Consecrated Persons and Formation Institutions in the Church.
a) – Priests.
The specific mission of priests and pastoral workers in the Church is not political, economic or social in nature. Priests contribute towards progress in reconciliation, peace and justice in Africa through their preaching, catechesis, pastoral care of the family. (58).
b) – Consecrated Persons.
They are called to work for the advent of reconciliation, justice and peace by living their charisms and fully embracing the evangelical counsels in their own communities and the world” (59).
c) – Formation Institutions in the Church.
Proper preparation is extremely important. Courses and teaching seminars on peace and justice need to be introduced into formation programs. Catholic educational institutions are called to make a valuable contribution. (60)

4.2 –Commitment of all the Faithful in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace.

4.2.1 – Identity and Mission of the Laity in the Church and the World.
The time has come for lay Christians in Africa to make a large-scale, resolute commitment to Church and the State. The mission of the laity pertains to the very nature of the Church. This is particularly important and needed in Africa today. The Church comprises of many members, but she is united; she is the Body of Christ, the People of God…The laity’s secular character determine the specificity of their mission… The role of the laity is to bring about the Kingdom of God in the administration and organisation of earthly realties according to the divine plan. The service of the laity shares in the sacramental character of the Church as the Sacrament of Salvation.

4.2.2 – The Importance of Formation of the Laity.
History of the evangelisation of Africa illustrates an important missionary commitment to education (Schools)…(65).The particular Churches in Africa have to ask themselves what efforts can be made to ensure that the laity are more aware of their responsibility in economic and political life. It is regrettable that in some places the Church has long neglected the formation and education of the laity to equip them to exercise their civic, political and social rights in the case of oppression. (66)

4.2.3 – Some Aspects Requiring Particular Attention.

4. 2.3.1 – Mutual Respect and Acceptance
To convince every African that the ethnic group, region and ideology are not absolute values, and therefore, should not be the principal reference points for their conduct and activity. This view of Christianity requires a break from negative forms of solidarity. (67) – Reconciliation and Forgiveness
The term ‘reconciliation’ can mean many things, according to culture and history of the event. “It can as well mean an agreement, a consensus or the resolution of a problem or dispute. Forgiveness refers more to the work within a person to regain peace and to heal the wound. The Church must help the victims to generously offer their forgiveness, even in the cases where the ones responsible for the crimes are rightly punished by the competent courts. It is necessary to free oneself from the hurt and forget, following the example of the Master of Life who freely forgave his executioners from the Cross: “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). (68-70) – Reconciliation and Healing
*The healing of the entire person, body and soul, heart and conscience, mind and will – is central and essential problem and topic in Africa. Sometimes people feel they are given, on healing, more attention by new religious movements and independent African Churches than by the historical ones.*(71)
A) – Healing in its social-religious and spiritual dimension
We have to be aware of the “importance of rediscovering Christ the Healer, as the Life-Giving Word who calls for reconciliation and intervenes with effective medicines, notably the sacraments which create family unity. Christ intervenes everywhere as a healer not only for spiritual health, but bodily health as well. The Church’s role in a divided Africa is to draw people together as brothers and sisters, including the non-baptized, under Christ, the Tree of Life and the Word of Reconciliation” .(72-73)
B) – Healing in its relation to politics, the economy and culture
In today’s Africa, each person must be saved through not only liberation of the spirit but liberation from internal and external war, economic exploitation, hunger, sickness, tribalism, injustices, dictatorship and corruption of all kinds. (74) – Violence and Poverty
Violence oftentimes is caused by poverty as a reaction to growing social isolation and an increasingly unjust, discriminating society. Violence is also a cultural element. Non-violence and peace have something to do with not only politics, the economy and the structures of society, but also education and religion. If the Church has the vocation to be the sign and sacrament of peace in and for the world, she must be involved in educating people on how to achieve peace. The non-violent resolution of conflicts is not a utopian ideal or a fiction. Pope J. Paul II stressed that no development of peoples is possible except through forgiveness”. (75-77) – To Put an End to the Arms Trade and the Savage Exploitation of African

The call for peace means demanding stop to the arms trade in areas of conflict. The material
force of arms needs to be replaced by the moral force of law. Giving laws a chance
implies that they have first to be created”. (78) – The Recognition of Minorities.
The call for peace means requiring the right of minorities be recognized. Wars often arise from lack of respect for minorities. The universal obligation of respect is based on two fundamental principles:
1) – inalienable dignity of every person, regardless of national, cultural, ethnic or racial origin of religious belief.
2) – the basic unity of the human race which finds its origin in God, the Creator of all things.
The freedom of individuals and communities to profess and practice their religion is an essential element for living in peace. Dialogue and reconciliation are the obligatory paths to peace”. (79-80) – The Subjective and Psychological Sources of War.
The subjective and psychological causes seem to be the traditional conflicts between tribes, the absence of great causes to bring together, projecting personal dissatisfaction and resentment on others and distrust taken an extreme. Frustration is also at the origin of social upheaval”. (81)

4.3 – Some reflections
4.3.1 - Today we ask ourselves: what is the understood ‘Ecclesiology’, which suggests the detailed description of the mission-witness of the Church? .
We have often heard that the Church is the Family of God in Africa. Definition of ‘Church’ as ‘Family’ refers to the ‘model’ of a “Church as Mystical Communion” more than to that of “Institution” which still seems to be the actual orientation in Africa.
To fulfil that aim, I think that the starting point should be the ‘collegiality and solidarity’ of all the members (Bishops, Priest, Consecrated Persons and Laity) of the Family. It is the Church at this level which expresses with authority the “sensus fidelium”. This sensus fidei may be described as an active capacity for spiritual discernment, an intuition that is formed by worshipping and living in communion as a faithful member of the Church. When this capacity is exercised in concert by the body of the faithful we may speak of the exercise of the sensus fidelium. After all the ‘veritas’ (truthfulness) of the ‘good news’ and success of the planned mission is guaranteed by the cooperation of all members. In this sense, it is high time to bridge the long overdue gap between the hierarchy and the laity. It is true: the ‘Lineamenta’ speak broadly on the commitment of ‘lay Christians in Africa’ (nos. 61- 81) .
This raises two observations:
a) What are the Christians supposed to do so that the Church is the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace, reflecting the Light of Christ on the World? The situation is so complex and integrated that it requires full participation of the Clergy and the Laity;
b) It seems unfair the “look warm of confidence in the laity, a sense that if they were not ridden with a very tight rein, there was no knowing what they might get up to. Odd, this lack of faith in the sensus fidelium. One might almost regard it as a lack of faith in the Holy Spirit. A promotion of a deep spirituality of laity can only be achieved in the life status of lay persons, according to their family duties and professional commitments. In other words the opening biblical text: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world “ (Mt 5:13-14) refers fully to them as well as the Clerics. And, as I said, to be “salt and light” – so that Reconciliation, Justice and Peace may be reached – means to practice “the Beatitudes” which are for all Christians.

4.3.2 - Finally I wish to refer to chapter III (nos. 24- 29):
“Religions in Service to Reconciliation, Peace and Justice in Africa” to say that this historical opportunity of working together towards the mentioned topics should not be underestimated and so being misused. Of course we have to be aware of some “Africa’s spiritual crooks” (The Tablet, 08-04-2000, p.478).
The dialogue with some Muslim communities, members of African Traditional Religion (ATR) and Other Christians while conducted in a true and loving charity and clarity, must produce exactly those fruits for which has been called the II Synod. It would be a perpetuation of scandal if, for lack of unity, the ecumenical dialogue would be unsuccessful. Quod Deus avertat!