Patriarch Encourages Bishops in Africa Synod
Says Religious Leaders Have Key Role on Continent
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 6, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Christians, and in particular religious leaders, have a very real role to play in bringing about justice, peace and reconciliation, according to the patriarch of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church.
Patriarch Abuna Paulos said this today when addressing the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, in the presence of Benedict XVI.
The patriarch was invited by the Holy Father as a special guest to address the assembly, which is meeting to address the situation of the Church in Africa. The assembly is considering the theme, "The Church in Africa, at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace."
"In Christ we know that reconciliation is possible, justice can prevail, peace can endure," the Pope said after Patriarch Abuna Paulos had completed his intervention. "This is the message of hope which we are called to proclaim. This is the promise which the people of Africa long to see fulfilled in our day."
Benedict XVI thanked the patriarch for his participation in the synod, noting that his "presence bears eloquent witness to the antiquity and rich traditions of the Church in Africa."
In his address, Patriarch Abuna Paulus spoke of the long tradition of faith in Ethiopia, beginning with the first man, which historians believe lived in Ethiopia.
"For the Ethiopians," he noted, "the beginning of mankind, our present and our future, is marked today and forever by God and His salvation. Africa remains a religious continent whose people have believed in the Almighty God for centuries."
Patriarch Abuna Paulus also noted the place of Ethiopia in Christianity: "Ethiopia became the second nation after Israel to believe in Christ; and the Ethiopian Church became the first Church in Africa."
The patriarch mentioned the "celebrated scholars and religious fathers," as well as the monks, martyrs and saints who lived on the continent, as well as the current sufferings of Africa.
"Africa is a potentially wealthy continent, with fertile soil, natural resources, and a variety of plants and animal species," he explained. "Africa has a suitable climate and possesses several precious minerals. For it has been a continent with many untapped natural resources, many have still their eyes on it.
"It is also undeniable that the civilization gains in other parts of the world is the result of labor and resource from Africa.
"Africans have done such blessed works for the world. What has the world done for them?"
Patriarch Abuna Paulus affirmed that the continent's resources have been exploited by rich nations, and that Africa hasn't been supported in its efforts in development.
He named some of the challenges facing the continent, such as education, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, religious extremism, debt to foreign nations, civil war, the use of child soldiers, displacement of persons, and the lack of basic necessities such as food, potable water and shelter.
"Though Africa declared its freedom from colonialism long ago, there are still many circumstances which make it dependent on the rich countries," the patriarch stated. "The enormous debt, the exploitation of its natural resources by few, the traditional agricultural practice and unsatisfactory introduction of modern agricultural systems, the dependency of its people on rain which impacted negatively in ensuring food security, migration and brain drain of its people greatly affecting the continent."
Role to play
"I believe that we, religious leaders and heads of Churches, have a very unique task and responsibility," Patriarch Abuna Paulus said, "to acknowledge and sustain, when we deem it necessary, the suggestions that come from the people, as, on the contrary, to reject them when they contradict the respect and love for man, that has its roots in the Gospel."
"Christians are expected to be messengers of change in bringing justice, peace, reconciliation and development," he continued. "Fruits of peace and healing are possible, and they undermine all forms of violence, with the strength and the Christian intelligence of love.
"African religious leaders not only have to worry about the social works but also answer to the great spiritual needs of the women and men of Africa.
"Apostleship and social works cannot be treated separately. Social work is the meaning of apostleship. Every word has to be translated in practice. Hence, after every word and promise, practical actions need to follow."
"I am really very happy to participate to this Synod of the Catholic Church on Africa," the patriarch concluded. "I am an African. My Church is the oldest of Africa: a Church of Martyrs, Saints and monks.
"I carry my support as a friend and a brother to this endeavor of the Catholic Church for Africa."