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 CNS Story:

SYNOD-OPEN Oct-5-2009 (740 words) With photos. xxxi

Synod opens with call on Africans to be forces for justice, peace

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Reconciled with one another and committed to justice, African Catholics must become active forces for justice and peace on the continent, said Cardinal Peter Turkson of Cape Coast, Ghana.

"On a continent, parts of which live under the shadow of conflict and death, the church must sow seeds of life," said the cardinal as he opened the work of the second special Synod of Bishops for Africa Oct. 5.

As recording secretary of the synod, Cardinal Turkson presented a theological reflection on the assembly's theme and its scriptural motto: "The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace. 'You are the salt of the earth. ... You are the light of the world.'"

The cardinal also outlined the realities of Africa and of the church that the assembly should keep in mind during its discussions, looking particularly at religious, social, political and economic realities.

The church, he said, "must preserve the continent and its people from the putrefying effects of hatred, violence, injustice and ethnocentrism."

"The church must purify and heal minds and hearts of corrupt and evil ways and administer her life-giving Gospel message to keep the continent and its people alive, preserving them in the path of virtue and Gospel values, such as reconciliation, justice and peace," Cardinal Turkson said.

The first synod for Africa, held 15 years ago, took place amid "a predominantly pessimistic world view of Africa," he said.

While some problems continue, the cardinal said, the church in Africa has grown numerically; the number of armed conflicts on the continent has decreased; more Africans are being elected or appointed to leadership positions in international religious orders; and the number of Catholic universities has grown along with the number of Catholics professionally prepared for work in the church, in politics and business.

Still, he said, the Catholic Church barely exists in much of North Africa; some priests and religious have difficulty remaining faithful to their vows; sects continue to attract large numbers of Catholics; and young people who travel to Europe or North America for study come home non-Catholic "because they felt less at home in the Catholic churches there."

Asked afterward about the challenge of celibacy for African priests and religious, Cardinal Turkson said, "It is not anything to hide or be ashamed of" because celibacy is a challenge for modern men and women all over the world, but church leaders must find new ways to respond to the challenge.

In his presentation to the synod, the cardinal said ethnic tensions and government corruption continue, and that the African people face new challenges because of the import of foreign cultural values and practices, including economic policies focused only on profit rather than the common good, and the acceptance of homosexuality and homosexual unions and of divorce and abortion.

Cardinal Turkson also spoke to the synod about drug trafficking and drug use increasing in Africa; arms trafficking escalating the violence of local conflicts; and pollution and climate change having a devastating impact on a continent where extreme weather already leads to drought, famine and desertification.

Before the cardinal spoke to the synod assembly, Pope Benedict XVI opened the meeting with a spiritual reflection, calling the synod members to listen to the Holy Spirit and to recognize that every blessing and every challenge is a result of human beings' relationship with God.

"If this is not correct, we cannot arrive at the truth, and this is the source of all the vices that destroy social relationships and peace in the world," he said. "Things are going wrong in the world because our relationship with God is not in order."

Social, political and economic analyses of African realities are necessary, but they are insufficient "if we do not discover that behind all the injustices of corruption and everything else there lies an unjust heart, a closure to God and, therefore, a falsification of the fundamental relationship upon which all other relationships are based," Pope Benedict said.

While material well-being comes only at a great cost, God offers his love and forgiveness to all for free, the pope said.

"We become Christians only if our faith is transformed into charity," he said.

Pope Benedict asked the synod members to work to ensure that the love of God, which is offered to all men and women, is able to cross boundaries of ethnicity, tribe and social class in Africa.


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