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Cardinal Turkson's Address to African Synod
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
by Spero News

May 26, 2010



Maputo, Mozambique


Your Eminence, My Lord Archbishops and Bishops, Very Rev. Msgr. Mario, Chargé d’Affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature in Mozambique, Very Rev. Monsignors, Rev. Fathers, my Sisters and Brothers of the Consecrated (Religious) life, Executive Members of SECAM, of Caritas Internationalis, Caritas Africana and Caritas Mozambicana, Honourable Members of Government and Ministers of State, Distinguished invited guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I greet you all warmly this morning on my own behalf and on behalf of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace (represented here by Msgr. Bernard Munono). On behalf of the same Pontifical council, on behalf of Caritas and on behalf of SECAM, I welcome you all heartily to this Post Synodal Consultation on the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. We thank God for the safe travel of all of you; and we are glad that you could all come, especially, all of you traditional partners of the Church in Africa.

Approximately ten years ago and under the presidency of my predecessor, the Servant of God Cardinal Francois-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuân, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace convened, in the context of the celebration of the Great Jubilee Year and in collaboration with Caritas Internationalis, a high-level intercontinental meeting of the Social Pastoral Department of the Latin-American Episcopal Council (DEPAS-CELAM), the Latin American and Caribbean Secretariat of Caritas (SELACC), and their counterparts in Africa, namely the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), the Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) and the African Regional Caritas. The scope of the meeting was to share, in the spirit of ecclesial communion, initiatives undertaken by the Churches of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean in the area of “Reconciliation, Conflict Resolution and Civil Peace-building”. This very city, Maputo, was chosen as the venue of that meeting, because of its exemplary role in the resolution of the conflicts that plagued this county for 18 years prior to their settlement in the General Peace Accord, signed in Rome on 4 October 1992.

Ten years after that significant ecclesial event, another important meeting of an ecclesial import is being held in this city (Maputo) to consider the fruits of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops of last October (2009) in Rome. By contrast with the event of ten years ago, this is a local continental event; and it is meant, in the setting of a joint reflection on the outcomes of the 2nd Synod for Africa, to help offices of Caritas Africana and Justice and Peace Commissions of local Churches discover pathways of collaborating to harmoniously serve their local Churches.


After Vatican II, as you well know, Pope Paul VI instituted the “Synod of Bishops” as a way of continuing the experience and work of the Council. Since 1967, there have been twenty-two (22) such assemblies. The first Synod for Africa: a Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, was held in April 1994, under the theme: “The Church in Africa and her Evangelizing Mission towards the year 2000: ‘You shall be my Witnesses’ (Acts 1:9). It addressed a message to the Church and to the world, which reflected the main thrusts of the synod proceedings, and voted on various resolutions, as propositions. From that point on, the synod fathers, and indeed the whole Church, expectantly awaited the Holy Father’s Post Synodal Exhortation, which would gather the fruits of the synod in a message from him, as the president of the synod, to mark the definitive conclusion of the collegial and consultative exercise (of the synod).

This the Pope did when he produced the post-synodal exhortation, Ecclesia in Africa (“the Church in Africa”), and presented it to Africa and the world at Yaounde, Cameroon, (on 14th September 1995), at Johannesburg, South Africa, (on 17th September 1995) and at Nairobi, Kenya, (on 19th September 1995).

With the promulgation of the Apostolic Exhortation, “Ecclesia in Africa”, the Supreme Pontiff, Pope John Paul II, did not only give to the Church in Africa and Madagascar the fruits of the first Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa, often referred to as “synod of the resurrection and hope” . Pope John Paul II also found a way of following the experiences, which his Apostolic Exhortation would make on the African continent, and how the Church in Africa and Madagascar would live it. So, on the tenth (10th) anniversary of the conclusion of the African Synod and at the 12th Meeting of the Post Synod Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops for the Special Assembly for Africa, the Pope observed: “Has not the time come to deepen this African Synod experience, for which many pastors of Africa have been pressing? The exceptional growth of the Church in Africa, the rapid succession of pastors, the new challenges that the continent must face demands responses that can stem only from a persevering and concerted effort to implement ‘Ecclesia in Africa’, thereby restoring renewed strength and more firmly-grounded hope to the continent in difficulty”.

When finally in his apostolic discernment, the Holy Father recognized that the time was ripe to pass from implementing “Ecclesia in Africa” to convoking another synod, he did not hesitate to make his intention known. On 13th November, 2004, on the 1650th anniversary of the birth of St. Augustine of Hippo, and at an audience granted to a group of African (SECAM) and European (CCE) Bishops, who had gathered in a symposium to consider Communion and Solidarity between Africa and Europe, Pope John Paul II made public his intention to convoke a “second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops”. He addressed the African and European Bishops as follows: “Welcoming the aspirations of the Post- Synodal Council, an expression of the hopes of the African Pastors, I take the occasion to announce my intention to convoke a Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. I entrust this project to your prayers, warmly inviting you all to implore the Lord for the precious gift of communion and peace for the beloved land of Africa”.

In the wake of his announcement of a Second African Synod, but within the context of the celebration of the year of the Eucharist, Pope John Paul II wrote to the Special Council for Africa of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops about the future African Synod, dropping hints about his expectations of the new synod for Africa. He wrote: “To build a prosperous and a stable society, Africa needs all her children to join forces....... May the future special assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops also encourage the strengthening of faith in Christ, our Saviour, our genuine reconciliation! The year of the Eucharist which we are celebrating is a particularly appropriate moment to strengthen or re-establish communion in relations between people and between human and religious groups as well as between nations...”

Pope Benedict XVI graciously accepted to confirm the project of his predecessor. In the second month of his election, on 22nd June 2005, (three months before the 10th anniversary of the promulgation of “Ecclesia in Africa”) and again before the Special Council for Africa of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, he announced his decision to convoke a second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops: “Desidero annunciare la mia intenzione di convocare la seconda assemblea special per l’Africa dei sinodo dei vescovi. ... Nutro grande fiducia che tale assise segni un ulteriore impulso nel continente africano all’evangelizzazione, al consolidamento e alla crescità della chiesa e alla promozione della riconciliazione e della pace”. This Special Assembly was to take place under the theme: “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 first synod had been convoked against a background of a predominantly pessimistic world view of Africa, and against a background of a peculiarly challenging and a “deplorably unfavourable” situation of the continent for the evangelizing mission of the Church in those closing years of the twentieth century. But it had also been described as synod of resurrection and hope; and it was expected to mark a turning point in the history of the continent.

Synod of resurrection and hope:

The first Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops was convened from 10 April to 8 May 1994, during the Easter season; and the significance of holding a synod in the Easter season was not lost on the Synod Fathers. Accordingly, the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclecia in Africa (EIA) would bristle with expressions of Easter joy and hope. From the very first pages, it would affirm that “the Church which is in Africa celebrated with joy and hope its faith in the Risen Christ during the four weeks of the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. The synod itself was intended to be an occasion of hope and resurrection, at the very moment when human events seemed to be tempting Africa to discouragement and despair. Since the Special Assembly for Africa received from Christ himself its profound significance, namely, the Synod of Resurrection, the Synod of Hope, it became, in its turn, a bearer of a word of hope and encouragement”, which was meant to “strengthen in all Africans hope of genuine liberation”. The vocation of the Church is to continue to announce the hope of Easter morning, the victory of light over darkness, of life over death, and of freedom from the slavery of sin in its various manifestations, including within individuals, societies and structures.

The significance of this characterization of the first synod was to root both its content and message in the paschal mystery, “which signifies death to sin and daily resurrection to new life (cf. Rom 6:4-5) that manifests itself in the coherence between the faith and life of the disciple of Christ, as required by firm witness of the Gospel. The subsequent adoption of the ecclesiological model: Church-family of God, was a choice of a pertinent locus and imagery where the Church in Africa, beset by estranging experiences of ethnocentrism, conflicts, injustice, abuses of rights and dignities etc., could make an experience of living in communion as a Church through death to sins of division and estrangement, and daily resurrection to new life of communion to manifest the coherence between faith and the life of a disciple.

To this end, the gathering of the fruits of the first synod in the Post Synod Exhortation: Ecclesia in Africa, of Pope John Paul II did, principally, two things:

1. It adopted a paradigm, church family of God, with which it sought to describe the identity and nature of the Church (in Africa) as called to live in the communion of an inclusive belongingness of every tribe and people (as in the Kingdom of God).

2. And it formulated a set of pastoral priorities: evangelization as Proclamation, evangelization as Inculturation, evangelization as Dialogue, evangelization as Justice and Peace and evangelization as Communication, to help build the church family of God.

With these measures, Pope John Paul II and the first synod hoped to give the Church in Africa a new impulse and a new élan for her life and activity on the continent, as a missionary Church, namely, a Church with a mission. They hoped to deepen the experience of the synod, and to implement Ecclesia in Africa in a persevering and concerted effort to restore renewed strength and a more firmly-grounded hope to a continent badly bruised variously by ethnic and religious conflicts (sometimes politically exploited), bad governance, oppressive and unfair investor-packages, arms and drug trafficking, migration, environmental degradation, poverty, disease etc.

Indeed, the Post Synod Exhortation, Ecclesia in Africa, is still being implemented, and the fruits of the first synod are still being gleaned in many local churches in Africa. But at the time the Bishops of the church in Africa gathered for a second time in synod with the Holy Father and other Bishops, the situation on the continent had also changed considerably.

The Instrumentum Laboris identified several facets of this new African reality, and the Relatio ante Disceptationem of the synod for Africa II considered a good of deal of them, after which it concluded: At the end of this survey, which is admittedly incomplete, it is clear that, although the continent and its Church are not yet out of the woods, they can still modestly rejoice in their achievement and positive performance (in governance, improved well-being of peoples and growth of the church), and begin to disclaim stereotypical generalizations about its conflicts, famine, corruption and bad governance.

The forty-eight countries that make up Sub-Sahara Africa show great differences in the situations of their churches, their governance and their socio-economic life. Out of these forty eight nations, only four: Somalia, Sudan, Chad and parts of Democratic Republic of Congo are presently at war; and at least two are at war because of foreign interference: mineral prospectors in the Congo, and religious politics in the Sudan.

Increasingly, war mongers and war criminals are being denounced, held accountable for crimes and prosecuted. An official of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been prosecuted, Charles Taylor of Liberia is before the international court, and the President of the Sudan is being blamed and threatened with arrest for the war in the Darfur.

The truth is that Africa has been burdened for too long by the media with everything that is loathsome to humankind; and it is time to “shift gears” and to have the truth about Africa told with love, for as La Stampa admits: “Non è piu il tempo di colpire lo stomaco dei lettori, cercando di emozionarli con imagini della morte e della fame. Non è servito a molto in questi anni. Dobbiamo parlare al cervello....... e spiegare che è una opportunità per tutti che l’Africa si sviluppi: sarebbe una soluzione per l’economia, la sicurezza e l’ambiente”. The G-8 countries and the countries of the world must love Africa in truth!

Generally considered to occupy the tenth position in world economy, Africa is however the second emerging world market after China. Thus, it is as the just ended G8 summit (in L’Aquila, Italy 2009) labelled it, a continent of opportunities. This needs to be true also for the people of the continent. And it is part of the mission of the Church-family of God in Africa to help make these opportunities real for the people of the continent.

It is hoped that the pursuit of reconciliation, justice and peace, made particularly Christian by their rootedness in love and mercy, would restore wholeness to the Church-family of God on the continent, and that the latter, as salt of the earth and light of the world, would heal “wounded human hearts, the ultimate hiding place for the causes of everything destabilizing the African continent”. 

Synod of a new Pentecost:

This is the mission of the church-family of God in Africa! Accordingly, when the Special Synod of Bishops for Africa gathered again fifteen years after its first instance, it was no longer to consider the Church in Africa in its identity and self-understanding as “witness of Christ” and “family of God”. It was to consider, this time, her activity and mission as “salt of the earth” and “light of the world”, and as “servants of reconciliation, justice and peace”. The church-family of God was to consider, in the second synod, her mission on the continent (and in the world); and for this the Holy Father, reflecting on the words of the opening song of the mid-morning prayer: “nunc, sancte, nobis Spiritus”, at the first gathering of the synod assembly, said: “We pray that Pentecost may not only be an event of the past, at the very beginning of the Church, but that it may be today, indeed, ‘nunc, sancte, nobis Spiritus.’” He went on then to exhort the synod assembly: “Let us pray the Lord to give us the Holy Spirit, that he may inspire a new Pentecost and help us to be his servants in the world at this time”. Being “servants: servants of reconciliation, justice and peace” in the world is the (prayed for) fruit of the new Pentecost.


A significant clue to the self-understanding of the Church in Africa as she emerged from the second synod resides in the passage from her characterization in the first synod as church-family of God to the invitation in the second synod to understand herself as servant of reconciliation, justice and peace, and as “salt of the earth and light of the world.

Indeed, when the second synod for Africa was announced, some notable church-groups on the continent (eg. CERAO) and theologians did indeed wonder, whether it was not too early to convoke a second synod for Africa. But once it began and it became clear, especially from its theme, that it had to do with issues of human society, living in society and with the challenges and exigencies of inter-personal relationships, opinions about the synod began to change.

• It began to dawn on people that they needed to distinguish between the concerns of the two synods, and yet see how closely related they are. The first synod, in considering the church as family of God, had dealt with the issue of the identity and nature of the church. The second synod, by contrast, undertook to deal with the mission of the church-family of God.

As already known, the first synod of Bishops for Africa enriched our understanding of the Church by considering her a family of God. The imagery of church-family of God was first and foremost one which described communion as the basic nature and identity of the Church. The church-family of God, therefore, is the expression of the identity of the Church as a reality in communion: in communion with God and in communion with one another. In this light, the theme of the second synod for Africa follows upon that of the first synod as an expression of mission for a church-family of God whose identity and nature is communion. 

It began also to dawn on them that there is a dialectic tension between the identity and the mission of the church; and that it is in dealing with this dialectic tension that the church in Africa realizes her historical character and begins to respond to her true character and identity as church-family of God and the (fraternal) body of Christ. In the second synod, the church in Africa recognized that she becomes truly the family of God and the brotherhood of Christ to the extent that she promotes an African church and society in which people are reconciled over and above their tribal and ethnic ties, their racial and cast determinations, and their gender differentiations.

The Church in Africa recognized that she can become truly the family of God she claims to be only to the extent that she becomes and promotes an African society that is sincere in its respect for law and order, for the rights of others and for an equal access to the resources of the land, and therefore, a society that lives in communion and enjoys peace. In other words, church-family of God realizes her nature and identity as family and brotherhood to the extent that she causes “family” and “brotherhood” to happen: to the extent that she becomes incarnate on earth (inculturates) in the Christian communities, in human society and in human history.

Indeed, the church in Africa must be the historical form of the Kingdom of God on the continent; and the church cannot have an identity that does not become historical and real in history. So, the invitation to the church-.family of God in Africa by the synod theme to be servants of reconciliation, justice and peace, as salt of the earth and light of the world is a challenge to the church in Africa to live up to her nature in the historical and concrete life of the continent by promoting reconciliation, justice and peace. It is a challenge to historical relevance and to concrete witness of identity (to inculturate) in the life and experiences of the continent. 

Now, an issue that arises from the need to inculturate the identity of the church in Africa and to make her relevant and responsive to the experiences (socio-political, cultural, economic etc.) of the people on the continent is that of method: what must be done to inculturate the church-family of God and make it relevant? How may one do it?

Indeed, the image and identity of the church as family of God, cannot be a mere affirmation, it must engender a mission, an action; for as the Holy Father observed in the opening mass of the synod, it is ideological to merely make proposals without moving on to action (fare proposte senza passare all’ azione è un’ ideologia). Accordingly, reflecting on the theme of the synod to the Roman Curia, as mission-statement for the church in Africa, the Holy Father observed: The task of Bishops was to transform theology into pastoral care, namely into a very concrete pastoral ministry in which the great perspectives found in sacred Scripture and Tradition find application in the activity of Bishops and priests in specific times and places.” In doing this, however, it is very important that one does not confuse “pastorals with politics” ; and it is clarity about one’s identity and the consciousness of being a church with a specific and an irreplaceable identity, namely, a church-family of God, which safeguards against confusing “pastoral action with “political action”.

This, indeed, is how the first synod and its adoption of the ecclesiological model: church-family of God, finds its greatest significance and pertinence; and these reside in how the ecclesiological model: church-family of God, makes a distinction between sociology and cultural anthropology, on one side, and theology, on the other side.

The imagery underlying the ecclesiological model, church-family of God, is undoubtedly a socio-cultural (and a biological) one which evokes biological and socio-cultural realities of parenthood, generation and filiation, kinship and fraternity, as well as networks of relationships which are generated by these biological and social processes. It also evokes such values as care for others, solidarity, dialogue, trust, acceptance and warmth which are manifested among members of a family. But predicated to God, as his family, and variously rooted in the Christology of the mystical body of Christ, in confiliation and in confraternity, church-family of God is a theological reality (category). Accordingly, the encounter of this ecclesiological model with anthropologies, cultures and politics must lead to this theological reality: church-family of God, taking up (assuming) what is positive and compatible in traditional African cultures and anthropologies, and correcting all that is not compatible with it. In this sense, the church in Africa provides an example of how the universal church, guided also by a clear sense of her identity as family of God, can engage the modern and post-modern cultures of the rest of the world as she carries out her mission.

Needless to say, it is also precisely in this that the church in Africa acts as a prophetic conscience of Africa herself and of the rest of the world, as they face the arrival and onslaught of atheistic, anti-humanist, anti-life and depersonalized cultural values and lifestyles from post-modern societies.

Thus, the second synod is inseparable from the first. In them the church in Africa is challenged to spring into action without delay, serving the reconciliation-needs, the justice-needs and the peace-needs of the continent, but maintaining its focus on its specific identity, as family of God. It is this focus on the specific identity of the church, as family of God from the first synod which keeps the mission and apostolic activity of being salt of the earth and light of the world of the second synod from straying into politics and becoming political ideologies. For, it is in its theological content and character as family of God that the church-family becomes an image of and a foreshadowing of the kingdom of God on earth and in history, animating the African society and the world with values of the kingdom of God, namely, reconciliation, justice, truth and peace. As the church in Africa left the second synod then, it hoped that her promotion and pursuit of reconciliation, justice and peace, made particularly Christian by their rooting in love, mercy and values of the kingdom would restore wholeness to the church, to the continent and its people, and grant them to experience their God-given opportunities and endowments.


Many are the challenges and abuses to communion and social order which the disregard for the just demands of relationship causes on the continent. The challenges and abuses are political, economic, social, religious, ethnic and tribal, environmental etc. The restoration of communion and just order in such cases is what reconciliation stands for; and it takes the form of the re-establishment of justice, which only restores peace and harmony to the Church-family of God and the family of society.

The theme, therefore, of the second synod for Africa, “the church in Africa in the service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace”, indeed, has to do with human life in society; but it is not a political theme, at least not primarily. The theme is a theological and a pastoral one: one which fulfils, on the one hand, the image of Church-family of God of the first synod for Africa, and call, on the other hand, on pastors, as observed above, “to transform theology into pastoral care, namely into a very concrete pastoral ministry in which the great perspectives found in sacred Scripture and Tradition find application in the activity of Bishops and priests in specific times and places.”

Accordingly, just as the Holy Father found reason to remind the synod that it was not primarily “a study session”, so did the synod fathers themselves repeatedly remind themselves that their gathering was not a “a type of the United Nations General Assembly”, where some political line of action was to be discussed and adopted.

All the same, the one clear lesson that one learns from the experiences of local churches in Latin America and their applications of the theology of liberation is that: addressing the justice- and peace-needs of oppressed and badly wounded peoples is a very tricky business, and a rather tight rope to walk in a field of political and ideological landmines! Local churches in Latin America and, indeed, also in Africa know of priests (pastors) who have forsaken the pastoral ministry to pursue political options. In the face of looming and widespread injustices, some pastors have preferred to be politicians and political leaders, believing more in political solutions than in pastoral solutions to the miseries of their communities.

Happily, the second Special Assembly of Bishops for Africa successfully walked the tight rope, considering their mission as servants of reconciliation, justice and peace, in the manner of shepherds and elders of a family; and the Holy Father was the first to acknowledge this.

In his address to the members of the Roman Curia, the Holy Father asked: "Did the Synod Fathers succeed in finding the rather narrow path between mere theological theory and immediate political action, the path of theshepherd?" and answered: "In my brief address at the end of the Synod I answered this question in the affirmative, in a conscious and explicit way”. The answer of the Pope suggests that in their interventions and discussions in the circoli minori, the synod Fathers understood that they would have to transform theology into pastoral care to carry out their mission of being salt of the earth and light of the world."

This understanding inspired the message that went out from the synod; and it was at work when the synod fathers gathered in circoli minori to formulate the 57 propositiones, whose adoption in the synod hall brought the collegial and consultative exercise of the synod to a close.

Cardinal Peter Kodwo Turkson

President Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

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