When I was asked to develop this theme, I immediately referred to the important orientations of the African Synod where it refers to justice and peace (1). My presentation will therefore focus on an analysis of the actual reality with reference to the Synod’s orientations.
It is important to remember that, in general, Africa, particularly the Great Lakes Region, has become a hotbed of divisions among the ethnic communities. It is the place where the greatest number of refugees, evacuees and dispossessed come from. The field of “justice and peace” is undermined by inhuman situations which rather tend to make it a fertile ground for injustice and wars.
This reflection goes beyond simple moralization. The facts are there but the action taken is rather weak. After some references to the Synod’s important orientations, an attempt will be made to discover the actual situation and suggest some concrete plans of action in view of the new evangelization.
1. The African Synod’s Important Orientations
As regards that which concerns the theological principles of the Church’s commitment concerning justice and peace, No.51 presents this problem very clearly. Lay people are called to live the Gospel’s implications . Their testimony constitutes a prophetic challenge.
1. The basic idea of the Church as the Family of God excludes all ethnocentrism and any excessive particularism and favours solidarity and sharing. It preaches reconciliation and communion among ethnic groups (No.63).
2. The dignity of man, created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by the blood of Christ, constitutes the strongest basis for the Church in its social commitment, which on the other hand should imitate Christ in the world.
No.70 speaks about orientations, directives and commitments. It appeals for an awareness by Heads of State and introduces the initiatives taken by the Synod in the area of justice and peace:
1. The Church in Africa should develop its prophetic role and should speak for those who have no voice, denouncing and combating all that which lowers and destroys the human person.
2. The “Justice and Peace Commissions” should be set up at all levels so that social action will not be something improvised (No.106). The promotion of the values of Justice and Peace should form part of all the pastoral programmes of every Christian community (No 7). The Church, with the means at its disposal – education, health, sensibilization and social assistance – has the duty and the right to help in the building of a just and peaceful society (No.107).
3. Lay people are called upon to be actively involved in public life (No.108) and to work together with people of other beliefs (No.109), so that they may be able to answer to the great challenge to ensure a good running of public affairs in the political and economic fields (no.110-112). This is the price that has to be paid in order to arrive at having a State ruled by law (no.112).
II. The actual reality
II.1. Today’s situation
The African Synod was held after the outbreak of the crisis in Rwanda and in Burundi. The orientations as well as the recommendations which came out are very relevant as they take into consideration the various atrocities, which took place particularly in the Great Lakes Region, which were definitely a blow to “justice and peace”. The Synod has made a strong appeal to the laity. Unfortunately this is still made of a certain number of laypeople who are conscious of their role are assembled in the Catholic Action.
In reality, from the catechetical point of view, the Church is nothing but the family of all baptized. Today’s criticism is more aimed at the hierarchy of the Church than at the faithful gathered together.
II.2 Faith’s role
Often it is evident that there is a tendency to ignore the role which faith plays in the struggle for peace. This started with a popular opinion, prevalent in Rwanda after the genocide and which later reached Burundi, with the slogan Kiliziya yarakuye kirazira “the Church has suppressed taboos and interdictions”.
In my opinion, those who support this idea are to be classified among the culprits who are not acknowledged. This is a mistaken evaluation which limits the responsibility of the Church only to the hierarchy. The only explanation to this mistake is “infantilization”, whose victims are lay people.
State Administrators adopt underhanded strategies aimed at reserving power to only a few or at trying to attain power by all possible means, have always tried to eliminate any space for communion and have created a situation which favours the negation of positive values.
Between them the Catholic and Protestant Churches comprise about 80% of the Burundese population. This percentage has been widely made known to the public during the crisis period. As a result of this, some pertinent questions as to the validity of a Christian religion, which at the opportune moment has proved to be ineffective, have been put to the pastors.
The discussion is still going on and some conclusions seem to have been reached. Evangelization, in Burundi as well as in Rwanda, has had many failures because the greatest commandment of love has not had enough prophets who to put it into practice in the community. The 5th commandment “you shall not kill” has been violated during the electoral campaign, to the detriment of pastoral orientations. Even ecclesial structures have been hit by the scourge of divisions of an ethnic nature.
Nevertheless, the baptized and their pastors know very well that any barbarism against the human person does not fit within the dynamic relations which should exist between
God and humans. The analysis made has been so severe that the final conclusion reached is that religion is useless.
II.3. The prophetic announcement
I think (2) that religion and the Church are not a question of hierarchical structures. People are still far from understanding what is essential in matters of faith. However it is not necessary to be learned or to see miracles in order to believe. We need prophetic preaching and concrete actions which go beyond simple moralization of real social situation.
As members of the Church-Family, it is the work of all the baptized to preach, who work in the political and economic institutions of the country.
The Gospel’s message is ineffective if it does not succeed to transform from within the men and women in the secular world, those same people who have to confront the challenges linked with the management in the various spheres of daily life.
I will give an example: Burundi is in the experimental stage of applying the Arusha Agreement for peace and reconciliation. Apart from the foreseen reforms and the material advantages which are expected, is the human person at the centre of the debate? There is the risk that the peace which is being sought becomes polysemantic – that is having more than one meaning – since some understand it to be a cessation of hostility while others as macrosocial tranquillity which is not reflected in the real life situations of the community.
In spite of all the omissions in the current process, we are on the right track: that which favours dialogue and joint agreement. However attention should be paid so that the debate does not focus solely on the State’s superstructures. Any action taken at national level should be directed towards the silent masses who perish in incredible misery. Injustices have to be targeted to ensure the truth and to analyse the gossip going round and that which is not said in order to focus all the attention on the way of life of the outcasts, the emarginated , the poor and those who have no voice.
III. Refocusing the debate and action
We all know that God cares so much for the human person that he created him to his image and likeness. Some passages in the Bible prove very clearly up to which point God cares for human beings. He forgave them all their offences and saved them from the deluge, as if there was something special to save in this creature.
With the New Testament the new alliance is fulfilled: God becomes man so as to live amongst us and to share our human conditions in order to transform from within the whole of humanity. Jesus Christ is God made man. Throughout the Gospel there is a message of justice and peace. The Gospel is the basic reference for those who do not want to fall into irrational reasoning. The human person should always be at the centre of all our preoccupations. We should refrain from insulting people and should stop any attempt of homicide at all cost because the human person is human and divine at the same time. It is endowed with a conscience which guides its actions. A person is free to choose between good and bad. When a conscience is distorted by historical, sociological and psychological events, the human person may go astray and the divine which is within it gets overpowered by the dormant animal instinct.
In this case, the importance of religion lies in the fact that religion contributes to the re-education of consciences towards conversion and the re-establishment of a person’s relationship with God.
This insistence on the human person is of major importance in any effort to establish peace, otherwise the peace which is being sought has no other aim but the destruction of humanity. The Gospel’s message insists on the conversion of hearts “because man’s heart is an abyss from where plans, of unheard of atrocities, capable of upsetting in a minute the serene and industrious lives of a whole nation, emerge” (3).
It is on the question of horizontal relationships that the Gospel’s message puts weight so as to make it clear to humans that the human person is “an image of God” and the most precious in all creation and as such it merits respect and dignity. Sacrifices, offerings of any nature, prayers and liturgical celebrations are necessary because they express the respect which the human person owes to its creator (the vertical relationship). However, these become meaningless as soon as the horizontal relationship is undermined by hatred, injustice, intolerance and disrespect. They loose their meaning when they are mixed up with violence which aims at the physical elimination of the human person who is created in the image of God. Assassinations, massacres and genocide are in fact the killing of God.
One can elaborate more on this theme of “perfect relationship” by referring to certain passages in the Bible and also in the Koran which show the close correlation between the Kingdom of God (of justice and peace) and reconciliation (the horizontal relationship). There is an urgent need for prophets among lay people so as to refocus debates and actions on the human person as well as on the vertical relationship.
IV. Iteneraries for action
- Given that the politicians in our region are Christians, baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and that the State Administration depends mostly on their choices, Catholic Action can turn to them to question them and to form them. They will then be able to put the human person at the centre of their preoccupations and work to foster a true culture of justice and peace.
- In this respect, Catholic Action Movements can be effective if they get the necessary pastoral and financial support which makes it possible for them to educate those of their members who assume responsibility for the administration of the State.
- Pastoral support could for example be in the formation of lay people and in the diffusion of relevant documents. This could then lead to concerted action built around a pastoral plan. The financial help will permit the realization of concrete actions to bring back evacuees, to help the needy and to reinclude the emarginated. In those countries where the democratic process is being relaunched, lay people’s role will be that of participating actively in any action taken by working from within and by relying on the input given by those elders involved at decision making level. Support by the local Church and by the International community, with the participation of the local Catholic Action, could promote a sensibilization in favour of the establishment of a State ruled by law.
1. NGOYAGOYE E.: Presentation des problemes de justice et de paix vus par le synode,in Au Coeur de l’Afrique n.4,1995 pp. 112-115
2. MANIRAKIZA Z.: Le front de la paix, transformer les drames en opportunités, in Au Coeur de l’Afrique, Sepcial issue 2001, pp.149-185
3. John Paul II: “A dark day in the history of humanity” in Osservatore Romano, 13 September, 2001
II African Continental Meeting
YOU WILL BE MY WITNESS IN AFRICA. Reality and prospects for the laypeople’s formation. The contribution of Catholic Action/2 – Bujumbura, August 21st/25th 2002
- Zénon MANIRAKIZA -Researcher at IDRC, Inculturation and Development Centre of Burundi