We are very happy to greet the meeting, in Africa, of the International Forum of Catholic Action being held in Bujumbura from 22 to 25 August 2002.
It is a real comfort to us that so many friends have come to our country, torn as it is by a fratricidal war, and such a visit is a call to us for conversion to brotherhood in the Gospel. Jesus our Master, standing in the midst of us, repeats once more to all “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 15:12). Having shown his humble love to the extent of washing the feet of each of us, he further insists “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).
Your visit has a great significance both for our country and for the Church in Burundi. It is an unparalleled source of energy for the members of our Catholic Action Movements, particularly those represented here.
I have been asked to give you an extensive description of the various situations in which our Catholic Action Movements are called to evangelise and bring holiness. I should like to break down this communication, which I have named “The Force of Good” (cf 2 Thessalonians 3:13) as follows:
– The active pedagogic method used by Jesus in Luke 14:28-32
– A Region of enormous capabilities
– Our challenges
– An analysis of the situation
– Our commitment as Christians, the right hand of the pastors
– Conclusion: the invincible force of good
I expect to be speaking more of the countries than of the Church in our Region.
I. The active pedagogic method used by Jesus
In St. Luke we read the following passage: “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying: ”This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace” (Lk 14:28-32).
Jesus is addressing the crowds who are full of enthusiasm on hearing him for the first time, and immediately wish to follow him. He is asking these people not to let themselves be carried away by the first impulse. The first word may taste as sweet as honey, but later on, when it comes to living and announcing the word, there will be difficulty and bitterness (cf. Ezk 3:1-3).
To follow Jesus is a serious undertaking; it engages the whole person; nothing can be kept back! Jesus calls on the crowd to measure their steps well in following him towards the full reality of becoming his disciples. He guides each person who hears his words towards a full discovery of what lies in waiting for him, beyond the enthusiasm which is often short-lived and therefore barely significant in real life! We are not only asked to verify the daily realities to evangelize. We must also take into account the efforts, methods and strategies we shall have to employ to reach our goal.
Our place is in the world: it is there, where our Master places us. This applies particularly to such as are involved in social life, and therefore in immediate contact with the whole complex of problems in society: “They do not belong to the world (Jn 17:16) although they remain in the world (cf Jn 17:11). It is indispensable for the Christian to realize this placement, the better to intervene when necessary (cf Apostolic Actuositatem 7).
Christ is the very soul of our activity. He is the Master, the Model, and the well-spring of our life which has become one of permanent action throughout the world: “The success of the lay apostolate depends on the laity’s living union with Christ” (AA 4).
Our role: helping all other ministers of the Church as “co-operators in the truth” (3 Jn 8) in the development of the Church’s mission. “On all Christians therefore is laid the splendid burden of working to make the divine message of salvation known and accepted by all men throughout the world” (AA 3,3).
One must insist on the urgency and indispensability of having a full knowledge of our field of action, at the same time bearing in mind the level of formation which the Diocese – that is, the local Church – is in a position to provide to lay people. This includes knowledge of spiritual matters, of the mystery of salvation, and of the present-day world (cf AA 29). And here I refer once more and in a special way to the Region of the Great Lakes. This is no doubt an ambitious prospect and does not admit going into the details of each country. I shall therefore limit myself to general characteristics, at the same time without excluding the possibility of outlining clear concrete actions.
II. The Region of the Great Lakes has enormous capabilities, both national and international
With regard to human populations, young people are numerous: their numbers increase by 3% annually; they are generally active, particularly in Burundi and in Rwanda where the scarcity of the land relative to the population drives all to work harder in their daily tasks. On the whole, the values of life and education are well appreciated; there is a love of life and childhood; adults and elders are respected. The environment is generally healthy and nature generous. The family still enjoys an outstanding position. Ancestral heritage has almost disappeared: still it seems to escape modern influences which gradually reduce it to a nucleus. Family ties seem to re-appear in the wake of immense difficulties brought about by the politico-ethnic crisis in the Region.
II.1. The Nation
The solid structure is still preserved. The passage from the traditional monarchic and patriarchal society to democracy is taking plce through much suffering. The last two decades of the 20th century have seen the greatest crisis of our recent history. The Nation has resisted, in agony, the imposition of ethnic uniformity which may be compared to a terrific gale blowing on the conscience and behaviour of the people. Instead of enjoying a diversity harmonised in a dynamic unity, we have run the risk of squandering our Nation in a selfish break-up, under the banner of “ethnic exclusion”.
In their Nairobi message in 1997 entitled “You are all brothers; put an end to the war”, the Bishops emphasised the value of ethnic diversity.
The Nation should safeguard its institutions, for the sake of which it passed through the most dramatic years of colonization. The adventure of democratization is not a blind alley: we only need the courage to understand the importance of all citizens shaping out their destiny and the future of their country. The Churches have shown how good such a society can be and how it can help its various national components to reach their development. We had escaped dictatorships and States managed by military elite, with the resulting consequences.
Even though economic egoism were to promise a better future, the solidarity between our countries had created a network of relations within CEPGL which allowed for development of the various active levels of society. The mobility of persons doubtlessly provided opportunities for economic and social development.
II.2. Civil society
This is a rather new sociological category. It includes associations of citizens who unite with ideas aimed at the benefit of the nation, without involving political parties. These groups appeared in particularly large numbers at the time our countries passed on to democratic rule: the first of them were free from any political influence or ethnic connection. The majority of those that started during the heat of the politico-ethnic conflict fell victims to the current crisis: a few exceptions held their ground and remained at a distance both from political parties and from the ethnocentric crisis.
Within civil society, certain associations have appeared which are particularly involved in the defence of human rights. At present these can serve as a valid means for the development of the fundamental human rights of the person.
Up to that time, Catholic Action Movements had been the best known associations in our country surroundings; at present our Movements indispensably need a radical renewal both with regard to their dynamism and to their strategies, so as to be able to operate efficiently in their setting. I should say: they should even be competitive and attractive!
The vitality of our cultures is beyond doubt. They are well developed. They are healthy, being centred both on God and humanity; they do not acclaim the death of God or the death of man, since one would follow on the other, as Fr. Bernard Sesboë states in his book “To believe”.
These cultures have found favour with many researchers both foreign and local; at present university faculties in Europe, America and Africa are full of outstanding works which describe our cultures and their content from various angles.
I will not hide the limitations of our traditions; they seem to have empty spaces waiting to be filled in by other cultures; these limitations call for the help of the Gospel and faith which leads to it in order to fill in what is missing and leads our peoples to a higher development. These limitations are witnesses to the greatness of our cultures: they are ready to be enriched through meeting other ways of life. On the other hand they should be prepared to pass on such cosmos-anthropological perceptions as lie hidden within them.
In the world scale of wealth and productivity, we are at the bottom of the list. It is a sad record. Still, our people have never gone begging in times of peace and climatic serenity. It has been a matter of honour for them to support their families; they have been willing to produce what they could; our men and women are the pride of our Region and the guarantee of its survival. The capacity of our farmers for work and creativity has often been surprising! Nature is generous, the climate favourable, and in certain parts of our Region, natural resources are amazing.
We are trying to resist the strangling effect of globalization and wish to come into the new system with our hands fuller (more than the 2% of world commerce at present attributed to Africa!). Above all, we should not try to escape reality or get hemmed in, in any way. It is indispensable to be prsent. We must find ways of being more attractive, more enterprising – nigra sum sed formosa! Pauper sum sed activus!
The epithets applied to our art are often as unjust as they are far from the truth. There is nothing primitive, nothing naive. African art, the art of our Regions represents man in his hopes and in his challenges. It shows the labyrinths and complexities if the mystery of life, of God and the world. It does not aim at satirizing, it does not want to ridicule. Whatever is tragic in life is humbly placed before us to contemplate, without putting the dignity of the person to shame. The different expressions of art seem to unite, in order to keep us free from the eccentricities one sees in the art of various cultural circles in sophisticated societies.
So far this has been a brief summary of the brighter, more hopeful aspects of our society. We shall now have to go over to the darker, perhaps even miserable side.
III. The challenges of the Region of the Great Lakes
No use turning a blind eye! There may be hopes, but also challenges and enormous problems which may mar the favourable points mentioned so far.
The demographic problem. Population problems in our Region are a priority which has to be faced with Christian responsibility. It is urgent that our traditional love of life become a responsible love so as not to worsen the condition of poverty which is relentlessly invading our households. The human life we have sacrificed on the altars of political and economic power must retain the lead in the difficult climb towards the common good. Have the fundamental rights of the human person been forgotten? Some seem to consider them a fashion that has passed its time. Others see them as a supreme conquest which ignores the conquered, the minority of society and the poorest.
One hears about phenomena of recession and moral crisis: genocide, paedophilia, unbridled craving for riches, refusal of pardon whether offered or asked for: all these are social signs of a state of moral health which has become very vulnerable.
AIDS is called an economic evil. In so far as the Church is concerned, AIDS is, and will always remain a moral evil. The condom, with its implied narcissism, is no remedy. In fact, condoms and similar trappings have multiple uses, all leading to selfish and self-centred pleasure.
III.2. The Nation
It is no surprise, but a heart-breaking fact that following the political occurrence of democracy, the Nation has fallen into dangerous ethnic drifts. All socio-political initiatives have been given an ethnic flavour. This applies to political parties, the fight for the rights of the individual, and the economy. Individual freedom was easily confiscated by an ethnic group: any person whose actions did not follow the direction of the group fell under suspicion and was condemned to death, or exclusion, or remained under permanent suspicion. The course of development has been arrested. This damages the wellbeing of the whole country and causes it to die out. The purchasing power has been strangled by the unending speculations of an economy of war. Often, as in the law of the jungle, the more powerful prevail. The ethnic crisis which has bordered on genocide has not yet reached the end of the tunnel, in an atmosphere of revenge and refusal of national reconciliation. The process of democratization needs to be re-started, notwithstanding the resistance one often encounters on the basis of African custom and traditions which used to preserve the equilibrium in our society. Much has been said about the failure of evangelization in the Region, which is the most Catholic and Christian area of Africa. There was room for much soul-searching regarding the action of the Church before, during and after the crises which have tormented the Region of the Great Lakes.
It has performed many praiseworthy efforts; it has contributed towards the revival of a new conscience: even apart from a political party one can contribute towards the rebirth of a more human society, arising from greater solidarity. Nevertheless, this same civil society needs to be freed from the bonds that still tie it to political parties and ethnic influences.
Catholic Action Movements have been active in forming numerous elites, in the political, economic and military spheres.
Without forgetting their religious and spiritual contribution, we need to search new objectives and employ new strategies, in the spirit of the parable regarding new wine having to be stored in new wineskins. Is it not the case of re-organizing the Catholic Action Movements and placing them in the territory where they are most needed, of impressing on them the strategy of action and testimony, which would lead to their being effective in their immediate surroundings?. Thus one would pass on to them the theological vision of Vatican II, which visualizes the Catholic Action Movements as being operative in the local Church, that is, in the diocese.
III.4. Culture and Art
Culture and the arts: are the fruits of the effects from which they result in countries. Allow me not to insist too much on this point.
It deserves some special attention. We are going through a process of globalization; our countries are moving towards it anaware, more impoverished by neo-liberalism, which has an unrestrained concept of economic organization wherein the weakest disappears without any alternative. Our countries are among the poorest and the GDP has gone down, less than 150 dollars per year per person. We are living below the threshold of poverty, which has been fixed at one dollar a day of economic capacity. The scourge from AIDS weakens us further and makes our Region the holocaust of the 21st century, after the genocide committed within our walls.
Countries of a thousand hills, countries of a thousand problems, regions of a thousand challenges. And at all levels that we knock we are faced with indefinite challenges. As disciples of Christ we should carry these courageously on our shoulders. Our faith should act. All our actions should be enlightened by the Gospel. Christ has to transform our Regions with our help.
IV. A tentative analysis
We are faced with a sick body. The symptoms of the sickness are however clear: it is the same cells of the body which are carrying the sickness through; external action alone would not have made it possible for our country’s sovereignty to falter, had not our countrymen handed over their own Nation. But the hope for recovery is real and is based on clear and sound signs. If the challenges fill us with awe they also fill our hearts with joyful hope. The community’s vitality, their refusal to die as a result of the war which lasted since 1990, starting from Rwanda, passing through Burundi, and establishing itself in Congo and the tenacity of the Christian community to remain a sign of life and hope in all the regions, are motives which promise life rather than death. I would like to make mine the analytic observations of our pastors who recently met at Kigali for the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Association of the Episcopal Conference of Central Africa (AECCA):
“Three years ago, when we met in Nairobi for the Plenary Assembly of the Association of the Episcopal Conference of Central Africa (ECCA), we launched a pressing appeal to Christians and to all men of good will, saying: “You are all brothers (Mt 23,8), stop the war”. Although this message was widely spread and greatly welcomed by the Christian faithful, still the war was not stopped.
Pope John Paul II, in his encouraging message for the occasion, sent to the President of AECCA once more insists: “Today, I would like to repeat with you: never again to war, which destroys peope’s desire for living in tranquillity and in fraternal understanding! May there be more courageous testimonies of a new hope for all the region in the Africa of the Great Lakes!”.
H.E. Mgr. Robert Sarah, Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Men, also treated the subject of hope in our situation of crisis, in his homily during the opening Mass of our meeting. “In spite of the war and of the absurd violence, in spite of the catastrophes, in spite of the misfortunes which submerge us, we should together reaffirm our faith in the love of God our Father for us. God loves Africa”.
And the President of the AECCA, at the opening of the workshops of the recent General Assembly of Kigali (May 2002) has described the aim of the meeting in these terms: “ We would like to… reaffirm in front of everybody and of each and everyone our mission as Church of Christ as a sacrament and place of salvation. This is true, thanks to our faith. This is also true, and moreover fortunate, thanks to the appeals which we receive from all parts. The Catholic Church is the institution, which better than any other, can draw attention to the crisis which prevails in our countries”.
V. Our commitment as christians
We are gathered here as Christians, as disciples of Christ who wish to share with all nations the grace of salvation. It is the command received from the Risen Christ: “Go and teach all nations” (Mt 28,19). He says explicitly to the Christians of the Great Lake Regions: make of all of you my friends; make of all the countrymen of your Nations my disciples; make of all your daily life realities occasions of salvation which bring to every person the merciful love of the Father. We are not “generic” Christians, but special Christians – using the present pharmaceutical language! We are important members of Catholic Action. We are the disciples nearest to our Master. This is how Vatican II describes us: ”The laity, dedicating themselves increasingly to the apostolate, grouped themselves into various kinds of activities and societies which, in a rather close union with the hierarchy, pursued and continue to persue goals which are purely apostolic. These associations are CATHOLIC ACTION”. They are given their own peculiar characteristics in the words of the Council:
a) The immediate aim of these organizations is the Church’s apostolic aim, that is, to evangelize and sanctify men and women and to form in them a Christian conscience so that they can infuse the spirit of the Gospel into the various communities and spheres of life.
b) Cooperating with the hierarchy in their own way, the laity contribute through the benefit of their experience, to the running of these organizations, to the weighing of the conditions in which the pastoral activity of the Church has to be conducted, and to the processing and carrying out of the programmes of action.
c) The laity act together as an organic body so that the sense of community of the Church is made more evident and the apostolate is more effective.
d) Whether they offer themselves spontaneously or are invited to work and to cooperate directly in the hierarchy’s apostolate, the laity work under the higher direction of the hierarchy itself, and the latter can sanction this cooperation by an explicit “mandate”.
VI. An appeal for commitment
St. Paul, together with your pastors, urges you and asks for your determined commitment: “As for you brothers and sisters, never slacken in doing what is good “(II Ts 3,13).
It is your duty to make Africa and especially this Great Lakes Region, more Christian, more catholic, or simply more human, because a true man and a true woman can only be fully so when they are sons of the Father, in the Son, through the Holy Spirit (cf Mt 28,19).
May you be the inexhaustible source of The Force of Good.
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
- Msgr. Simon NTAMWANA - Archbishop of Gitega, President of the Episcopal Conference of Burundi