NOTRE DAME, Ind. (CNS) — Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo urged some 1,500 conference-goers Sept. 21 at the University of Notre Dame to “draw attention to the promise and plight of Africa.” Obasanjo gave the keynote address for “A Call to Solidarity With Africa,” a gathering of about 70 church leaders, theologians, policy-makers, social workers and business people.p. “Try and keep Africa on the discussion table,” Obasanjo said, focusing on both the progress that Africa has made and the duty of America to help deal with grave problems.p. “The United States has a clear moral duty to adopt policies and support programs … to help poor countries,” he said. "This is not just a policy option. It is a moral obligation.p. “Though Africa has been formed in the crucible of pain and suffering … we have proven to be more than conquerors,” Obasanjo said. “The continent has remained a continent of faith and joy, celebrating life even when all has seemed lost.”p. The Sept. 21-24 conference was sponsored by Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Another session will be held in Nigeria in January.p. Participants include Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington; Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., USCCB president; and bishops from Congo, South Africa and Uganda.p. Officials for the U.S. Agency for International Development, Shell Petroleum Co. in Nigeria, the World Bank and Catholic Relief Services were also participating.p. “It marks a historic moment for the Catholic Church in the United States and its relationship with Africa,” Obasanjo told listeners in the Joyce Center South Arena.p. Last November, U.S. Catholic bishops issued a statement calling attention to “the proliferation of armed conflicts, a deterioration of health care and education infrastructure and an increasing spread of disease and other threats to the lives of our African brothers and sisters.” “Our fear is that Africa’s hopes could be destroyed by indifference and inaction in Africa and around the world,” they said.p. Obasanjo echoed the litany of problems, including the AIDS epidemic. “Malaria, smallpox, tuberculosis and other preventable diseases still ravage the continent,” he said. “Life expectancy has shrunk to 50 years.”p. Debt is another crippling problem, he said. Nigeria alone is under pressure to service debts at a rate that would be eight times the budget for health care and seven times the budget for education. “It would be no exaggeration to say the debt burden is killing Africa,” Obasanjo said. “Join us in advocating for debt reduction for African countries.”p. At the same time, the continent is making progress. He said his government is forging partnerships with churches in Nigeria, where the Catholic bishops’ conference has issued a call to “turn our country into a land where truth and justice reign.”p. “African leaders are fully aware of the responsibility to put their house in order,” he said. "We are determined to be the architects of our fortunes. We have been so applying ourselves in recent years.p. “Totalitarian and military governments are no longer an option for African countries. African countries are spending more on education for their young and health care for all,” he said.p. The president, clad in flowing robes, invited listeners to see Africa for themselves.p. “Kindly visit Africa,” he said. "What you know, you tend to love. Encourage others to visit Africa.p. “Peace is the ultimate prize for humankind,” Obasanjo said. “Let us pray to almighty God for his peace that passes all human understanding to be in our hearts, in our lives and in our world.”p.