Spotlight: Responding to the plight and promise of Africa

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| Lenny Delorenzo at the Bigard Seminary in Enugu, Nigeria ||
p. At St. Anthony Church in Abuja, Nigeria, all children in attendance at Mass routinely sit front and center. Unlike their counterparts in America, who often sit near the back of the church with their parents so as not to disturb anyone, the children of St. Anthony’s learn early that they occupy a place of honor in their church community, that the service is for them, that they are the future.p. On a larger scale, securing a place of honor in the global community for Africa is the aim of “A Call to Solidarity With Africa,” a document issued in 2002 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and the impetus for a two-part conference sponsored by Notre Dame in partnership with the Bishops Conference of Africa.p. To heighten awareness in the world in general, and of American Catholics in particular, to the plight and the promise of Africa, Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life hosted part one of the conference on campus in September. The presentations were designed to bring Africa’s success stories and struggles to greater prominence.p. “Discussions by both Africans and Americans covered topics ranging from Africa’s current state of health care and the economy to the governance structures and pastoral work currently taking place,” said Lenny Delorenzo of Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life.p. The second half of the conference was held Jan. 6 to 8 in Enugu, Nigeria, where some 30 people from Notre Dame traveled to meet Africans in their home territory, to learn from them, to share life with them, and to strengthen the connections made a few months earlier. Notre Dame was represented by students as well as members of the Institute for Church Life, Office of Student Affairs, the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, the Center for Social Concerns, student government, the African and African American Studies Program, and the theology department.p. “The Nigerian leg of this conference built on the insights and ideas generated from the Notre Dame segment by finding creative ways to further the friendships and bonds of Christians from these churches,” said Richard Pierce, the Carl E. Koch Assistant Professor of History and associate director of the African and African American studies program.p. According to Pierce, Nigeria was chosen because of its size, complexity and importance in Africa.p. “More than one-fifth of all Africans live in Nigeria, so it serves as a microcosm of the larger continent and a good example of all that is right and wrong with Africa,” he said. ?There currently are 116 million Catholics in Africa, 20 million of whom live in Nigeria."p. Through centuries of missionary efforts, and through the lives of Africans themselves, the message of Christ is spreading and the Catholic Church is acting as the driving force behind some education and health care initiatives.p. The USCCB recognizes an urgent need to reveal the good news about Africa while still acknowledging its struggles. The continent’s promise, its people, and its growing Catholic Church must be profiled to increase understanding of Africa on American campuses and in the American Church.p. In their document, the bishops capture the ambiguity of the African situation:p. “The urgency of our attention to the Church and the peoples of Africa is prompted by two conflicting convictions: Hope and concern. We write in hope, recognizing the history, the strength, spirituality, courage and capacity of the Church and peoples of Africa. We write with deep concern, witnessing the proliferation of armed conflicts, 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.”p. Creative and collaborative proposals that address the challenges in solidarity with the African Church will continue to be developed by both Americans and Africans, as organizers of the conference continue to tap the ecclesial, national and international standing of Notre Dame to help raise the profile of Africa’s people and promise.p. Pierce sees the hope of Africa’s future as he reflects on the unorthodox seating arrangement of that small church in Nigeria: “Those beautiful children sit securely in the womb of the Church and interwoven into their society’s fabric. Those children will lead them. That is my prayer.”

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