Una vita in Africa – A life in Africa Rotating Header Image

Reflections

Per Papa Francesco l’Africa è più di un questione geografica

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Un Papa che parla più di Gesù e di Vangelo che di Chiesa, più di gioia, compassione e misericordia che di legge e valori non negoziabili, più di uscire e servire che di difendere e proclamare. Davvero, pochi della mia generazione ormai osavano sperare che la primavera del Concilio Vaticano II sarebbe tornata.

Ma in Africa i cambiamenti promossi da papa Francesco non sono ancora arrivati. Dopotutto non abbiamo le stesse stagioni dell’Europa, e Bergoglio pubblicamente ha interagito ben poco con l’Africa, a parte i necessari appelli alla pace e qualche parola durante le visite ad limina delle Conferenze episcopali africane.

Il suo primo viaggio pastorale, a Lampedusa, lo abbiamo visto incontrarsi con africani appena sbarcati dalla costa libica. Lui era di fronte a un mondo nuovo, che non aveva mai incontrato faccia a faccia, e i profughi, in maggioranza musulmani, sì e no sapevano chi fosse il papa, tanto meno papa Francesco.

Sono venuti altri viaggi, le prime nomine cardinalizie nel febbraio del 2014, e fra i nuovi 16 cardinali elettori c’erano due arcivescovi dell’Africa occidentale: Jean-Pierre Kutwa, di Abidjan, e il poco conosciuto Philippe Ouédraogo, di Ouagadougou, da famiglia in maggioranza musulmana, che si autodefiniva “piccolo pastore della savana burkinabè”. Ma a confronto con le altre nomine non costituivano una gran novità e non hanno generato grande interesse.

Nel frattempo non ci sono state nomine di africani a cariche “importanti” a Roma, e questo significa poco, perché certamente Francesco non esprime la sua considerazione per un pastore portandolo a lavorare in Vaticano. In ogni caso l’Africa è scomparsa degli orizzonti della Chiesa, mentre emergeva con forza, ovviamente, l’America Latina e successivamente l’Asia. L’anno scorso si era parlato di una visita papale in Camerun, ipotesi che era stata suffragata da un’udienza concessa a Paul Biya, presidente cattolico (ahimè per i cattolici) e figlio di catechisti. Ma qualcosa non deve aver convinto papa Francesco ? probabilmente proprio il fatto che in Camerun ci sia un rapporto non del tutto chiaro fra chiesa e politica ? e di visitare questo paese non si è più parlato. Chi è attento alle cose africane poi non ha mancato di notare che nel corso della prima fase del sinodo sulla famiglia il cardinal Kasper in un’intervista ebbe una frase infelice che lasciava intravedere un giudizio molto pesante su tutto l’episcopato africano, e nessuno ritenne necessaria una puntualizzazione.

Nel secondo concistoro, celebrato nel febbraio di quest’anno, i nuovi cardinali africani elettori sono due: Berhaneyesus Souraphiel, arcieparca di Addis Abeba, e Arlindo Furtado, vescovo di Santiago di Capo Verde. Due pastori di diocesi con un piccolo numero di cattolici, “periferici” in tutti i sensi, ma periferici anche rispetto all’Africa nera, l’Africa della grande esplosione numerica del secolo scorso, mai vista in precedenza nella storia della chiesa. Quell’Africa che con quasi duecento milioni di fedeli in rapida crescita costituisce ormai il 17% della cattolicità, e che, non dimentichiamolo, alla vigilia degli ultimi due conclavi si sentiva autorizzata a reclamare che fosse venuto il tempo di un papa africano.

La Chiesa africana è assente dall’agenda di papa Francesco? Eppure in Africa molti si aspettano una sua visita. Lo scorso 26 novembre ho accompagnato un gruppo di miei ex-ragazzi di strada keniani ad incontrarlo dopo l’udienza generale. Sono rimasti conquistati da Francesco anche solo per i pochi istanti in cui ha detto qualche parola ed hanno sentito una carezza della sua mano. Ma poi la domanda insistente era: ma quando viene in Africa? Quando viene da noi a Kibera? Non pochi altri se lo domandano in Africa.

Sappiamo che Bergoglio prima dell’elezione aveva limitato i suoi viaggi a quelli che doveva fare come pastore, e non ha mai visitato l’Africa, neanche come turista. Non era nel suo stile austero. Quindi si trova di fronte ad una realtà che conosce poco, e vuole prendersi il tempo necessario per ascoltarla e capirla.
Poi è venuto l’annuncio informale, sul volo che lo portava da Manila a Roma il 19 gennaio, di una probabile visita nella Repubblica Centrafricana e Uganda entro fine 2015.

Perché questi due paesi?

Andare nella Repubblica Centrafricana – se pure sarà possibile per l’enorme rischio sicurezza ? significa immergersi in tutte le debolezze dell’Africa. Innanzitutto la guerra, le violenze sulla popolazione civile. Poi un paese con grandi ricchezze naturali che non è mai stato veramente indipendente, conteso fra multinazionali, sotto la minaccia del fondamentalismo islamico, dove tribalismo e rivalità religiose sono esplose negli ultimi tre anni. Un paese dove la chiesa è sfidata dalla necessità di dialogare, e di dialogare da una posizione di debolezza. Un paese dove la mondanità del clero, per usare un termine bergogliano, in contrasto con la povertà generalizzata, aveva raggiunto livelli che hanno costretto nel 2009 all’intervento di Roma. Le relazioni dei vescovi locali alla Santa Sede avevano per anni nascosto una situazione di corruzione di una buona parte del clero, avido di potere e di soldi, a cui i vescovi non sapevano più come reagire, o avevano scelto di farne parte. Ci vollero un nunzio vietnamita e poi un nunzio nigeriano, e un visitatore apostolico – l’allora segretario della Congregazione per l’evangelizzazione dei popoli, mons. Robert Sarah, guineano, oggi cardinale prefetto della Congregazione per il culto divino – per rimuovere la cancrena, decapitando così anche alcune diocesi. Da come abbiamo imparato a conoscere papa Francesco, che ama andare alla radice dei problemi, non è certamente un caso che abbia scelto questo paese come meta del suo primo viaggio africano.

In quanto a essere snodo di problemi geopolitici, l’Uganda non ha meno possibilità di rappresentare i problemi africani e le periferie del mondo, con un presidente al potere da 29 anni che interferisce pesantemente, anche manu militari, nei paesi vicini, e con i suoi popoli nomadi del nord che sono ancora tagliati fuori dalla sviluppo, sia pur disuguale, del resto del paese. Ma forse a Francesco interessa di più per un’altra rappresentatività, cioè quella dell’impegno laicale. Con i suoi 22 martiri della fine dell’Ottocento, i beati catechisti Daudi e Jildo del 1918, questo paese ha donato alla chiesa africana il numero più alto di canonizzati nei tempi moderni. Con una nota curiosa. Contrariamente a quanto è avvenuto nel resto del mondo, fra i santi e i beati africani dei tempi moderni ci sono solo due suore, e non c’è nessun prete (a parte il beato nigeriano Cyprian Tansi, che però ha vissuto in Inghilterra). Vorrà Francesco fare dell’impegno laicale per la giustizia e la pace il tema dominante della sua tappa in Uganda?

Allora il ritardo di Francesco nel guardare all’Africa si spiega con il desiderio di ascoltarla e capirla, prima di aiutarla a riprendere il cammino. Centrafrica e Uganda sono due paesi che daranno a Francesco l’occasione per parlare di problemi veri, dei poveri e della chiesa e dei suoi pastori. Su tutto domineranno i temi della pace e del dialogo con l’Islam, temi globali che hanno però risonanze drammatiche in Africa.

Per troppo tempo i problemi dell’Africa sono stati nascosti sotto il tappeto. Si era arrivati al primo sinodo Africano nel 1994 con tante speranze, ma poi manco la parresia, su cui oggi Francesco tanto insiste. Così il Sinodo riconobbe formalmente l’idea di inculturazione, cioè del necessario dialogo fra Vangelo e diverse culture locali per un reciproco arricchimento, ma ai teologi che vi avevano lavorato non fu permesso di partecipare e poi furono progressivamente silenziati. Oggi di inculturazione non si parla più, e ancor meno la si fa e la si vive. Quel Sinodo enfatizzò la necessità dell’impegno dei cristiani per la giustizia sociale. Son stati fatti pochi progressi. In troppi paesi africani i leader religiosi sono assenti dal dibattito pubblico, e accettano passivamente un’agenda sociale profondamente ingiusta. Si adagiano in una commistione fra potere politico e servizio pastorale tutta a loro svantaggio, che vede uomini politici prendere la parola nelle chiese e nei servizi religiosi, e li fa apparire alleati del potere. Recentemente un amico africano mi faceva notare come durante l’insediamento di un vescovo nelle sua nuova diocesi la classe politica locale abbia partecipato in massa dando l’impressione alla comunità che fosse l’insediamento di un funzionario governativo. E questo succede in troppi paesi.

Abbiamo decantato per anni la giovinezza e freschezza della fede e della chiesa africana. Ma se questo resta vero per la gente semplice, alla periferia del potere, la chiesa dei pastori rischia di invecchiare precocemente e gestire il servizio dell’autorità con modi che sono diventati vecchi e inaccettabili nei paesi da cui sono partiti i missionari che hanno evangelizzato l’Africa negli ultimi due secoli.

L’Africa non è solo geografia. Per la geografia è solo un continente dall’altra parte di un mare neanche tanto grande. Ma la cultura e l’ethos africani sono radicati in terreni molto più lontani di quelli geografici. Perché la chiesa metta radici profonde in Africa forse dovrebbe ripartire dalle profondità del cuore, là dove gli uomini si incontrano fra di loro e dove incontrano il Signore Gesù.

Papa Francesco con la sua capacità di limpida testimonianza, sincerità, parresia, e più ancora la sua vicinanza ed empatia con i poveri, può offrire alla chiesa africana uno stimolo straordinario per ripartire dal cuore.

Hatred and Forgiveness

Forgiveness, mercy, acceptance, hope—words that have a Gospel flavour; words that more than others have become the theme of the reflections on the readings of the Mass that Pope Francis celebrates daily with the people in the small Santa Marta chapel in the Vatican. It could not be otherwise, since in the Gospel the proclamation of the mercy of God, of His infinite love for his children is the dominant theme.

God condemns the evil, yet He does not want the condemnation and the death of the sinner. In front of God, every human being is always lovable even when his life, sometimes even his physical appearance, is disfigured by sins. We all know people who look evil. We stay far from them. We are afraid that the aura of evil that we perceive in them can somehow attach to us. As a child, I remember the physical repulsion I felt of a man living in my neighbourhood who was known for the beatings he was inflicting on his wife and children. I had only heard the adults talk about his behaviour, but his face, always contorted in a sour grin, kept me at a safe distance. Instead, God looks with love also at those people whom others judge to be lost. In them, He can still perceive the flickering flame of the love he has put in them, He wants to see that flame grow. He never gives up hope.

Jesus, in front of the woman caught in the act of adultery, does not condemn her. The woman does not ask for forgiveness. When the accusers go away in shame for their self-righteousness after being challenged to throw the first stone, He just asks her: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” and at her negative reply He tells her: “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” It is forgiveness without condition, not even the pre-condition of repentance. We may be surprised because to forgive is so difficult for us, and because for many centuries the Church in the West has listed sins in accordance to their gravity, and the penance was meted out in proportion. Priests had become accountants of sins, rather than administrators of the forgiveness of the Father. Now, we are surprised because Pope Francis is simply reminding us of the importance of forgiveness in Christian life, in a teaching that can be summarized in two lines: God is universal and infinite love. One cannot deserve His love; it is He who reaches out to all people, to all sinners, to all those who need to heal their lives.

Forgiveness is freedom

It is difficult for us to forgive. Yet, forgiveness opens up new horizons and new life. As a priest, I have learned to see the presence of God in the lives of people when I see forgiveness. I saw it when I met Wanjiku, a young woman from central Kenya. She lost her parents when very young and was brought up in the homestead of a relatively wealthy uncle. Treated like a slave by the stepmother, she had to work in the kitchen and to attend to the domestic animals for more than fourteen hours per day, while her cousins went to school. Out of sheer determination, she studied in the evening using the books she found scattered around the house, she went to church and catechism classes on Sundays and then found the courage to run away and fend for herself in Nairobi.

Now Wanjiku works as a flight attendant in an international airline company, a job incredibly prestigious back in the village. Just imagine flying every day all over the world! It would have been easy for her to go back and make fun of or despise those who had mistreated her. Instead, she told me: “when I went back to the village for a visit, for a long time I did not tell my relatives about my job. I did not want to humiliate them. I wanted to win them over first. I just brought small gifts. I do not have any grudges against them. I know they struggled for life, I understand their worries, their fear for the future, for the difficult condition of their lives. I have forgiven them, and I would like to see them spend their last years in serenity. I am sure that when they were exploiting me, they were deeply unhappy for some reasons that I did not know, and I do not want to judge them.” Wanjiku is a free person. The past is gone, she looks ahead to a life of commitment and work, to form her family, to pour out to others the love she had not experienced as a child. Freeing herself, Wanjiku frees her uncle and aunt from the chains of their past.

Pope Francis, while visiting a community of contemplative Sisters and talking about Mary as the mother of all Christians, told this delightful story to illustrate how Mary is a merciful mother. “Mary is at the door to Paradise. Saint Peter does not always open when great sinners knock at the door. Mary sees the desperation on the faces of those rejected, she suffers with them, she would like to console them, but she does not want to argue with St Peter. So she stays put. At night, when St Peter closes the door and goes for some well-deserved rest, when nobody sees and nobody hears, Mary opens the door and lets everyone enter.”

Respect and love sinners

The pastors, the priests have a difficult task: they have to teach what is good, to point to their fellow Christians the way towards Jesus, to condemn what is evil, but at the same time they have to teach respect and love for sinners. They have to be like the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to look for the one lost sheep; to be like the forgiving father who opens his arms to receive the lost son; to be like Jesus on the cross, forgiving those who are crucifying and despising him. The self-righteous may protest.

What is then really putting our Christian life in danger? It is to hate the sinner. Pope John XXIII fifty years ago made it clear: “we do not have to confuse the sin with the sinner”, because “the sinner is first and foremost a human being and retains the dignity of a human person” and therefore must be treated with mercy and compassion.

Hatred is the opposite of love, mercy and compassion. Speaking to the youth at the end of the World Youth Day in Brazil, Pope Francis gave them advice valid for Christians of all ages. “Do not water down your faith in Jesus Christ. Read the Beatitudes: that will do you good. If you want to know what you actually have to do, read Matthew Chapter 25, which is the standard by which we will be judged. With these two things you have the action plan: the Beatitudes and Matthew 25. You do not need to read anything else.”

La forza della fedeltà – The force of faithfulness

The spiritual strength of a community is not measured by the number of Christians or the high-ranking positions held in the Church’s hierarchy. The African Church has an important place in the universal Church – not by force of the numbers, but by force of its faithfulness to Christ.

The numerical growth of the Church in Africa is a reality of great importance not only for the changes it could mean for the countries in which the growth is taking place, but also for the life of the Church as a whole. Yet, when speaking of a spiritual reality like the “people of God,” the significance of high numbers must be put in proper perspective.
A first major danger is to think that numbers can give a simple automatic answer to the shape that the future will hold.
A study on the growth of Christianity in the world – The Next Christendom. The Coming of Global Christianity, by Philip Jenkins, published in 2002 – proves, using statistics available at that time, that membership of the Christian Churches experiences a fast growth in Africa and Asia, and that most of new believers tend toward a pentecostal, charismatic and, ultimately, fundamentalist Christianity. Using statistical projections, Jenkins foresees, for the year 2050, a worldwide strong fundamentalist Christianity more ready to enter in confrontation rather that into dialogue with other faiths. The growth, in fact, will happen not so much in the great traditional Churches, like the Catholic, Lutheran or Anglican, but in the constellation of new, free, fast-changing, Christ-centered and socially ultra-conservative and non-socially oriented Churches.
It is true that the statistical analysis of social phenomena is important to understand where we are and where we go in the immediate future. Yet, it is highly questionable that, in social and cultural developments, we can project the present trends over such a long period, like Jenkins does. There are changes in society that defy any statistics. For instance, the Arab Spring, with all its ambiguities, was not foreseen by anybody. The transformations it will bring about are not yet clear or may become clear in a generation time, but anybody who had built up a picture of how the Arab world will be in 2050, supposing that the socio-political trends of 2010 would continue for a long time, has done a useless exercise. Similarly, what do we know of the cultural and political movements that will grow in Africa in the near future? Nothing. Will a new perception of human rights change the self-understanding of the African world? Or will the growing influence of the Western materialistic culture cause the collapse of the traditional worldview where God and religion hold an important place? Which trends will become stronger in the future? The elements in the playing field are too many and too unpredictable; nobody in her/his right mind should dare to give an answer as to how Africa will be thirty or more years from now. To read the signs of the time is not an easy exercise.

Numbers don’t mean maturity.

If numbers cannot be the only factor in a foolproof prediction, they are also not very useful in measuring the spiritual strength of a community. When Europe plunged into the horror of the Nazi era and of World War II, it was statistically composed of a Christian majority. But how many Christians stood up against it? A certain number of people belonging to different Churches did; but, we have to admit, they were very few. In the same way, when Rwanda, a country with a Catholic majority, was swept by the genocidal fury of 1994, how many Catholics stood against it in the name of their faith? Some did, sometime in a heroic way, but it was a small percentage. They were able to save other people’s lives, and many sacrificed their own, but they were not enough to be a significant obstacle to the wave of the genocide.
Some people justify the Rwanda case saying that Christianity had not yet put deep roots. But how about what happened in Europe, where Christianity had been present for close to two thousand years? Was it a sign of the decline of the European Christianity? The least we can say is that, in both cases, numbers were not a good indicator of the maturity and strength of that particular Church to resist evil.
Again, just speaking of “age” or “maturity” of a Church because it has big numbers is controversial. How do you assess maturity? Often, a “young” Church produces people who are ready to die to show their faithfulness to Christ. We have the example of the Uganda Martyrs. Rightly enough, some Africans get upset when their Churches are referred to as “young” because it can give the idea of immaturity and dependency. Or, even when taken in the positive sense of vitality and strength, it can become an empty platitude, just referring to dancing and ululation during liturgical ceremonies.
Recently, I heard a missionary carefully comparing African Church leaders with someone who is learning to drive a car. When on the road, he concentrates more on handling the commands – how to change gear, how to turn the wheel, how much force to use in pressing the brakes – than looking at the road ahead. With the comparison, the old missionary wanted to justify, in a kind way, the lack of vision and pastoral planning by his local African bishop. But some African friends were quite annoyed by the comparison.
Heated debates also come up when evaluating if the numerical importance of the African Church is properly taken into account at the high level of the Catholic hierarchy. Before the last Consistory, held on February 18, 2012, an African website posted a very bitter comment on the fact that no new African cardinals were appointed. Surely, in the opinion of the writer, there is no lack of Africans deserving the red hat. The writer expressed also his disappointment that, in the last conclave, the African Cardinal Francis Arinze, allegedly missed the papacy… The assumption of the writer was: “We deserve important positions in Rome, because we are many! It is now our turn!” Are these cases of unrealistic expectations? Were there no African cardinals because the available positions were very limited or because the African episcopacy is not able to show forth leaders of a higher caliber? All these questions are pointless. If we think that to have an African pope is a right, or we look with pride at the number of African cardinals working at the Vatican and we think their number should increase, we enter in a logic of power which does not befit the Church.

Building an African identity

In The Coming of the Third Church, published in 1976, Walter Bühlmann, an unassuming Swiss Capuchin who taught in Rome in the effervescent years after the Vatican Council II, put together his reflections on the growing importance of what then was still mostly referred to as “mission Church”, For the first time, an eminent Western scholar put in a theological framework the scattered aspiration and demands that had already started to emerge from the “Third World” Church and pointedly used the term “Third Church.” “Third World” was already in common use and did not have the negative connotation that took later on, and certainly Bühlmann used “Third Church” in a positive way. His was a text full of hope, welcoming the Third Church, and opened to the changes that the emerging Christian communities were expected to bring to the universal Church.
Bühlmann was right; his approach is still valid. Number should not be seen as power, but the African Church must see them as a sign – that it has a responsibility to discover and to fulfill its call inside the universal Church (to become what Saint Daniel Comboni called “the Black Pearl”?) and to strengthen its determination to follow the Gospel of Jesus. For the whole Catholic Church, the growing numbers of the African Church is a source of joy and an incentive to make room for it, in a spirit of brotherhood and in recognition of the diversity in which Christians can express their common faith. The African Church has its right place in the universal Church not by force of the numbers, but by force of its faithfulness to Christ. We believe that the Spirit of God is always inspiring and creating new things in our midst and we must always be open to the new and unforeseen ways He shows us.
The African Church must take stock of her achievements – most of them done in the post-independence era under the guidance of African pastors, thank God for them – and move on, building her own identity. Inculturation, social justice, participation of the laity in the life of the Church are just some of the lines of identity that have emerged during the two African Synods, in 1994 and 2009. These are some of the special gifts the African Church can contribute to the Catholic community worldwide.
Numbers are not a big issue. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.” (Lk 12:32). In the church the only title of merit is the faithfulness to the Gospel.

Costruire Giustizia in un’Africa che Cambia – Building Justice in a Changing Africa

Africa is a place of great crises and humanitarian disasters. Or at least that is the image that exists in the minds of many Westerners. Speaking of Africa inevitably evokes the popular interpretation of the horsemen of the Apocalypse: Pestilence, War, Famine And Death. The litany of negative stereotypes continues when the discourse becomes more specific: underdevelopment, corruption, violation of human rights, malaria and HIV/AIDS, environmental disasters, land grabbing, exploitation of women and children, human trafficking, child soldiers, sorcerers, street children…the list is endless.

Most proposed interventions – despite being well intended in terms of setting things right – start from the assumption that Africa cannot succeed on its own. Rather, it needs foreign assistance, even just to survive.
In recent days, a video posted on the internet has attracted the attention of the world. It proposes ways to stop Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel movement without a cause that has existed in Uganda for over twenty years. The video, titled Kony 2012, is very innovative in terms of its communication design, but not for its proposed solutions because its begs for an American military intervention to stop Kony. Once again, it seems to suggest that salvation for Africa can only come from the outside.

For decades in the missionary world, we have asked ourselves whether it is ethical to use negative images of Africa to raise money (or to invoke action) for African causes. Most missionaries today reject this strategy, although there are occasional exceptions. But many aid organizations, even those of international stature, still use these methods.
When I turned on my computer this morning, I visited the website of an Italian newspaper. For several weeks I had noticed, at the bottom of the newspaper’s webpage, an icon with the face of an African baby imploring to be supported. This morning I clicked on the icon and the following text by a well-known aid agency appeared:
“In 2011, the Horn of Africa was hit by a terrible drought, the worst in 60 years. We are in 2012, but thousands of children continue to die of hunger and thirst every day. Eastern Africa is just one of the most problematic regions in Africa. The entire continent is constantly plagued by wars, famines, disease and extreme poverty. The children are always the part of the population that suffers the most. Together, we can change their destiny.”
This is an oversimplification that highlights only the negative aspects of Africa. Yet it is only an example, and not even one that uses the strongest pictures and words, compared to the numerous humanitarian appeals, including those with the positive intent to move towards a greater sense of solidarity, depict the entire continent as a failure, a place where the apocalypse has already begun.

But in Africa – surprise! – there is also an acceleration of economic development. While the West is in crisis, and while China and India are giving signs of economic fatigue, the economies of most African countries continue to grow at rates between 6-7% per annum. The era of the Asian Tigers appears to have passed; could this mean the era of the African Lions is arriving?

According to the IMF, Ghana is projected to grow by 13.5% in 2012, Niger by 12.5% and Angola by 10.5%. A good number of other countries, among them Kenya, will stabilize at an annual growth of around 7%. Sierra Leone’s economic growth is expected to leap by more than 51 %! On the average, the continent’s economic growth will be around 6%. Quite emblematic is the case of Angola, which is negotiating with Portugal, ready to extend a helping hand to its former colonial power. The authoritative British weekly, The Economist, last December devoted an entire issue to the topic of Africa’s economic growth.

How can we reconcile these two conflicting images? Common misconceptions and prejudices die hard, but this may not be sufficient to explain such a gap between perception and reality.
Perhaps the simplest explanation is that both images of Africa – that of a terminal case and that of a potential economic Lion, are true. Things are happening at a very fast pace in Africa and around the world, and just as Pope Paul VI denounced already almost 40 years ago, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

According to the calculations of the financial group Credit Suisse, the poorest half of the global adult population owns only 1% of the world’s wealth. A total of 3.051 million adults, representing 67.6% of the global adult population, has only 3.3% of the world’s wealth. In contrast, the richest 10% have 84% of global wealth, the richest 1% owns 44% and the richest 0.5% of the world population own 38.5% of the world’s wealth.
The world economic crisis has only enhanced the concentration of a high proportion of the world’s wealth in the hands of a small minority. In 2010, the companies Capgemini and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management published a report on the situation of the rich world, where we read that the total number of individuals in the global high income bracket grew by 17.1% in 2009, and even though the global economy contracted by 2%, the total wealth of these individuals increased by 18.9%.

In Nairobi, the coexistence of two parallel economies is increasingly visible, at least for those who have the eyes to see. Affluence, technological development, sophisticated media are accessible to 20% of the population, while another 60% live in a state of serious degradation. The 20% who live in the middle are dwindling because few of them are able to jump a step higher, and the rest find themselves slowly being reabsorbed into the lower bracket. The same situation repeats itself at the national level: the drought that last year caused famine and death in the country’s North-East has been experienced in Nairobi by a significant proportion of people, not for what it was – a national problem regarding the redistribution of resources and justice – but as a media opportunity for large companies to show off their “corporate responsibility” programmes.

So what should we do? Should we deny assistance to the poor who are not assisted by their wealthy countrymen? Should we close the era of aid and open the era of the trade? Should we allow international corporations to be in charge of establishing justice with their “social responsibility” programmes? Should we surrender to the fact that human progress is only measured by the index of economic growth? Should we accept that the new global political equilibrium is controlled by those who have more weapons and are more arrogant? Better yet, should we become determined to be in the group of the rich, and keep the poor at a safe distance, letting them learn to fend for themselves if they are unable to compete in the social ladder?

In the Christian tradition there are social principles such as the common good, responsibility, justice and solidarity, just to name a few. These are principles that, by their own internal dynamics, ask to be applied on a global scale.
In recent years have we seen that with globalization and new means of communication, interdependence between nations has increased and has become more and more visible. Unfortunately it does not appear to increase neither the sense of global responsibility, nor the spirit of solidarity and justice.
The small contribution, as much in Africa as in Europe, that we can provide is the practice and teaching of justice and solidarity. Without ceasing, without imposing, and without applying violence of any kind. Together, with perseverance and respect, we can slowly discover new ways of learning to be one humanity.

Nairobi. Dawn

Felicità – Happiness

Written for World Mission, Manila, Philippines

The U.S. Constitution opens with a resounding declaration of the right to happiness for all human beings. In everyday life this pursuit of happiness, in America as in all Western countries, for many people it is reduced to the accumulation of things – whether money, up-to-date electronic gadgets, roaring cars. The idea that being happy is the same with possessing a lot of material goods has become part of modern culture. Or, in our cases, happiness becomes “fun”. “Have fun” you are told if you go to a party, but also if you go to attend a concert, or a lecture or for shopping. It seems that life without “fun” is no longer life. But can happiness be synonymous with accumulation of material goods and entertainment?

In contrast to the ‘have fun” as a way of life, there are a thousand stories of everyday despair. It is reveling that in the richer western world the number of suicides continues to grow. It seems that the growth of material well-being goes hand in hand with an increase of feelings of being a failure, of diseases of the mind – but especially those of the soul, such as depression – and the desperate attempt to buy happiness with drugs, designer clothing, and all the external signs of appearance of happiness. I was recently told by a friend of mine in his fifties living in France “Sometimes I go out of curiosity to the places of entertainment frequented by my twenty five years old son, perhaps with the excuse to offer him a ride back home. While driving back I feel sick, because I have seen hundreds of desperate, unhappy youngsters who believe they have fun making noise all together and filling themselves with alcohol and other drugs. I wonder if my son goes to those places simply because they are fashionable, or if he goes there because he does not know the inner happiness that in an grown-up person must come from fulfilling responsibilities, making informed choices, complying with the inner values. Is he immature or a person with no ideals? “.

One Sunday morning in a church at Tubalange, on the outskirts of Lusaka (Zambia). Small, poor peasant houses, mostly made of mud and galvanized sheets. Red clay fields that are dry after the last ears of corn were harvested, and a group of Italian visitors who have come to take part in the Mass. Before the final blessing, the lay community leader asks me to introduce the visitors, then all the present line up to to personally welcome and shake hands with the visitors. Someone starts beating a drum, others join in, clapping hands and beating more drums. A young girls starts a song. Then another song and another one, and in a few minutes the small community of about hundred people is singing and dancing, women howling with joy, and guests fully involved and exhilarated. After the final blessing, one of the guests tells me “This is the most spontaneous and heartfelt celebration I’ve ever attended. This explosion of joy cannot be feigned , it can only be an expression of a deep inner happiness that these people have in the depths of the heart.”

So what is the secret to happiness? According to the philosophers, happiness consists in the full realization of oneself. It is not in the things we own and the rewards we receive from others, such as prestige, satisfaction, power. But to achieve self realization we must not desire what is unattainable, not compatible with our present situation, as we learn from the Buddhist or Stoic moral. Neither we can reach happiness if we aspire to a happiness that can only exist in a different world, which is unattainable here and now, as it is suggested by a certain vision of Christian spirituality. All these seem more like ways to avoid disappointment and do not fall into desperation. Rather than a way to be happy in practicing them there is the risk of falling into cynicism, and never be able to experience happiness. Happiness is a life experience that we must be able to welcome, not trained to reject it.

Gitau is a street child of perhaps ten years of age, with a bleak history of neglect and rejection. Yet even just looking at him with affection makes him break into a wide smile. He has already experienced all the possible disappointments, abandoned by the mother, betrayed by friends, and he should know to be cautious against possible disappointments. But Gitau instinctively knows he is a story within a larger story, in communion with the many stories around him. Perhaps, and I believe it is not an exaggeration to attribute to him certain thoughts even if Gitau has just begun to study the catechism to become Christian, has already aware of the truth of the words of Jesus “Blessed are you, happy are you ….” because in everything you see and feel the presence of God, and never lose hope, indeed you are rooted in the certainty, that God and His love will win.

To believe in the promises of the kingdom of heaven is like to live life in fullness already here and now, waiting for a higher level of life. It does not mean to delude ourselves with what is rationally impossible. Yet certainly it is to deny hopelessness and the desperation of the soul. It is not denial of the earthly happiness because we wait for future happiness, but it is rather to experience happiness here so that we become open to the eternal happiness.

We will journey towards happiness and the Kingdom of God not in company of the stoics and the rationalists, but with children like Gitau. Happiness is living immersed in the fact that our little life and history has meaning only within the great story of salvation.

Gitau knows this. He now approaches me and tells me, ‘Father, do you have time to play with me? “. Happiness is a gift that only others, the children, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, the justice seekers, or the Other, can offer us. Gitau, in his search for happiness, is offering it to me.

Referendum

KENYA: Christian Leaders Statement on the Proposed Constitution
NAIROBI, July 30, 2010
Here is a joint statement by the Christian leaders in Kenya released today Friday July 30, 2010 on the proposed constitution of Kenya.

WE STAND TOGETHER

We greet you in the name of the Risen Lord.
We, as shepherds of the flock entrusted to us by Christ to guide the destiny of Our Nation, are gathered here today as Bishops, Pastors, Priests, Reverends in solidarity to pray for our country, to pray for our people and to pray for the future of the nation.
We are here to give our spiritual guidance on this historic referendum. We have always been supportive of a new Constitutional order for our country and have worked along and hard to midwife our country through a new constitutional dispensation, right from the start, through to the Ufungamano talks until today.
Today, our country is at cross roads. The political leadership seems to be insensitive to the plight and to the needs of its citizens. Blind to the cry of the people to a just, fair and representative constitution that accommodates our diverse cultures and religions. We seem to have sidelined the God’s commandments and His will.
We the Christian shepherds in Kenya reiterate our advice to all Kenyans to reject this proposed constitution in its entirety. It s true that there are many positive improvements in the proposed draft, but the good has been mixed with evil sections that affect the moral life and rights of this country in irreversible and fundamental ways. The proposed constitution does not safeguard the sacredness of human life, the sound and moral education of our children and religious equality.
We must all ask ourselves; if this document is really as good as its proponents say it is, then why is so much money being spent to popularize it in the name of civic education? If this document is really as good as we are made to believe, why are foreigners pressurizing the country to adopt it? If this document is really that good, hwy has it divided the country down the middle? If this document is really that good, why have innocent Kenyans lost their lives through acts of terrorism and violence in its name?
Dear people, you have all witnessed our attempts at reconciliation with the government, our attempts to sit and reason together; to reach a consensus that is acceptable by all, but unfortunately will these efforts have borne no fruit.
To the people who are voting NO against the proposed constitution, we pray for you to keep your faith and not to be swayed by money or the extravagant show of might that is currently being displayed by the supporters of the draft. We ask that you pay no attention to opinion poll figures but have faith and believe that we shall prevail with the power of Prayer through Jesus Christ and our conscientious vote.
To those that are voting YES, we pray for you that you may see the light, and like the proverbial prodigal son, come back home, where we shall embrace you and celebrate you.
To those that are undecided and have been called the ‘watermelons,’ we pray that you may reflect on where Kenya has come from, where Kenya is and where Kenya id going, and search inside your souls that you may find Divine wisdom and reject the proposed constitution.
To our Muslim brothers and sisters, let us remember that nothing has ever come in between us before this proposed draft. We yearn for fairness, for equality and for harmony, that we may live together as we always have. We share the same problems, the same dreams and the same aspirations. Inequality to one person is inequality to all people. We pray that you too may join us in rejecting the proposed constitution.
To our brothers and sisters across the world, we appreciate your support and your concern for our country. However, we seek from you peace and non-interference in this important event that requires the deep reflection of Kenyans.
To the government of Kenya, we pray that you may shoulder the responsibility of leadership through Divine guidance. Keep this country together and united, be a voice of reason and above all, protect the citizens.
We the Christian leaders are steadfast in our beliefs. We are neither guided by political gains nor the succession politics of 2012. Political leaders last only for as long as they have been elected while ours is a divine lifetime calling. We shall have to be the ones to shepherd the flock through any turmoil that the current or proposed constitution or negative politics may bring. You have trusted us before, and we call upon you to continue trusting us now as your religious and moral stewards.
The proposed constitution in its current form is not good for the country.
There will be no cause to celebrate, regardless of whether the proposed draft is accepted or rejected. We shall be left a country divided and shall have to begin- yet gain- the process of healing and reconciliation.
We stand together to pray for the country, to be united and to have peace after the referendum. We appeal to all Kenyans, to exercise restraint, love and understanding for one another. Kenyans should not become divided because of the proposed constitution.
The 4th of August 2010 will be a day that will be a hallmark in the history of the Republic of Kenya. We call upon each and every Kenyan to turn up in large numbers, to exercise their democratic right to vote, and to display their patriotism for our country and convincingly vote No to this flawed proposed constitution that takes away your sovereignty now and forever, through subjection of International Law. We are all aware that this project begun as a beautiful dream for the whole country, a dream to make this nation a great nation in the eyes of God and of men. We can still realize that dream and should not give up or choose to accept a clearly flawed document with the excuse of fatigue or fear.
MAY THE ALMIGHTY GOD BLESS THE PEOPLE OF THE REPUBLIC OF KENYA. MAY WE LIVE IN UNITY PEACE AND LIBERTY.
Signed on July 30, 2010, at the Holy Family Minor Basilica, Nairobi.

Kenya Episcopal Conference
National Council of Churches of Kenya
Anglican Church of Kenya
Presbyterian Church of East Africa
Methodist Church in Kenya
Reformed Church of East Africa
Deliverance Church
Redeemed Gospel Church Kenya
Gospel Assemblies of Kenya
Pentecostal African Gospel Church
African Inland Church
Commonwealth Jubilee Church
Christ is the Answer Ministries
Neno Evangelism Centre
Maximum Miracle Centre
Jesus is Alive Ministries
Christian Foundation Fellowship
Lutheran Church
Jubilee Christian Church
AIPCA Church
Full Gospel Church
International Christian Church
AGAPE
CHRISCO
African Independent Pentecostal Church of Kenya
AIPCK
Kenya Assemblies of God
Foursquare Gospel Church
Federation of Evangelical and Indigenous Christian Churches of Kenya
Evangelical Alliance of Kenya

Perché non dar loro i soldi? – Why not just give them money?

A challenging introductory note and a very interesting book introduction on the much discussed issue of how to reduce world poverty. For reasons of space I have edited and shortened both texts.
You can find the original, as I have found them, in AfricaFocus Bulletin, an independent and extraordinary free electronic publication. It provides re-posted commentary and analysis on African issues. It is edited by William Minter.
You can find it at http://www.africafocus.org/docs10/pov1006.php
Moreover much of the book is available on Google Books at: http://books.google.com/books?id=M2WWHIzQON0C

Editor’s Note
Discussing poverty with a Washington Post reporter last month, 5th graders at a Southeast Washington school (the poverty rate for Washington, DC is 32 percent) came up with an obvious solution. “Why not just give them money?” (Washington Post, May 11). Experts and policy-makers have found it easy to dismiss this common-sense suggestion, in favor of magical belief in trickle-down economics or of elaborate poverty-reduction plans. But a new book brings together weighty evidence that in fact the children are likely to be right.

Book Title: Just give money to the poor – the development revolution from the South

Excerpts from the introduction

“I bake 100 rolls per day and sell each for one Namibian dollar [12>]. I make a profit of about N$400 per month [$50]” said Frieda Nembayai. She began baking rolls in 2008 when she started to receive a grant of N$100 [$12] per month, and for the first time had the money to buy flour and firewood. In neighbouring South Africa, younger adults living in pensioner households are significantly more likely to go out and look for work, because the older person can afford to provide child care and small amounts of money for food and bus fare for the job-seeker.
These stories point to a wave of new thinking on development sweeping across the South. Instead of maintaining a huge aid industry to find ways to “help the poor”, it is better to give money to poor people directly so that they can find effective ways to escape from poverty. These stories point to a little understood reality of the developing world – the biggest problem for those below the poverty line is a basic lack of cash. Many people have so little money that they cannot afford small expenditures on better food, sending children to school, or searching for work.
This book draws on this rapidly growing pool of research to highlight the potential and limitations of cash transfers to transform the lives of people in poverty in developing countries. There is quite a broad consensus that many cash transfers have proved remarkably successful, and this has led to at least 30 other developing countries to experiment with giving money to people directly – through “cash transfer” programmes.
Four conclusions come out repeatedly: these programmes are affordable, recipients use the money well and do not waste it, cash grants are an efficient way to directly reduce current poverty, and they have the potential to prevent future poverty by facilitating economic growth and promoting human development. But two areas remain the subject of intense debate – targeting and conditions. Should smaller grants be given to many people or larger grants to a few? Should recipients be asked to satisfy conditions, such as sending their children to school or doing voluntary labour? Important challenges remain regarding the financing and delivery of these programmes, especially in low income countries. And transfer programmes remain controversial, with some still sceptical about their ability to reduce long term poverty. These issues, too, are discussed in this book.
Changed thinking
First, it had been assumed that social grants were a luxury for the relatively rich. Poorer countries could not “afford” to give money to their own poorest, because so many of their citizens have low incomes, and thus would have to wait until economic growth made them more “modern” before this right could be applied. Second, the right does not distinguish between the deserving and undeserving poor; the rich and powerful always argue that the poor are at least partly responsible for their own poverty and therefore unworthy of support; poor people must be guided or even compelled to act in the best interests of their children.
Over the past decade, both of these beliefs have been challenged by countries in the developing world. They argue that they cannot afford not to give money to their poorest citizens. And not only is it affordable, it is often much more efficient than systems promoted by conventional international aid and financial agencies. They argue that people living in poverty use the money well. And responsibility for eradicating poverty, as the Human Rights declaration implies, is shared by all.
This is the southern challenge to an aid and development industry built up over half a century in the belief that development and the eradication of poverty depended solely on what international agencies and consultants could do for the poor, while discounting what the citizens of developing countries, and the poor among them, could do for themselves. Researchers have been surprised to find that, by and large, families with little money have honed their survival skills over generations and use a little extra money wisely and creatively – without armies of aid workers telling “the poor” how to improve themselves.
Indeed, research on cash transfers shows two important differences between the relatively poor and relatively rich. Poorer people spend more on food and locally produced goods, while the better off buy more imports, so any transfer from rich to poor stimulates the domestic and local economy. Second, poorer people are much more likely to use small amounts of money to try to leverage increases in income – by investing in their farm, by trading, or by looking for work. So grants can be explicitly developmental.
Failing to Make Poverty History
The number of people living in chronic poverty is actually increasing. Those who campaigned in 2005 to “Make Poverty History” increasingly ask what went wrong. Two best selling books, Dambesa Moyo’s Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa and Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion claim aid has failed, and largely blame poor countries for misusing the money. …
Aid has not failed; rather the failure is of an aid and anti-poverty industry that thrives on complexity and mystification, with highly paid consultants designing ever more complicated projects for “the poor” and continuing to set policy conditions for poor countries. This book offers the southern alternative – give the money directly to the those who have the least of it, but who know how to make the best use of it. Cash transfers are not charity or philanthropy, but rather investments that allow poor people to take control of their own development and end their own poverty. Thus, this book is a direct challenge to Moyo, Collier and much of the current popular writing on aid. …

Fundamentalism and Gospel Cannot Coexist

There are pages in the Bible that could have come out of an African traditional tale. The social and cultural context and the personality of the protagonists could easily be understood by any African, even an illiterate one, with no need for explanation.
While this familiarity provides an opportunity, it also poses a risk because the immediate apparent understanding could dupe the listener into thinking that he has grasped the deeper message, while in fact he merely feels at home, identifying with the behavior and attitudes of the actors but missing the deeper meaning.
Could this empathy between African culture and the Biblical world be one of the reasons why Christianity has caught on so fast in Africa, and a reason for the proliferation of so many churches inspired by the Bible?
The number and variety of Christian churches in Africa is actually bewildering. On the main road to Riruta Satellite, the Nairobi area where I live, there are now 37 signposts of Christian churches or sects within a driving length of two kilometers. There are also an uncountable number that do not have enough money to put out a sign, or just meet in the open, gathered around a table with a portable loudspeaker. Some others operate on an improvised stage where a preacher and a lively choir, usually enriched by a prosperous bevy of female dancers, propose something in between a religious rite and a show.
I use the words Christian and church or sect in italics because it is sometime difficult to classify the teaching and the actions of such groups. Is a preacher who proclaims that riches are a sign of God’s blessing – and incites his audience to give him money because they will certainly receive a hundred times more – still a Christian? What about the other preachers who speak of Jesus as a healer who can guarantee a cure for any sickness in exchange for a ritual practice? Is a group of people who exclude those who do not belong to a certain ethnic community, or those who are circumcised, still a church?
Students of the sociology of religion have tried to group these churches into different categories. Thus we speak of African Instituted Churches (churches founded in Africa to answer to specific African spiritual needs), Historical Churches (the Catholic Church and the churches born in Europe during the Reformation), Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Gospel of Prosperity, Healing Churches and so on. But this categorization is really a minefield, first of all because some terms like sect have acquired a derogatory connotation, and secondly because sometimes the teachings, the tradition, the way of praying and the cultures of the different groups intersect and overlap in a way that make it impossible to fit a particular group in a neat, clear category.
Is this amazing growth in number an answer to genuine needs? Is it the work of the Spirit of God, or the manifest of a destructive spirit of confusion and competition?
Personally, I do not pre-judge anybody; I prefer to approach the single members of all churches – and all religions – as people who are honestly and sincerely in search of God, until their actions prove me the contrary. I know that I have much to learn about the devotion and dedication of many non-Catholics to God. Some of their practices are exemplary: the courage with which they preach on the streets, the material support they give to their own congregations, and their knowledge of the Bible. Yet over the years I have also encountered many unchristian practices.
Abdul is a teenager who grew up in the streets of Kibera, his family being too poor to feed him, let alone send him to school. He is Nubian, tall, strong, intelligent and shy. In spite of his past he has absorbed a strong sense of identity and respect for tradition, and this has most probably been a key element helping him to keep his sanity.
Abdul tells me, “Father, my tribe is Muslim, and so is my family. I am attracted by Jesus, but I do not accept the way the staff in the Christian home where I live push me to become a Christian, on any occasion, some threatening me with expulsion if I do not bend to their will. It scares me.”
A small investigation reveals that he is telling the truth, the strong Pentecostal background of the institution being the problem.
I tell Abdul that one can only follow Jesus in freedom. He should make his own decision, should continue to be open to God who loves and guides him without bending to any force, be it the tradition or the insensitive teachers. Yet his case is an example of unacceptable practices by fundamentalist Christians, practices that can in fact cause rejection and hatred.
Does it even make sense to speak of fundamentalist Christianity? If a church practices intolerance, discrimination, violence and alienation, it betrays the teaching of Jesus and cannot be a Christian Church.
Jesus is present where there is tolerance, respect, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, compassion and love. In other words, to be Christian, a church – and the individual person – must respect the basic theological principle of the Incarnation, becoming present among people with the same attitudes as Jesus while presenting Him as the model human person in the integrity of His teaching, His historical existence and His present role in the life of the Church.
It is the Jesus of freedom, the one who forgives the adulteress before she asks for forgiveness, the one who suffers violence and reacts only with love and the one who involves his disciples in the suffering and in the poverty of their contemporaries. The one who says, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
A Jesus who promotes interior freedom, nonviolence, inclusive forgiveness and unbound love. I am aware that sometimes even my own church, which I love, does not measure up to the Jesus we believe in, yet He is our model and inspiration. He is the Jesus whose presence can be felt in the pages of Pope Benedict XVI’s recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.
To the contrary, fundamentalists of all religions love regulations, rules and laws because these provide a simple answer to the difficult questions and choices posed by real life. There are those who say “Jesus is my personal saviour,” but their actions make you suspect that there is nothing personal in their relationship with Jesus.
Jesus is a standardized image, a list of norms and rules to obey, not a live person to be loved in all his complexity.
And on the other side, if it is enough to pray during fixed times of the day, or to avoid certain foods and certain drinks, or to give a percentage of my salary to my pastor in order to feel in peace with God, then why face the much more difficult task of looking for Him out there in the world, in the turbulent economic, social and cultural life that is boiling all around us?
Thus, fundamentalism of any kind isolates us and distorts our relationship with the Son of Man, who proclaimed the heart of his message in the Sermon on the Mount – nothing could be further from fundamentalism – and from life and from history, in the ultimate instance making us irrelevant to our world.

Waiting for the Second Synod for Africa

Is Africa the future of the global Church? Numbers are in its favour. In 1900 Sub-Saharan Africa’s catholic people were less than two million, but in 2000 they increased up to 130 million: an amazing growth that never happened before in the Church’s history. The atmosphere of enthusiasm and joy of being Christian makes the participation to a Mass into an African village an absolutely new experience for European Christians.

Somebody dreamed of 2009 as the year of Africa for the Church. The visit made by Pope Benedict XVI in Cameroon and Angola last March, the planned plenary assembly of Secam – the institution that coordinates all the African Episcopal conferences – which was supposed to take place in Rome at the end of September, and now the Second African Synod, in Rome, from 4 to 25 October and that is focused on the topic “ The Church in Africa in service of reconciliation, for justice and for peace”, were all justifications for a certain optimism. The stimulating reflections of Caritas in Veritate on relevant topics for developing countries, for Africa in particular, have created even more hopes. The African Bishops could perhaps take some step further the richness of the social teaching of the Pope, applying it to the concrete African context, or “inculturating” it, to use a word that was so much used by the first African Synod.

New expectations came from the arrival at the White House of an Afro-American President, whose father came from Kenya and his grand mother lives in a Kenyan village. Obama’s visit in Ghana in July, the one of the U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton in other seven African countries only few weeks after the President’s departure and the important African presence at the G8 in L’Aquila made hopes grow for an increase of political and financial measures suitable to get over the heavy historical and cultural burden that weighs on Africa.

However, the list of expectations and hopes ends suddenly here. Numbers, words , international meetings, bold proposals abounds, but actions are missing. Unfortunately, when talking about Africa – in the ecclesial as in a political contest – hopes and the most solemn pledges rarely translate into something real, tangible. Africa seems to be part of a different dimension, where words remain, always and forever, only words.

That’s why the up-coming synod is considered with healthy scepticism by several African intellectuals and leaders. The high hopes raised by the announcement and preparation of the first African synod, followed by a strict curial control, the exclusion of the best African theologians of the time from the synodal process, a carefully edited final document and little or no action, has not been forgotten.

The doubts on the result to the present synodal process, which, it must be said, has not been followed on African soil with particular interest, are that are well expressed by Monsignor Peter Sarpong, archbishop emeritus of Kumasi in Ghana, one of the survivors of an eminent group of African theologians and pastors who in the aftermath of the independence years lead the most important African dioceses.

He says, «I think that the preparatory document for the synod is too generous in evaluating the results obtained from the first synod in 1994. Considering the optimism that filters out the text a person could also wonder: what about the conflicts that go on in many areas of our continent?» And he adds, «I am not saying I have doubts about the sublimity of the ideas expressed. I am only asking about the possible solutions for these problems. How can we become the earth’s salt? What is needed to have a Church family of God and transform it into a catalytic agent of justice and peace?»

So, «the risk is that the Second African synod could be exactly as the previous one: an occasion to repeat big truths on the Church, but without suggesting practical applications.»

The African Church still lacks the capacity to influence the society to promote an integral human development. The causes are many, and go from the almost total dependency from the West in terms of financing, organization and theological research to the fast numerical growth of the faithful that stretches the already weak organizations.
A case in point is the fact that most of the few seminars and workshops organized in view of the Synod have been financed by Western donor agencies and the cancellation of the already mentioned Secam meeting in Rome. Last August 17 the current president of Secam had to announce its cancellation quoting as the main reason that the funds available were not sufficient to pay for the board and accommodation of the foreseen 250 participants. Yet such a meeting could have been an important moment to prioritize and coordinate the interventions in the synodal hall. This cancellation says a lot about the dependency of a church that is not able to raise enough funds for her own meetings.

But the contrast between words and actions is even sharper in the political and civil society field. In every African country high sounding declarations about democracy, human rights, economic development, fight against corruption, nepotism and tribalism are written daily everywhere. With rare exceptions of a slowly growing civil society, the reality is that represented by millions of refugees that moves around the continent in desperate search of a dignified life, and by the thousands that try to escape through ships across the Mediterranean Sea.

You do not escape from your home if you can have a dignified life there.

The faces of the people weeping when refused entry in Lampedusa is the hardest count of indictment against certain African governments and the unequal international system that feeds the monsters who are leading Africa. The image of a government that treads on human dignity will be a national shame for Italian people for years. But this is another story. Those images remember us ruthlessly that African people do not count, they are only and always losers, imploring beggars, even in front of their own leaders.

How can we surmount the negativity of those images? African bishops – whom are accompanied by a relevant group of non-Africans at the synod – should help us by saying something prophetical. Something that, just because will be really prophetical, will have not only the taste of courage and truth but also that could be able to move the best resources of the African Church to promote a deep internal renewal and an effective action in service of reconciliation, justice and peace. Then Africa will really start becoming the future of the global Church, not in virtue of the numbers, but in virtue of the vision and of the actions to implement the vision.

Aiuto, gli Aiuti!

Anni fa, Nigrizia pubblicò un dossier intitolato “Aiuto, gli aiuti”. In poche parole vi si sosteneva la tesi che gli aiuti internazionali fanno più male che bene all’Africa, perché le modalità con cui vengono distribuiti non sono corrette.
Lo scorso anno, ai primi di giugno, mentre ero a Riccione per partecipare ad un seminario organizzato ai margini del Premio Ilaria Alpi, venni intervistato brevemente da un amico giornalista, Della’intervista, pubblicata da Il Redattore Sociale, il quotidiano La Repubblica riprese solo una frase, che pubblicò virgolettata e in grande evidenza per rinforzare il messaggio di un articolo. Era qualcosa del tipo “Molte ONG usano gli aiuti all’ Africa per aiutare se stesse. Padre Kizito”. Lo penso ancora.
Dopo quella citazione ricevetti tre email da amici che lavorano in diverse ONG dicendomi che trovavano quella citazione infelice. Risposi che, conoscendoli, so che loro e le loro ONG lavorano con serietà, ma che bisogna pur dire che per una buona maggioranza le cose non sono cosi. La mia non era una condanna indiscriminata, avevo detto “molte”, avrei anche potuto dire “una buona maggioranza”, ma non ho detto “tutte”. Avevo anche detto al giornalista che il mio personale parere ed esperienza e’ che quando si tratta di aiuti allo sviluppo “piccolo e’ bello”, perché le ONG piccole lavorano spesso con tanti volontari veri, non pagati, hanno motivazioni più genuine, lavorano in vero contatto con le persone locali e raggiungono risultati migliori. Io ho contribuito a creare almeno una ONG e due ONLUS in Italia, e almeno quattro ONG in paesi africani, e quindi ben so che possono essere ottimi strumenti per intervenire efficacemente in favore di chi ha bisogno, sia con aiuti di emergenza che per la promozione umana e educazione ai diritti.
A conferma del lato negativo del lavoro delle ONG ricevetti anche cinque email. Le rappresentava tutte una lunga e dettagliata lettera di una persona che dopo aver lavorato per un totale di 12 anni in due diverse grosse ONG aveva deciso di cambiar completamente lavoro proprio pochi mesi prima perché disgustato dalla lotta senza esclusione di colpi per assicurarsi i finanziamenti del nostro Ministero degli Esteri o della Comunita’ Europea, dall’inefficienza, dalla corruzione, dal fatto che trovare i finanziamenti e rendicontare i progetti diventa più importante che farli bene e far crescere la gente locale. E’ comprensibile come sia quasi inevitabile, se non c’e’ un’altissimo livello di motivazione, che ad un certo punto dell’ evoluzione di una ONG la presenza di professionisti ben retribuiti faccia si che il motivo dell’esistenza della stessa non sia più’ quello che fare progetti al servizio dei poveri, ma di ottenere finanziamenti per garantire la continuità dell’impiego.
Mentre invece funzionano gli aiuti che passano attraverso piccoli canali, dove la gente si incontra aldi la’ di tutti i tipi di divisioni, e dove la dignità’ delle persone e’ rispettata. . Penso alle iniziative di tante piccole ONG che hanno cosi di gestione quasi zero, ai gemellaggi fra scuole e associazioni e parrocchie e diocesi e magari anche squadre sportive, alla cooperazione decentrata fatta da comuni, provincie e regioni. Situazioni dove i volontari si pagano il biglietto aereo di tasca loro e, magari facendo errori, comunque meno gravi e meno costosi di quelli fatti dalle grandi ONG, si coivolgono in prima persona. Fortunatamente queste piccole iniziative sono molte e anche se non cambieranno la faccia dell’Africa, almeno ognuna di loro rida’ forza e speranza a qualche centinaio di persone. E non e’ cosa da poco, se confrontata col quadro fallimentare degli aiuti istituzionali.
Ho ritrovato tutto questo in un’intervista a Dambisa Moyo pubblicata lo scorso lunedì su La Repubblica. Il titolo e’ “Dambisa Moyo denuncia: gli aiuti salvano i dittatori e condannano l’Africa” La Moyo, zambiana quarantenne, economista che ha lavorato alla Banca Mondiale, e che lo scorso 11 maggio il Time ha inserito fra le cento persone più’ influenti del mondo, ha pubblicato un libro intitolato Dead Aid – che potremmo tradurre con Aiuti Mortali – in cui espone come le modalità’ degli aiuti siano sbagliate, ma mi pare, almeno dall’ intervista perché’ il libro non credo sia disponibile in Italia, che salvi proprio gli aiuti piccoli e mirati, che non passano attraverso i grandi canali istituzionali. Mentre gli aiuti diretti da governo a governo, dice, sono “diventati un immenso business dove ci guadagnano tutti tranne l’Africa: le ‘benemerite’ fondazioni americane, le multinazionali alimentari, le organizzazioni non governative”.
Allego qui sotto l’intervista scansionata.

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