Africa is often considered to be a continent of hope. This statement might appear unrealistic and exaggerated at first sight. This apparent pessimism is not without basis. The massive material poverty, the non-ending wars and violence, the uncontrolled spread of AIDS, the illiteracy, the political corruption, etc… are only some of the evils affecting this huge continent and the millions of its population.
Unfortunately, often only these dark realities get the media attention. Even in the Ecclesiastical circles, these evils are highlighted in view of moving the hearts of people with the good intention of finding financial assistance for the most needy once. It is necessary because the good public image alone cannot satisfy the hunger of the poor children. At the same time, it needs to be remembered that there are many beautiful things as well in Africa.
We, Pallottines, are working in about 12 countries in Africa including South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Kenya, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and we are on the way to Uganda. I had the possibility to visit at least 8 of these countries. I have just returned from a visit to Cameroon and Nigeria. I should admit that I have returned with a lot of hope rather than pessimism of despair. Is it because I have failed in my assessment of the situation and the challenges in Africa?
The first to be said here is that Africa is not Europe or Asia or America. Africa is Africa! We can understand this continent only when we are able to respect it with its unique culture and history. This is true about every other continent as well. But since the African continent is dependent on others for many things, we may be tempted to impose our will and culture on the African people. In this way we can never understand Africa. The Africans, like all other human beings on the face of the earth, have the right to be respected and accepted in their cultural and historical uniqueness. No doubt, every culture can be enriched through interactions with other cultures and this applies to Africa as well. Nevertheless, Africa is Africa!
The wealth of Africa is, above all, its young population. Human recourses, no doubt, is the greatest asset of any nation. The population remains young because the couples believe in having many children. It is something cultural and is also a requirement of nature since the mortality rate of children is rather high. However, it is a huge resource that awaits to be tapped.
For the Catholic Church itself, it is a vast and promising field of evangelization. There are millions of people waiting for the Good News of Jesus. The churches are full of faithful; the liturgical celebrations are beautiful; music and dance are in the blood of people. Both the rich and the poor will have something to offer during mass; some put in coin, some others offer a chicken or a lamb. The Holy Mass is always a celebration of the entire Assembly. Beyond doubt, one of the most touching experiences dor me has been the participation at a Sunday Mass in the African countries!
The key to the development of the African continent is education. A good, value-based and integral education alone can transform the society and the culture. Moral and religious values should be part and parcel of such education. While all other humanitarian helps may be necessary, it is education that should be given the priority. Good Catholic schools can do wonder in most of the countries. Such education should also make the people self-reliant, both psychologically and economically. We may even say that the curse of Africa is the financial dependency on the other continents. Such a situation has two sides. Some Africans have got used to such a life of dependency; at times, it is need of the foreign powers to create such economic dependency. As row materials are still available in many African countries, there are many, both Africans and others, who continue to plunder this continent. Africa needs help not to buy the daily bread but to produce the wheat in their own fields.
It might still take much time for Africa to grow from adolescence to adulthood. Getting arrested at the stage of adolescence is neither good for the Africans nor others. The spirit of solidarity and Christian charity demand, that we accompany this young population. We always need to remember that every continent has its own unique challenges and problems. Human nature, regardless of the cultural differences, remain essentially the same. In this globalized world, we are inter-dependent, whether we like or not. Africa needs the rest of the world as much as we need Africa.
Such is the vision required also in the Pallottine world. We are Americans, Brazilians, Nigerians, Indians or Italians, but we are Pallottines, always in service of God’s people, wherever we are. We are united as an apostolic force within the Church. This is what St. Vincent Pallotti envisaged when he founded the Union of Catholic Apostolate – an Evangelical Trumpet inviting all to participate in the mission of the Church with equal dignity and responsibility. This is the key to building a better world.
- February 2012 Fr. Jacob Nampudakam SAC