One of the most discussed items was ethnicity or tribalism, blood ties based on tribe or ethnic group, which for many are still stronger than sharing the same faith in Christ.
The strength of such ties is seen in social relations, the life of the Church and the ways individuals and communities are reconciled with one another. Often ethnicity indeed turns into an abusive use of culture, an alibi that hides the wrong behaviours in name of “traditional practices.”
Sometimes ethnic and Christian identities work against each other. For this reason, we must work in favour of a kind of osmosis that blends the positive values of one and the other. It is necessary, as Benedict XVI put, that the “Gospel penetrate African cultures and African cultures penetrate the Gospel.”
Another issue that was discussed at the Synod was the situation of women. Not only is their place in civil society and the Church not yet recognised, but also they also face brutal mistreatment and bear the burden of a number of unjust tribal traditions like polygamy.
Another concern that emerged during the proceedings was the protection of the traditional family, which remains a point of reference in Africa, but is in many ways under threat from Europe’s gender theories, AIDS and witchcraft.
Certainly, children are the most fragile and defenceless of creatures. Local governments spend very little on their education; instead, most of the burden falls on Catholic schools. What is more, child soldiers, child labour, child sex abuse and child abandonment are major problems.
Witchcraft also causes many problems. It is everywhere and pervades every aspect of life of individuals, families and the Church. Political leaders turn to it in case of need. Even some priests and marabouts get involved in such practices. This is very dangerous. Indeed, it is not uncommon to discover that some murders were committed by people inspired by certain forms of witchcraft, which view killing as a way to take possession of someone else’s spirit.
An important chapter was dedicated to relations with Islam. It is clear that in Africa Islam is not monolithic. Islam in North Africa is not the same as in Sub-Saharan Africa, or southern Africa or East Africa. There are areas in which dialogue is possible, and there are areas where fear of Islam is growing. The influence of Arab countries, who are promoting missionary action in the continent, is keenly felt.
What is certain is that every time Islam was mentioned in the Synod Hall, divergent opinions were expressed and different experiences were described.
All the issues raised are exacerbated by Africa’s main problem, namely poor governance, which stifles economic development in a continent that is paradoxically both rich and poor.
All the bishops agreed that with two or three exceptions African rulers and political leaders are far from being interested in the common good—instead of promoting the real interests of their own countries, they tend to support multinational corporations in exploiting the continent’s natural resources. For this reason, in its final list of propositions the Synod had harsh words for such leaders, some of whom are Catholic, offering to set up chaplaincies to help them.
Lastly, the Synod made an especially strong appeal to all Africans to take their destiny in their own hands, working for justice, reconciliation and peace, telling them not despair because God’s mercy is great.
Africa’s ancient wisdom acknowledges this in a well-known proverb, which says, “An army of well organised ants can bring down an elephant.”