In the intense exchange of experiences and emblematic life stories, the Synodal Fathers underscored Africa’s greatest prize, which we have experienced as well in our everyday work of cooperation, namely, its people’s hunger for meaning and spirituality. Indeed, they are hungry for God, something that no longer seems to be the case for old and sated Europe.
In Africa, faith in God fully exerts its fascination because it is “authentic”, occurring when witnesses are met, and which everyone can freely heed. Young people seem very attracted to this. It is as if they realise intuitively how life can be turned upside down by faith, how the latter can change everyday life when it is understood as knowledge of reality in its deepest truth, certainly not as a guide with ethical or environmental rules to follow.
Something Benedict XVI said during the morning prayers on the first day gave me a special key to interpret our action as a NGO and the work the synod carried out later. The Holy Father noted that if the relationship between creator and the created is changed, all else is inexorably changed. Unless this constant tension, this relationship between God and his creatures, is kept alive, unless faith as a method of knowing remains active in each good deed or development work, a principle of dualism and relativism will emerge, which inevitably drains the former of their significance.
Looking at my experience in cooperation, I am afraid that might find out that our agenda has coincided too often with that of international organisations, first of all the United Nations, which present themselves as temples of a new ‘humanitarian’ religion, places of blind neutrality and relativism. The relativism of these organisations is such that they paradoxically lose sight of the main goal of their work, which is man and what is truly good for him.
For this reason, two things must be urgently addressed to counter this trend, namely the question of education and that of the international recognition of the pivotal role played by the Church in the pursuit of the common good. On the first question, that of education, I insist as others have done, that we must take into account the Church as a key player in every forum where development plans are drawn up, whether for Africa and beyond, a question that cannot be reduced to a matter of form. The content of education is the uppermost issue and must be addressed in relation to what is taught in Catholic schools and how the conscience of new generations can be helped to develop.
Recognising the actions of the Church and its contributions to the common good in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity is the other urgent question that must be addressed. A couple of figures explain why. In Africa, the Church provides primary education to 50 per cent of the population whilst guaranteeing 50 per cent of basic health services in many countries. However, none of this is properly recognised. Indeed, the Church gets only 3.6 per cent of the money a fund dedicated to the fight against three major diseases grants to faith-based organisations.
In this sense, the Ugandan Bishops’ Conference operated in a commendable way, but much more can be done.