“The Church must look more to Africa”
The youngest continent in the world is making its way into the assembly of bishops. The Salesian psychologist and educator, representative of the International Union of Superiors General: “We had to ask for a place in the synodal assembly”
Africa is undoubtedly the continent with the youngest people in the world. In 2015, a young Somali entrepreneur and journalist published a map indicating the average age of its inhabitants for each African state. The graph was then taken up by various international press and travelled around the world, bringing out a very clear reality: in addition to having a very low average age, between 16 and 28 years, Africa hosts the five countries with the youngest population in the world - Niger, Uganda, Mali, Malawi and Zambia - (an average between 15 and 16 years). The figure, especially when compared to Italy - 45 years - and Germany and Japan - 46 - (the three countries exactly at the other end of the scale), is pretty stunning. It is therefore natural that the Synod on Youth currently underway should give a special spotlight to Africa and its millions of young people.
But what are the reflections on the African continent emerging at the Synod? We ask this to Sister Lucy Muthoni Nderi, a Salesian from Kenya, psychologist and educator, who for years has worked with young people from her country representing the International Union of Superiors General (Uisg) at the Synod.
Sister Lucy, what place and weight does Africa have within the Synod? What role do the many bishops, religious and young people who participate play?
“In Africa, there is a great expectation about the Synod. Just to mention one fact, the country that reacted most significantly to the questionnaire sent out throughout the world, is Uganda, with 16,000 replies. And I believe that the whole continent has much to look forward to. It’s clear that there are countries in which the dioceses have worked well, preparing their own young people for some time, others less, but, of all speaking, I can say that our young people want greater participation and believe that this appointment is an historic occasion for them”.
How is the Synod structured and how many young Africans are participating?
“There are 400 participants, 267 of whom are synod fathers. Of the 34 young people from all over the world, six are African and come from Madagascar, Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea. Then there are ten representatives of the Usg (Union of Superiors General) and three of the Uisg, including myself. But it was not easy to get here”.
In what sense?
“Well, while for the superior men the invitation for ten representatives is automatic in every Synod, we did not receive any communication until last July, we had to solicit it explicitly and in the end, we managed to get 3 places for us. Subsequently, four other representatives of the UISG were invited directly by the secretariat of the Synod. So there are seven of us in total, six of whom are auditors and one is an expert. We auditors have the opportunity to speak in plenary for four minutes, as do all the participants. Experts instead have the right to speak only in groups”.
A few days ago, Cardinal Napier, archbishop of Durban, South Africa, expressed the need to “represent the African reality in a clearer way”, do you agree?
“Absolutely yes. I believe that the Instrumentum Laboris (the basic document on which the discussion of every Synod is based, ed.) was lacking in some points concerning Africa. As the cardinal says, there is very little talk of migration and even less of intra-African migration: in our continent, there are an enormous number of people fleeing from emergency situations and being hosted by other African countries. It seems as if we are trying to come exclusively from Africa to Europe, instead only very small percentages of Africans arrive on your continent. It seemed to me that the representation of young Africans was not very responsive to reality, little account is taken of the fact that access to education, especially in some areas, is still very complex while, when we speak of digital generation, it seems there not much awareness of our reality: certainly, the use of the Internet is in great expansion, but there are still many young people who live in rural areas and have no access to the digital world. Finally, we are not witnessing the exodus of young people from churches, on the contrary the presence increases and I believe that this aspect is fundamental when dealing with the question of youth in the Church. In short, the Church should concentrate more on our context which, moreover, is that with the highest number of young people”.
Do you think that your “African” interventions are changing the direction of the Synod?
“The African bishops are making a great contribution as they bring out the need to better understand what is happening on our continent. Each of us who has spoken, including the young, in the plenary and working groups, is helping to bring Africa more into the Synod. From the interventions, one understands the need to train young people and priests, religious and lay people who work with young people and know how to listen to them. Our young people require participation and that the Church be renewed and rejuvenated, even in the age sense, they would like the hierarchy to deal more convincingly with fundamental issues such as corruption - both in politics and in the Church - the discriminatory use of resources, the lack of transparency. Then there is the problem of how faith is sometimes transmitted academically or through aseptic catechesis. Ultimately our reality should deal more with the participation of young people because we are still a Church governed too much by adults or divided: at times we are like politicians, separated by ethnic groups. We must find more an African way of faith”.
Is a request of inculturation emerging then?
“Certainly. We have received and maintained traditions that often make no sense in Africa. Take for example the liturgy or theology that still remains too western, the same names: for example, I had to change it to Lucy because I could not have been baptized with my African name. Things, thank God, are now changing and I am sure that the listening and dialogue between young people and adults triggered here at the Synod will improve our reality as an African Church overall”.
Source: Luca Attanasio, 22/10/2018, Synod, Sister Lucy (Uisg): “The Church must look more to Africa”, in Vatican Insider – Inquiries and interviews, [https://www.lastampa.it/2018/10/22/vaticaninsider/synod-sister-lucy-uisg-the-church-must-look-more-to-africa-cVqr4zIO8iaykLez5fUaTO/pagina.html]