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What Africa Can Teach Europe (Part 2 of 2)

Bishop Amédée Grab Evaluates Symposium

ROME, NOV. 24, 2004 (Zenit) - The first-ever Symposium of Bishops of Africa and Europe, organized by the Council of European Bishops' Conferences and the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, was held here Nov. 10-13.

In Part 2 of this interview with us, Bishop Amédée Grab of Chur, Switzerland, president of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences, reveals some of the proposals made during the meeting, in light of the challenges posed to evangelization in Africa.

Part 1 of this interview appeared earlier this week.

Q: More than discussing the help that Europe might offer Africa, this symposium intended to develop new ways of collaboration and new forms of communion with that continent. In your opinion, what is the contribution that the African continent can make to the Old World, from the human point of view and that of evangelization?

Bishop Grab: There was much discussion on this, especially in the working groups and the results have not been reported yet for lack of time. The communications of these groups will also be included in the symposium's minutes.

The topic was central to the discussions, not so much to idealize this new missionary era, in which Africa sends us priests, while among us they begin to be in short supply, but rather to recognize its limits and see its difficulties. On the part of Europe, there is recognition of the profound generosity and contribution that arriving Africans can give.

At first, some thought they were coming to enjoy less hard conditions of life, but then, with the passing of time, thanks to the ministry of the priests open but rooted in the faith and full of zeal, people realized that this contribution could revitalize many pastoral environments.

On Saturday, a Nigerian religious spoke very clearly about this, suggesting also that the presence of African religious in hospitals and homes for the elderly be intensified, to bring the freshness and sincerity of a profoundly Christian contribution.

It is important that this motivation not disappear. Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja said it recently on Italian television, when he affirmed: it is true that many people struggle for justice, struggle for the defense of human rights, but if I do so as a Christian I must say that I do it by the mandate of Jesus Christ, to bring not only the elements for the solution of human problems, at rational and operative levels, but to proclaim the Gospel. Therefore, I think that many Africans can give back to Europeans, at times somewhat exhausted, this vision of the faith, this enthusiasm for Jesus.

Q: Hence the meaning of the words of encouragement of the Holy Father, during the Audience in the Vatican, in which he invited participants to cultivate "personal contact with Christ," in the light of the Year of the Eucharist, and in the ever renewed missionary thrust that this Sacrament implies.

Bishop Grab: Yes, he has said this numerous times. For example, it is very clear in the encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," and later, he explains it beautifully in the Apostolic Letter "Mane Nobiscum Domine."

He repeats it on every occasion, as he did to the bishops at the end of the symposium in an audience that no one will forget, because not all have the opportunity to see the Holy Father often. Together with the 70 or 80 bishops, there were also 80 lay people who participated in the works of the congress, in addition to those who worked in the secretariats.

And many were very moved, either because it was the first time they met with the Pope or because they saw with what clarity of thought, with what conviction, he said these things.

Q: What are the issues that were not addressed or that remain in abeyance for lack of time?

Bishop Grab: It was impossible to address all the issues because Africa is very diverse, so when African bishops meet all together, they often try to do so in Rome.

I remember that, eleven years ago, when the Pope mentioned the special assembly of the Synod for Bishops of Africa, indicating Rome as the meeting place, there were reactions of disappointment in Europe: they could not understand why all activities were being centered in Rome, while it would have been better to hold the assembly in Africa.

However, it is much easier for the African bishops, if they are many, to meet in Rome than any other place in Africa. Therefore, the diversity of situations did not arise in these days of symposium. Allusions were made, for example, in a working group. A bishop of North Africa said that, his situation was not reflected in the things that were being discussed.

Of course a Bishop who has the responsibility of several hundred Catholics, in one diocese, amid three ...

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