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Archbishop Onaiyekan on the State of Africa (Part 2 of 2)

12/2/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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Gospel "Finds Fertile Ground in the Traditional Culture"

ROME, DEC. 2, 2004 (Zenit) - Archbishop John Onaiyekan thinks the road to social justice will be a rocky one.

"Sooner or later, rich countries will see that things cannot continue this way," said Archbishop Onaiyekan, archbishop of Abuja and president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), when analyzing the world situation in this interview with us.

"But before this happens, many, too many people will die and endure sufferings that could have been avoided," he said.

Part 1 of this interview appeared Wednesday.

Q: What is the situation in your country, Nigeria, in the transitional phase toward a stable democracy?

Archbishop Onaiyekan: When our countries do not succeed in organizing themselves well, we cannot even begin to liberate ourselves. In my opinion, our task is to liberate our countries from those who subject us; only then will we be able to begin to speak in a coherent way and make ourselves heard. The problem is that we have corrupt, stupid leaders who rule, facilitating and even promoting exploitation from outside.

Q: How does the Church act in this context?

Archbishop Onaiyekan: It depends on which Church it is. If one thinks of the official Church, of the bishops and episcopal conferences, then it depends on the degree of influence that their statements have and it also depends on how many Catholics there are in the particular area. Because, in the last analysis, the archbishop of Abuja is not like the archbishop of Manila.

The archbishop of Manila has a whole army of Catholics at his side, and if he is able to get through to Catholics and they respond, the government must pay attention. The same thing happens when the Church in Poland decides to raise its voice, and we all know what happened there.

In Nigeria, instead, the situation is different. Our strength is not to speak out always as Catholics; we must present the good of the country. And then, when discussing the common good, we must try to do so in a way that people will listen to the intrinsic value of the social doctrine, and not just because it comes from the Pope.

What is lovely is that, at the base of our experiences, when we put at people's disposition the strong ideas on which the social doctrine of the Church is founded -- such as the common good, justice, honesty, the rights of man and of the citizen, and the duty to govern justly -- we usually see a great consensus.

We also try to reach out to other people, regardless of the fact they are Muslims, so long as they accept that a given principle is just. I think that the Nigerian conference has been able to build a reputation by analyzing issues correctly and judging situations with hard logic, as well as by speaking out courageously.

What we don't know is how many people will be bearers of these values. How many Catholics are there in the government to whom can we entrust this message? Sadly, we still cannot do this. The reason is that many of our Catholics in politics have not been formed in the social doctrine of the Church.

They are people who have attended state universities, in which politics is not taught in the light of moral values. Moreover, the political school they have frequented teaches the dirty politics we see around us.

Such is the case that many Catholics say that if they are to remain Catholic, they cannot continue in politics, as to be successful, they must put certain principles to one side, come to a solution of compromise, or betray their beliefs.

Q: In particular, how is the Nigerian episcopal conference acting to overcome this lack of formation in the social doctrine of the Church?

Archbishop Onaiyekan: It must be said that the Nigerian episcopal conference is trying to focus attention on and work with the people. Something that is very difficult because there is a need for a consistent network organization at the parish level and small schools, continuing with a catechesis based on principles that for me are obvious but that are not so for a population that has been subjected for 30 years to a military dictatorship.

For example, for a Nigerian to hear that military men have never had the right to govern, is something that they cannot even imagine. All Nigerians younger than 40 have had no experience of a government that has not been a military dictatorship. And that is why it is even more difficult to make them understand the value of elections. And politicians take advantage of this.

The majority of officials who are under a military regime are not military men but civilians who organized themselves in a closed circle; a group of mafiosi who hold power. At present, it is the same group that is in power. ...

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