REPORT OF RECOWA TO THE 17th PLENARY ASSEMBLY OF SECAM ( 18-25 July Luanda, Angola)

#recowa

The Regional Episcopal Conference of Africa (RECOWA), fruit of the merger between the former CERAO and AECAWA, is composed of the 11 National or Inter-Territorial Conferences. They are in alphabetical order : BENIN, BURKINA FASO-NIGER, COTE D’IVOIRE, GHANA, GUINEE, LIBERIA, MALI, NIGERIA, SENEGAL-MAURITANIA- GUINEE BISSAU-CAP VERT, SIERRA LEONE-GAMBIA, TOGO. All of these Conferences make up the 16 countries in the western part of Africa. West Africa is a population of more or less 314,556,966 habitants1. The Catholic population numbers around 35,633,8292. The Catholic population seems small 12.20%; but in actual fact it is on the increase if we take into consideration the past 20 years of our catholic history. However, we must continue to work hard in order to 1/3 of the total population. There is significant cultural and religious diversity with Christianity, Islam and African Traditional Religion being the predominant religions in this area.

Catholic Church by country3

Country

Total Population

 % Catholic

Catholic total

  Benin (details)

7,460,025

26.6%[15]

1,984,366

  Burkina Faso (details)

13,925,313

17%[2]

2,367,303

  Cabo Verde (details)

512,096

77.3%[2]

395,850

  Côte d’Ivoire (details)

23,800,000[23]

21.4%[3]

5,093,000

  Gambia (details)

1,593,256

2.1%

33,458

  Ghana (details)

21,029,853

12.9%[3]

2,712,851

  Guinea (details)

9,467,866

2.6%

246,164

  Guinea-Bissau (details)

1,416,027

8.9%

126,026

  Liberia (details)

3,482,211

5.4%

188,039

  Mali (details)

12,291,529

1.5%

189,289

  Mauritania (details)

3,086,859

0.1%[3]

3,086

  Niger (details)

11,665,937

0.1%

11,665

  Nigeria (details)

182,000,000

12.6%[3]

22,932,000

  Senegal (details)

11,126,832

3.5%

389,439

  Sierra Leone (details)

6,017,643

2.9%

174,511

  Togo (details)

5,681,519

26.4%[3]

1,499,921

Total

314,556,966

12.20%

38,346,968

RECOWA is composed of 203 bishops including the Emeriti and 9 Cardinals of which 6 are in active ministry. They are: Nigeria: Arinze (83),  Okogie (80), Senegal: Théodore Adrien Sarr (79) ; Nigeria John Onaiyekan (72); Burkina Faso: Philippe Ouédraogo (71);Cape Verde: Gomes Furtado (66);Cote d’Ivoire: Jean-Pierre Kutwa (70);Ghana: Peter Kodwo Turkson (67);Guinea: Robert Sarah (71);

Our goal and vision are as follow respectively:

GOAL: To foster greater Regional integration and pastoral solidarity through the promotion of unity, justice and peace among the people of West Africa on the basis of the Social Teaching of the Church.

VISION: A regional organization that helps its people to live in freedom, peace and dignity in order to develop their potential, through a socio-political strengthening of their capacity, based on the Social Teaching of the Church.

THE REALITY OF WEST AFRICA

In recent years, West Africa has been an upsurge of violence due to religious extremism. We only have to look at Nigeria with Boko Haram, Mali, with its array of separatist movements in the colors of Islam, Niger, Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso. Whether in Nigeria or any other part of West Africa, it seems that the desire of these groups is the Islamization of the countries concerned.

Some Christian denominations with their continual attacks on the Catholic Church give the impression that they exist because the Catholic Church exists. We can also add how some Christian Churches are building empires of wealth in the name of God by exploiting the suffering and misery of the people. Incendiary calls from some Christian religious leaders and the political exploitation of religion by politicians in the region and the disrespectful behavior with regard to religious and family values of some media in the name of the so called freedom of speech are all elements not only repugnant to human conscience, but especially to the Religious conscience.

Situation with regard to their political, economic, social and cultural rights, including access to social services (such as health care and education), and social and political participation.

The struggle for power, the effects of civil war, corruption and inequalities have placed most countries in West Africa on the boil and put the issue of religious differences on the background. The result has been a powder keg of frustration which often explodes at the slightest provocation based on anything from arguments over results of elections by politicians, students, ethnic groups or any other social formation on the landscape.

The issues that generate violence in most parts of West Africa have to do with issues around law and order, Constitutionalism and freedom. In many respects, failure to apply the principles of the Constitution or to design the kind of laws that privilege human rights and trump citizenship over any other form of identity. If the issues are framed as rights, then we can take them away from the purview of politics and use the judicial processes to seek remedy when there are infractions whether based on any religious, gender, ethnic or other identities.

Below are a few issues that require resolution in West Africa: Denial of access to Land for the building of Churches; Denial of freedom to embrace Christianity; Denial of the right of inheritance to Christian women who marry Muslims and remain Christians; Denial of access to the State Media; Denial of access to state employment; Non payment of compensation for destroyed Churches and Institutions; Kidnapping and forced marriages of Non-Muslim girls; Lack of access to Christian Religious Education in schools in some parts of West Africa. Land grabbing; Politic as a means to enrich oneself; All sorts of crime go unnoticed because they have become commonplace and even normal for many; Leaders are not ashamed or afraid anymore of committing crimes or protecting those who have committed crime.

REFLECTION:

What responses might these situations demand from us? How can we form partnerships with people of other faiths to resolve these issues? What might be the most effective response from our Conference?

Strategy.

-Accompaniment: The Church is the Custodian of Social conscience. RECOWA tries to play its role of teacher of conscience.

By being a custodian of order, the Church raises a leadership to the perfection of his being and so gives human society men who are indeed well formed. Pope Pius X11 said that such well formed men are “integrally established in their inviolable condition as images of God, men who are proud of their personal dignity and their just freedom, men who are justly jealous of their basic human dignity, men who are firmly rooted in their country and in its traditions”. It is such Leaders who provide a firm foundation for human society, bringing to it security, stability and equality.

At RECOWA level, we encourage our politicians to bring the strengths of their religious convictions to the political space and to avoid the constant manipulation of religion for ephemeral political ends. For this reason, RECOWA is engaged in talks in order to work hand in hand with all the regional Institutions.

-Reclaiming and or Seeking a greater role in the public space through the establishment of the Parliamentary Liaison Offices which we strongly encourage; last year three delegates from Togo, Burkina Faso and Mali were trained; this year five delegates from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Senegal will undergo the training. All this is done through the help of the JDPC of SECAM.

Reclaiming and or Seeking a greater role in the public space through dialogue (intra and inter religious dialogue) while rallying other Christians towards the goals of Ecumenical unity.

-Enthroning Constitutionalism.

This is a justifiable need necessary for order and peace; and plays a central role in peace-building. It is based on the principle of law and legal state and so is a principle or system in which the law rules and human rights are not only of highest value but also they must be guaranteed and protected in institutional manner. It is a system of effective, systematic and institutionalized limitations of the political power whose aim is the preservation of human rights. Constitutionalism does not only control the political power but also seeks to make government possible and to provide visions of legitimate and just system for government.

INITIATIVES BY CONFERENCES WITHIN RECOWA.

1. A workshop on Ecclesia in Africa and Africae Munus to the attention of the 08 Episcopal Commissions to which were associated members of the Regional Council of Laity of West Africa (RCLWA), the Regional Union of Priests of West Africa (RUPWA) and the Union of West African Religious (CRUWA yet to be sealed).

2. The establishment of the working committees true Think and Thank for the Episcopal Commissions in November 2014.

3. International Symposium for the launching of the African initiative on education for peace and development through inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue, 26-28 May 2015 Cotonou.

A similar initiative is due to take place in Côte d’Ivoire in 2017, all things being equal.

4. Building the Capacity of Regional and National Bishops’ conferences on Electoral Cycle Programming, 20-24 September 2015, Abuja.

A similar training is due to take place in Côte d’Ivoire in November27-30, 2016.

5. International Symposium on Africa and the legacy of Alioune Diop:the dialogue of religions and challenges of the present time : 50 years of THE SECOND ECUMENICAL VATICAN COUNCIL (1962 – 1965), 27-29, January 2016, Dakar.

6. Togo, in June 2015, through the benevolence of Cardinal SARAH each of our Conferences was asked to transmit to the Head of State of his country, the Joint Declaration of Bishops of Africa and Madagascar entitled “Respect, love and serve the Africa in truth”.

In accordance with the recommendation of said message, the Head of State of Togo touched this delicate issue twice during the UN Summit on Sustainable Development. Thus, in his speech at the General Assembly, 25 September 2015, he said in particular:  “I am glad that Pope Francis was able to share, this morning, with infinite generosity, his right vision on the moral, human and religious requirements that we must never lose sight of in our quest for sustainable and shared development.

In the same vein, we must pay close attention to the urgent appeal launched in June 2015 by the Bishops of Africa and Madagascar.

In this regard, we are convinced that the development to which our people ardently aspire cannot be at the expense of their core values, especially with regards life, family. That is why we advocate a more integral vision of the human person that takes into account the rich cultural heritage of Africa and moral values to which it remains committed.

Then, on 29 September at the general debate of the 70th General Assembly of the United Nations, he insisted on the same subject with the following words : “Similarly, when we are looking for more appropriate mechanisms to fund the development of Africa, it would be regrettable if the cultural values on which African societies founded are sacrificed with the risk of undermining the desired results. In this regard, pressure must not be exerted on our States to force them to adopt programs and initiatives that cause cultural changes. Indeed, as discussed by the bishops of Africa in their statement of June, we are concerned that certain orientations of Sustainable Development Goals related to sexual and reproductive health will eventually become conditionalities for granting resources while their ownership continues to be controversial in our society”.

At some meetings he had with members of the Conference of Bishops of Togo, the Head of State made two observations that deserve our attention : first at the UN Summit, he had the impression that he was the only head of State to relay the message of Bishops ; second, he believes that the approach adopted has not been followed. It may therefore be ineffective. For the President of the Republic of Togo, the position taken by the Heads of State will have weight only if it is based on a strong mobilization of the civil society, including the religious.

Therefore, during the regular session of the Bishops’ Conference held in Lomé from 14 to 17 of this month of June 2016, centered on the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis « Laetitia Amoris », No 251, which states that “it is unacceptable that the local churches be under pressure and that international agencies determine financial aid to poor countries in order to introduece laws which establish ” marriage ” between persons of the same sex,” we felt that it is good to give our message of 2015 a new impetus.

Hence the following suggestions:

– It would be desirable that SECAM application asks the various Conferences of Bishops to organize sessions or seminars on Amoris Laetitia and to include this subject in the final message that will be issued;

– SECAM could write a letter to the African Union, ECOWAS (the regional organization to which the President Togo belongs) on the subject?

– SECAM Could negotiate a small space, at a summit of the African Union and ECOWAS to address the issue.

– Finally, the SECAM could identify some Heads of States sensitive to this issue to continue the reflection on this issue.

STRATEGY

-works with poor and disadvantaged communities in West Africa to overcome poverty and bring about sustainable development and well-being.

-protects lives and relieve suffering during emergencies; reduce the risks to vulnerable communities as a result of conflict and natural disasters.

-raises awareness and understanding of the causes of poverty and injustice to inspire a commitment to lasting change.

-challenges those with power to adopt policies and behaviour that promote social justice and end poverty.

Strategy

Inter-Religious Dialogue :

Inter-religious dialogue is a strategy to establish trust between followers of different religions in order to get to know and learn from each other their respective differences, so as to gain a better insight into the common ground behind the differences and put such to use for the benefit of the society.

Civic Education:

The idea is to strengthen the capacities of National Justice and Peace commissions so that programs are generated within the commissions to encompass civic education, and notably on political. This become heightened mainly prior to major political and national events like general elections, referenda, constitution making, national budget days and any other event of national interest. Civic education aims at creating awareness among the public on their rights and their civic responsibilities. It is geared towards guiding and enlightening the public on making informed decisions that interest their respective countries for the common good while at the same time adhering to the gospel values and the Social Teaching of the Church.

Use of Media:

More and more the Church has in her constituencies adopted the modern ways of communication in evangelization efforts. This huge bracket includes the dissemination of advocacy messages. It is notable that most of the churches at Conferences/Diocesan levels have established one or more catholic radio/TV stations, (Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire), as instruments of evangelization in the wider sense. Print media is also popular in these institutions with an aim of reaching as many people as possible (Ghana, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire…etc). These infrastructures have been used intensively as interactive points between the Church and her faithful that include the leaders. It is a powerful strategy in influencing policy change.

Finally, I am happy to inform you that RECOWA held its 2nd Plenary Assembly from 22 to 29 February in Ghana. The new officers of the Conference for the next three years are:

President: His Grace Most Rev. Ignatius Ayau KAIGAMA, Archbishop of Jos, Nigeria.

1st Vice-president: His Excellency Most Rev. Jose Camnate NA BISSIGN, Bishop of Bissau, Guinea Bissau.

2nd Vice-president: His Excellency Most Rev. Alexis Youlo TOUABLY, Bishop of Agboville, Côte d’Ivoire.

Secretary General: Rev. Fr. Joseph Kacou AKA, Diocese of Grand Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire.

+ Ignatius A. KAIGAMA,

Archbishop of Jos, President of RECOWA

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_by_country

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_by_country

3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_by_country

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