‘Africa is the lung of the Catholic Church’

Next week Africa will come under global spotlight during Pope Francis’ highly anticipated November 25 – 30 African visit that will take him to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic.
The Pontiff is expected to meet slum dwellers and refugees and call for dialogue between Christians and Muslims and speak about wider issues on the future of this continent which has seen the Catholic population surging massively by 238 percent since 1980 and is approaching 200 million.

The trip, the first for Pope Francis, is fraught with security concerns and the Pontiff will spend at least two days in each country.
Pope Francis’ pending visit to Africa has created a media buzz with devout Catholics openly expressing their love for the Pope.

In this Q and A, Sifelani Tsiko (ST), The Southern Times Zimbabwe senior reporter speaks to Father Fradereck Chiromba (FC), the secretary-general of Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference on Pope Francis’ inaugural trip to Africa, the first by a Pontiff known to draw huge crowds and praise for his tough statements on matters such as environmental stewardship, the family and God, global inequality, climate change, conflict and Islamic extremism.

ST: When the Holy Father lands on the African soil for the first time, what do you think is going to be his key message to a continent facing a myriad of problems ranging from war, famine, poverty, unemployment, environmental degradation, debt and underdevelopment?

FC: The Holy Father is well informed about Africa, its joys and sorrows. He will most likely address these joys and sorrows in the context of the family. The Church held a three-week Synod on the family in October 2015. He will bring a message of encouragement, peace and hope.

He will talk of love and mercy as an antithesis to war and hate. The Church will observe a Year of Mercy beginning on December 8, 2015.
ST: Zimbabweans still fondly remember Pope John Paul II’s visit to Harare. Enthusiastic Catholics are expected to attend a mass during the Pope’s visit. How many Zimbabwean Catholics are you expecting to attend his gatherings in Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic?

FC: I do not have any exact figures at present but I hope Zimbabwe will be sufficiently represented at both Ecclesiastical and national levels. Many Zimbabweans have already been to Rome to meet Pope Francis. They will want to welcome him too to Africa. We also already have Zimbabwean Catholics living or studying in the countries to be visited by the Pope.

ST: Given political instability in the CAR, do you think the Holy Father will proceed with his visit to that country despite spirited attempts by France calling on the Pope to avoid visiting the country?

FC: There are possibilities that the itinerary may have to be changed depending on the situation on the ground, much to the disappointment of many in CAR.
ST: Pope Francis holds sharply political opinions on everything from climate change, environment, poverty, capitalism and politics. Do you think, during his visit, he will want to influence debate on the future of the continent, its sustainable development and care for the environment as well as its relations with the rich and powerful industrialised countries?

FC: The Holy Father published an Encyclical on Climate change in June this year and he will want to speak to it during the visit. He offers an alternative world view, moving away from exploiting the environment to taking care of our common home. These are lessons Africa badly needs, what with the burning of the environment, cutting down trees, air and water pollution, etc.

ST: The Pontiff is known for his fiery denunciations of the “idolatry of money.” Do you think the Pope will use this trip to denounce corruption and greed wreaking havoc on the continent?

FC: Idolatry of money affects both rich and poor countries alike. Corruption and greed are evident in Africa and have become a big hindrance to peace and development. I hope the Pope will find space to also address these mundane issues.

ST: Pope Francis has in the past railed against runaway capitalism. What ideology do you think he will try and promote to keep unfettered capitalism in check?
FC: He may speak against runaway capitalism but will not offer an alternative. The Church does not promote any ideology as such except to only present the Person of Jesus Christ. Therein lies the answer to unfettered capitalism, particularly in the invitation to love of God and neighbour.

ST: Africa has seen scores of its people dying while crossing the Mediterranean Sea in a bid to reach Europe. Will the Pope seek to highlight the plight of African immigrants?

FC: The Pope has urged the world to embrace immigrants. I hope he will address the root causes of emigration, including the political and economic causes.
ST: Poverty, “ideological colonisation,” reckless financial speculation and the technology gap between rich and poor nations are some of the concerns here in Africa. How do you expect the Pope to tackle these issues?

FC: I do not expect the Pope to refer to ideological colonisation. He will, however, speak about poverty and the poor and how the continent needs to develop, adopting new technology and methods of development while safeguarding against reckless financial speculation.

ST: Do you see the Pope drawing attention to the serious responsibility the United States has within the international community, especially in leading the common work of nations toward more humane solutions?

FC: I do not see the Pope drawing attention to the United States in particular but perhaps to the United Nations and the developed world in general to work for more humane solutions.

ST: Catholics are divided on almost every culture war issues from abortion to same-sex marriage to climate change. Africa too, is sharply divided on these issue. How do you see the Pope addressing the issue of gay marriages in a continent in which the majority of people resent such practices? The family model in Africa?
FC: There are two sources of teaching that guide the Church, Scripture and Tradition.

Culture war issues were successfully contained at the recent Synod on the Family by using Scripture to resolve any emerging issues.
ST: Catholics who attend Mass more often are much more likely to call abortion a sin, say children should not be raised by same-sex couples and believe that the church should not allow remarried Catholics to receive Communion. How do you see the Pope tackling the issue of children and the family versus anti-ethical issues threatening the African home and family?

FC: The Pope will simply affirm the teaching of the Church against abortion and same sex couples. However, the Pope has recently simplified the annulment process for civilly divorced Catholics so that they can remarry in Church and return to the Sacraments. Some of the anti-ethical issues are not typically African but borrowed and may not be raised.

ST: In the last decade, two scathing grand jury reports accused Catholic leaders of covering up the crimes of paedophile priests. What will be the Pope’s position on the matter regarding Africa?

FC: Church law is the same universally and if there are any breaches the law will take its course including in Africa.
ST: According to the Catholic Herald the faith is spreading faster in Africa and Asia than anywhere else around the world but declining funds have led to the ending of various Catholic programmes to support education, health and to fight famine. Do you expect that the Pope will also address this issue?

FC: Works of charity are at the very heart of the Church and cannot be delegated. The Pope will want to encourage Catholics to continue doing good works, not only with donated funds but from their own resources.

ST: Are there any future plans for the Pope to visit Southern Africa? Do you see the Holy See speaking more about evangelism given its rapid decline in Western Europe?

FC: I am not aware of any imminent visit by the Pope to Southern Africa but we can always submit an invitation if we have not done so already. Pope, now Saint John Paul II, was last in Zimbabwe in 1988. It is about time for another Pontifical visit.

We are in a new era of evangelisation. Africa has been described as one lung of the Church and is now expected to breathe life into other parts of the universal body.

December 2015
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