The 15th Plenary Assembly and the 40th Anniversary of the foundation of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) was held at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) in Accra, Ghana from 26th of July to the 2nd of August 2010. The Plenary Assembly focussed its reflections and deliberations on the theme SECAM at 40: Self-Reliance and the Way forward for the Church in Africa.
The assembly was started with Eucharistic celebration presided over by Polycarp Cardinal Pengo, the President of SECAM. There were a good number of dignitaries present for the opening ceremony including Peter Cardinal A.Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; Archbishop Robert Sarah, Secretary for the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples; Francis Cardinal Arinze; Archbishop Leon B. Kalenga, Apostolic Nuncio to Ghana; Rev. Fr. J.Yameogo, representing the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications; His Excellency John Dramani Mahama, the Vice-President of the Republic of Ghana and a number of delegates and officials from various countries and from sister Continental Episcopal Conferences.
Archbishop Gabriel Charles Palmer Buckle, the President of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference gave the welcome message. Rev. Fr. Francois Xavier Damiba, the Secretary General of SECAM introduced the Cardinals, the Vatican Officials, the Partner Agencies and the specially invited guests.
Archbishop Robert Sarah conveyed to the members the cordial salutations of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI. Peter Cardinal A. Turkson and members from Partner Agencies also delivered solidarity and good will messages. Sir Paul Victor Obeng, the Chairman of the Ghana national Planning Commission, in his acceptance speech as the Chairman of the meeting, commented that the Church in Africa today is being called upon to be self-reliant. He also pointed out the need for planning at all levels of church life.
Polycarp Cardinal Pengo, the President of SECAM, in his address exemplified the mission of SECAM as that of being a sign and instrument of salvation. He also reminded the assembly about the need for building up the Church as the family of God in Africa as well as fostering communion and collaboration among all Episcopal Conferences of Africa and the Islands especially in matters of spiritual and human development. His Excellency Honourable John D. Mahama, the Vice-President of the Republic of Ghana, officially opened the Plenary Assembly with his address praising the Church for providing infrastructure and services for development through education, health, agriculture and vocation training. The Vice-President also remarked that the Church shouldn’t remain silent in the face of injustices and oppression of the poor.
II. Mission and Vision of SECAM
In the keynote address, His Grace, Peter K. Sarpong, Archbishop Emeritus of Kumasi, Ghana, going through the 40 years of SECAM, outlined the mission of SECAM which consists in promoting its role as a sign and instrument of salvation and building the Church as Family of God in Africa. He mentioned some of the achievements of SECAM during this 40 years: serving as a bridge between the Bishops' Conferences from French, English and Portuguese speaking countries in Africa and Madagascar, forming the collegiality between bishops, promoting dialogue between African bishops and their partners from Europe such as CCEE, Missio, Misereor etc. SECAM has supported in a discrete way several Bishops’ Conferences living in difficult situations or in hard times. It has influenced Heads of African States looking for solutions to problems concerning social, economic and political issues. SECAM has promoted key meetings on Justice and Peace topics. It has also provided studies on several vital questions for life and mission of the Church in Africa.
Archbishop Sarpong underlined also some problems that SECAM had been dealing with during its 40 years of existence. Self-reliance is one of its biggest challenges of
III. CORAT Africa on the Challenges of SECAM
The task of facilitating the Church in Africa towards self-reliance was ably undertaken by the Christian Organisations Research and Advisory Trust of Africa (CORAT).
As SECAM celebrates 40 years of its existence she has documented achievements for the national, regional and continental Conferences of Africa and Madagascar. While celebrating these achievements, however, CORAT Africa has called for the attention of SECAM to the challenges to be addressed to ensure more and even greater quality achievements in the future. Some of these challenges revolve around the following issues of self-reliance:
- SECAM has achieved much in its pastoral and social services but it must instil professionalism in the way and manner that it manages its pastoral and social programmes and projects.
- To assist SECAM manage efficiently, effectively and transparently the grants and other resources from partners and donors she must committedly put in place structures to ensure accountability. Good financial management means raising prudent budgets and putting up budgetary controls.
- To attract more funds from partners and donors, timely financial reporting will be needed with the backing of external auditors’ reports.
- SECAM must therefore ensure that all its activities are on a par with the policies, operational systems, financial management and procurement procedures of the partners and donors and meet the highest standards of due process, accountability and transparency.
- SECAM while partnering with other NGOs must keep its identity as a faith based organization. It must be a model for good stewardship and effective leadership.
- SECAM, in the way it implements its programmes and projects must ensure the participation and involvement of all stakeholders. The national and regional conferences must be carried along to encourage ownerships.
IV. Caritas in Veritate
Peter Cardinal Turkson presented an overview of the social teaching of Pope Benedict XVI as contained in the encyclical CARITAS IN VERITATE. This papal document, he pointed out, had been well received. 6000 articles on the encyclical had been published within 30 days of its release. This encyclical is an excellent example of the teaching mission of the Pope. He pointed out that in this document the Pope goes beyond social problems and tackles global economic, entrepreneurial, political, anthropological and ecological challenges. He said the Pope invites all to develop a more humane society to gravitate towards “being more” and to consider integral development of a vocation of every person. The Cardinal further underlined that the Pope reminds all that the Social Teaching of the Church is a truth of faith and reason. The encyclical, he said, concluded by making an appeal to all to develop a strong sense of moral responsibility rooted in genuine love for humanity. The Cardinal appealed to the bishops to promote the encyclical through regional and national Episcopal Conferences. He urged them to share the document with people both in the private and public sectors.
V. The Family
Mrs. Daniele Sauvage reminded the bishops that first special assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa proposed the image of the Church as the family of God. God is a communion of persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In adopting the model of the Church as the family of God the Synod of Bishops acknowledged the human family, marriage and human love as willed by God from the beginning, in the act of creation (Gen. 1.26). God says, ‘let us make man in our own image, after our own likenesses. It follows, therefore, that for the human family and the church to realize their purpose and mission on earth both must know and model themselves on the one and the triune God.
Mrs. Marguerite Peeters, in her presentation, warned against the anthropological and spiritual dangers hidden in a new, seducing global ethic expressed by a new language (gender equality, reproductive health, the right to choose, the right to sexual orientation, cultural diversity, well-being for all...), from which the key words of Judeo-Christian revelation are absent: truth, charity, gratuitous gift, service, spouse, good and evil, sacrifice, complementarity... The new ethic, forged under the aegis of the United Nations in the 1990s, is the bitter fruit of a long process of western cultural revolution that went from deism to the death of God to the death of man, going through the death of the father (deemed source of our “repression”), the death of the mother (contraceptive mentality and abortion) and the death of the spouse (sexual revolution, multiplicity of “partners”). Loss of faith threatens those Christians who allow themselves to be seduced by the secularist ethic, which is rapidly gaining ground on the African continent. There is an urgent need for discernment in the light of the Gospel, for information and education at all levels of African society. The time has come, in fact is overdue, for Africans to declare independence from western ideologies and decadent lifestyles so that the African Church may remain strong and be faithful to her specific mission within the universal Church.
VI. Renewing our Commitment to the Ideals of SECAM
The sharing of experience by some senior members was a challenge to the members to re- dedicate and re-commit themselves to SECAM.
Archbishop Peter K. Sarpong, Archbishop Emeritus of Kumasi, Ghana, stressed the vision of SECAM as the instrument of communion, collaboration and solidarity. He challenged the delegates to assess their commitment by paying the levies, attending meetings, sacrificing personnel for the Secretariat, renewing their commitment to SECAM and changing the name from SECAM to Association of all Conferences of Africa and Madagascar.
Francis Cardinal Arinze stressed the idea of Unity as fundamental to the global world today. SECAM must provide such a unity for Africa. SECAM has to contact governments especially AU, regional governments etc. SECAM was important for the success of the Continental Synod. SECAM is the organization for Africa to take ourselves seriously and it cannot make success automatically. It is an organization to support the growth of Christianity in Africa. SECAM must not die.
Christian Cardinal Tumi shared that this assembly is an opportunity to re-launch ourselves afresh as members of SECAM. Many young Bishops have to take SECAM seriously.
According to Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo, SECAM is a mission given to us by Pope Paul VI to make the Church truly African and Africa truly Christian. It was founded to answer the needs of Africa. It was meant to support the efforts of the church in the grass root level.
Revision of SECAM constitution may be required in order to give prominent role for the President to be a spokesperson of SECAM at any time.
VII. Caritas in Veritate and the Gender Theory
Msgr. Tony Anatrella pointed out that in Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI has shown us the method to true understanding of the post-modern gender theory. Critical analysis and synthesis is the method and it is now a vocation for Christian philosophers, theologians and academicians. The message of the Holy Father is clear that virtue based on the true understanding of metaphysics and ontology is the way to bring sanity to an increasingly insane society.
As a way forward we must return to the Christian understanding of the human person. We must use the hermeneutics of phenomenology and Thomistic metaphysics to show the true nature of man and woman grounded in truth of the life of the Blessed Trinity which is a communion of love.
This year SECAM is celebrating 40 years of its existence. It is a milestone in the history of the continental body. The members of SECAM have emerged from this plenary session with renewed enthusiasm, hope and a deep sense of fraternal solidarity. All the members recommitted themselves to upholding the ideals of SECAM. They also committed themselves to implementing the new resolutions of the plenary session. We owe the Founding Fathers of SECAM a debt of gratitude and pray that their vision for Africa be realized through the intercession of Mary, the Queen of Africa.