A four-day Pan-African Catholic Congress on Theology,Society and Pastoral life has kicked -off at the Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, Nigeria, with the Theme, “What must we do to perform the works of God”?
In a pre-congress briefing held at the Seminary, President of the Congress and Archbishop of Cape Town, Ghana , His Grace, Charles Palmer-Buckle, said that the aim of the Congress is to reflect on the faith and fate of the Catholic Church , evaluate different pastoral and theological approaches and jointly develop some best pastoral practices for the renewal and reform of the Catholic Church in Africa.
He added that the congress will also celebrate the 50 years of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), 25 years of the First Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa, and 10 years of the Second Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa.
Archbishop Buckle, who spoke on the SECAM side, hinted that the first Catholic Church Council was held in Rome in 1962 to discuss the fate of the Catholic Church in Africa. There were so many African Bishops and Cardinals and the outcome of the Congress led to the second Synod of Bishops convoked by Pope Paul VI in 1969 on the theme ,“The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace” during which Church leaders on the continent deliberated on, among other themes, transforming “theology into pastoral care,”
He disclosed that the first ‘Papal visit” to Africa between July 31-August 3rd, 1969 in Kampala, Uganda saw the canonisation of the 22 black African Martyrs of Uganda at the middle of the Congress and that Pope Paul VI said that Africa should be home of Christian, which has been carried through.
The Cleric said that in 1994, Pope John Paul 11 called for a special assembly African Bishops.
The Archbishop noted that the Congress will bring together African clerics, laity, religious and scholars to develop best practices and new approaches for doing theology and pastoral ministries in the changing faces of faith and life in Africa.
Speaking on the humanitarian services side, Dr Sussan Nezda Lastret, a Professor of medicine, Emergency Physician assistant said that their services cover health, education and others. They provided charity services in places there were genocide, epidemics, Ebola among others.
She expressed the hope that her participation at the Congress will will help them to find out where they provide services and reconnects with what God wants them to do.
Chairman of the Local Organising Committee, Very Reverend Fr Clement Obasi, commended the Rector of Bigard seminary for his support to his committee. He said the closure of the Akanu Ibiam international airport affected the movements of participants who had to pass through Asaba Airport, plied on road.
Rector of Bigard Memorial Seminary, Very Rev. Fr(Dr) Albert Ikpenwa expressed joy over the choice of Bigard which was established in 1922 and has trained priests in Theology and Philosophy. He added that the Major Seminary has produced 3 Cardinals, 34 Bishops and thousands of priests working in different parts of the world.
On his part, the Convener, Reverend Fr Prof Stan Ilo expressed hope that the Congress will be a “Congress of action””I hope that the Congress will offer the Church in Africa and all the delegates to the Congress, the spiritual and collegiality atmosphere to listen to God and to one another in an atmosphere of love and respect”, he said. .
He said that a communique will be issued at the end of the Congress on Sunday, December 8. It is hoped that the document will be a guide on pastoral and theological work in Africa as well as in other contexts of faith and life in the Universal Church.
Some of the key documents to inspire deliberations during the Congress include SECAM’s “ Pastoral Letter” issued at the end of the Bishops’ plenary in July 2019, Pope St. John Paul II’s 1995 Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesiastical in Africa ”, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s 2011 Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “ African Munus”, Pope Francis’ 2016 Apostolic Exhortation “ Evangelistic Gaudium” as well as documents from the Second Vatican Council.
Among the conveners of the Congress are the African Catholicism Project at the Centre for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology (CWCIT), Chicago-based DePaul University, the Association of African Theologians in collaboration with the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu and various Catholic Seminaries and Universities across Africa.