Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
June 7, 2010
Church in Africa taking great leaps forward
Religious 'sow hope' who empower the people, says African priest
PETER NOVECOSKY, OSB
MONTREAL - More than 300 leaders of religious communities in Canada were told that their vowed life is meant to harness the energy of God's love for the life of the world.
Dominican Father Sidbe Sempore of Burkina Faso in Western Africa told the assembly of the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC) that men and women religious are making a positive difference in Africa.
Africa is plagued by many misfortunes and evils, he noted, and the media often portray it as the lost continent.
Yet, despite its epidemics, genocides, natural disasters and famines, Africa is growing at a fast pace. "It crossed the threshold of one billion people in December 2009," Sempore said. "Young people under 21 years of age account for 60 per cent of its population, which makes Africa a young continent."
The Catholic Church in Africa has made "a great leap forward" in the past 20 years, he said. The major catalysts for this were the 1994 special Synod for Africa and the pastoral visits of Pope John Paul II.
The Church broadened its commitment in multiple social and charitable works in health, education, development and the media, Sempore said. "Very often the Catholic Church represented for people an ultimate recourse in situations of disorder, conflict and injustice."
Religious life has experienced a "spectacular growth" in Africa in contrast to the "steep decline" in Western churches, Sempore said.
COMMITMENT TO THE POOR
Women and men religious "express the Church's commitment to the poor and destitute" and fight human misery on all fronts, including poverty, illiteracy, disease, social inequality and dehumanizing customs.
"Women and men religious are regarded by Africans as a force supporting their desire for change, progress and recognition," Sempore said. Religious are "sowers of hope" who empower people to fight for a better future.
The second keynote speaker, Loretto Sister Elaine Prevallet of Kentucky, interpreted the religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in view of the basic human instinct to seek security (in possessions), in the drive to connect (in mating), and in the exercise of power and control.
All animals have these basic instincts or energies, she said, but only humans can choose to direct or personalize these energies toward life or destruction.
THE 3 ENERGIES
"These three energies have a tendency to get stuck or side-tracked in trying to find security in worldly goods, in sexual or dependent relationships or in preoccupation with controlling events or people," Prevallet said.
The vows help religious keep these energies free so that they can wholeheartedly and deliberately dedicate them "in the service of the Body of Christ" and contribute to life's forward movement.
Prevallet said the role of religious today is to direct their energy to "deliberately cultivate hope, sowing the seeds of resurrection" in the world today.
A new executive was chosen for the CRC. Sacred Heart Sister Mary Finlayson of Ottawa is the president; Marianhill Father Alain Rodrigue of Quebec is the vice-president; and Benedictine Abbot Peter Novecosky of Muenster, Sask. is the secretary-treasurer.
The CRC represents 19,000 religious women and men belonging to 200 congregations in Canada.
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