Archbishop Nikola Eterovic spoke with L'Osservatore Romano about the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, set for October 2009 on "The Church in Africa, at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: You Are the Salt of the Earth; You Are the Light of the World."
The idea for this synod arose during the last years of Pope John Paul II's pontificate, he explained. The Polish Pontiff had already welcomed the idea in 2004. In 2005, Benedict XVI announced his plan to convoke the assembly, which will be a continuation of the first Africa synod, held in 1994.
"It will be an authentically African synod, which will contribute, as did the previous one, to stimulating the awareness of the unity of each part of the continent and favoring an evangelical dynamism," Archbishop Eterovic said.
The prelate noted one of the positive effects of the 1994 synod: the rapid development of the Church in Africa.
"In the meetings," he said, "certain significant statistics have come to the fore, for example, that the number of bishops has increased 18% since 1994, and the number of diocesan priests, by 58%."
This "exceptional growth," Archbishop Eterovic suggested, is much more important "if you take into account that at the beginning of the 20th century, the number of Catholics didn't reach 2 million and today there are 154 million Catholics in Africa, 17% of the African population."
Moreover, the prelate affirmed that the Catholic communities are active and committed: "Religious practice has a high rate, especially regarding participation in Mass on Sundays and holy days. In some countries, the rate of religious practice is around 80%."
This explains, he said, "the high number of vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life. […] In sum, Africa is not a mission land in the passive sense, but rather it sends missionaries, both for the continent itself and for the whole world."
Archbishop Eterovic explained how the Church in Africa is progressing in its preparations for the '09 assembly. He said they have already completed the phase of studying the "lineamenta" (guidelines), which were published in 2006 in various languages, including Arabic and Swahili. Responses to the "lineamenta" have already been sent to the Holy See.
Next is planned a meeting between the Special Council for Africa and the general secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, so as to prepare the first draft of the "instrumentum laboris."
Benedict XVI announced Sunday that he will travel to Africa in March and present the continent's bishops with the definitive draft of the working document.
Archbishop Eterovic noted that the synod will have a special focus on ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, particularly regarding the relationship with Islam.
He said the lineamenta "have a strongly Christological slant, because Jesus is the one who reconciles us, our justice and our peace."
But, the archbishop added, the synod will also consider problems the continent faces, including "armed conflicts, the imbalance between rich and poor, the role of women, the reckless exploitation of resources, of fugitives, of refugees."
"Reconciliation is a priority need in Africa, in which progress is not lacking, but neither are problems," the prelate affirmed. "Without the true peace in Christ, there cannot be any cultural or social development. The Church should be a prophetic voice that invites to reconciliation, justice and peace.