With a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica October 4th, Pope Benedict XVI opened the Synod of Bishops for Africa. Although the Mass was conducted mainly in Latin and Italian, a choir from Congo sang traditional African Hyms and the Mass booklets were illustrated with sacred art from Congo, Togo, Burundi and Ethiopia.
The theme of the October 4 to 25 Synod is The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace and the Holy Father set the tone for the Synod with his Homily, Sunday saying that Africa's spiritual and cultural values which recognize God as creator and the value of human life are resources that the rest of the world can benefit from, except that those values are being attacked by materialism and moral relativism. He said "there is absolutely no doubt that the so-called 'First' World has exported ... and continues to export its spiritual toxic waste," contaminating the people of Africa.
He also touched on the issue of religious sects and marriage, saying some religious groups are spreading intolerance and violence instead of teaching love and respect for freedom. Although he did not mention poligamy directly, he said said the permanence of marriage between one man and one woman result of how God designed human beings and urged African Catholics to deepend their faith and their understanding of what God wants for humanity. He said this would lead to stronger families built on matrimony.
Monday at the Synod's opening session the Holy Father said that practical analysis of the current state of the Church in Africa is good, but the gathered information needs to be looked at in the light of God, otherwise the analysis is deficient and closed to God.
Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, of Cape Coast, Ghana also spoke at the opening session. He outlined the current conditions in Africa, saying parts of the continent live under the shadow of conflict and death. He added that the Church "must preserve the continent and its people from the putrefying effects of hatred, violence, injustice and ethnocentrism."
He also said, "The church must purify and heal minds and hearts of corrupt and evil ways and administer her life-giving Gospel message to keep the continent and its people alive, preserving them in the path of virtue and Gospel values, such as reconciliation, justice and peace."
Cardinal Turkson also looked back at the 1994 Synod of Bishops for Africa, saying it happened during a dark time in Africa's history and produced a message of hope for the continent. Some of the same problems are still around he said, explaining that in North Africa the Church barely exists, priests have trouble staying faithful to their vow of celibacy, various sects attract large numbers of young people, those go leave to study abroad come back non-Catholic, and ethnic tensions and government corruption continue. When asked afterwards about the issue of celibacy among African clergy he said it is nothing to be ashamed of as modern men and women struggle with celibacy, but Church leaders need to find new ways to respond to the challenge.
Despite these challenges, Cardinal Turkson pointed out, the church in Africa has grown numerically, armed conflicts have decreased, the number of Catholic universities has increased, and more Africans are being appointed or elected to leadership positions in international religious congregations.
In his opening address Pope Benedict called on synod participants to listen to the Holy Spirit and recognize that every challenge and every blessing is a result of human's relationship with God.