· A conversation with Cardinal Arinze on Benedict XVI’s trip to Benin ·
Old and new slavery makes Africa’s journey of development today still uncertain and difficult. Egotism of the market and special interest masked as piety, exclude the black continent from a world system which calls itself globalize. “The only help that the African people really need,” says Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, who traveled with Benedict XVI during his recent trip to Benin, “is to be allowed the conditions to rise up and walk on their own. They have the strength to do it.” But, the Cardinal asks, “will they ever be allowed to?
Africa, be confident and rise up!” How do you interpret the Pope’s exhortation to Africa?
There could not be a more pertinent appeal for Africa. The continent has to confront challenges and problems of various kinds. But challenges are met by preparedness and problems can be resolved and overcome. The situation is very clear. And the synod, celebrated just over two years ago, defined it and indicated the way: reconciliation, justice and peace. Undoubtedly the continent needs all three. Reconciliation is necessary among the different nations, but it is even more urgent within individual countries. We should not forget that evil comes from afar. The colonizers did not take much into consideration, for example, geographic and ethnic confines. Their actions were guided exclusively by commercial principles. So it happened that a particular ethnic group, united by traditional customs and practices, but especially by the same idioms, found themselves suddenly divided and forced to live in different countries. Those who know the history of this immense and heterogeneous continent and its many people, looking at a geopolitical map of Africa, have the clear sensation that someone drew a straight line from top to bottom, to separate nations almost without any criteria. This was the beginning of those divisions which penalize the continent. So a solution is needed for the fact that one cannot change the confines. Reconciliation among Africans, both at the international and national level, seems the only possible way.
Do you think that it is feasible?
It is undoubtedly difficult. To give you an idea, in Nigeria there are over two-hundred different ethnic groups living side by side, with different customs, practices and languages. This is why the first step is that of reconciliation. To learn to know each other, to respect and accept each other and to help one another by seeing what is good in the other. This is the only way to move forward together. And then there is justice. But this is a virtue which not only the Africans need to achieve. It is a value for all people. And it should be applied first of all by public powers, civil society, the State, governments and the Church, too. One needs to respect the rights of all individuals. The first right to respect is that of life. Life is not wanted, it is conceived: therefore in itself it demands individual and social responsibility of the highest kind. Finally, peace. Africa needs real peace; not the peace of the cemetery, where there is silence and peace. No, this is not the peace which Africa needs. It aspires to a peace which is built on respect for others, respect for the sacredness of life; one which allows us to forget wrongs which have been done to us and to renounce revenge. This is the peace which the continent needs.
The Pope was very explicit on this issue during the few hours he spent in Benin and especially in his post-synodal exhortation.
It was the most significant aspect of his visit. In many passages, both in the exhortation and in his talks, I very clearly sensed Benedict XVI’s indications for the African people. But I also sensed signs of his concern.
What is at the bottom of this concern?
The Pope knows very well that Africa, given the level to which it has been reduced, cannot make it on its own, even if he encourages it and has re-ignited in the depths of its soul the light of hope. It still needs help in order to lift itself up. And we should not forget that some problems were created externally. I mean that much of the evil which afflicts the continent was not caused by the African people but was due to the egotism of new colonizers. I’ll give you an example. The price of raw materials that are extracted from Africa is not decided by Africans but by multinationals which exploit them. The price of sugar – a resource in Benin – is decided by the stock exchange in Tokyo, Paris or New York, but not in the interest of the country; or at least, it is not taken into consideration that sugar is perhaps the only source of sustainment for that population. So there is the problem: it is not so much that Africa cannot make it, on the contrary, it has the strength and the means to be able to grow. It is rather that the world must cease considering it a land to exploit, take it by the hand and give it a place in that system which claims to be globalized but still needs to fully understand the primary value of solidarity. In practice, there needs to be a profound conversion of hearts and minds in order to realize that in the pilgrimage of life, we should all hold hands. Africa has a much longer road than other countries, but it can do it. In this sense, the Pope’s biblical invitation takes on its full meaning, “Africa, be confident and rise up!
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