A conversation with Cardinal Arinze on Benedict XVI’s trip to Benin
The egotism of the world
and the hope of Africa
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
They have the strength to do it.” But, the Cardinal asks, “will they ever be
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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