The Catholic bishops of Africa produced an action-document on Justice at their annual meeting in Cameroon now being distributed through the continent. Christopher Howse summarises their proposals.
"CHRIST preached love and justice," the bishops remind pastoral workers, "and made himself the relentless champion of the poor, the children, the oppressed, and all the marginalised people in the society of his day.He "worked with his hands" and "identified himself with" man." "Every time that man is the victim of injustice and oppression, it is Christ himself who is wounded: There are still many "serious situations" in today's world, the bishops state. including: armed interventions which create new dependencies, the unjust distribution of the earth's possessions between rich and poor, the "dialogue of the dealbetween North and South, the powerful hold of multinational companies and the deterioration of exchange.
The bishops, however, do not blame all Africa's ills on outside forces. Among "the sons of this continent" there are many violations of human rights especially by those who hold economic or political power. Constitutions "arc being flouted" and "the common good gives way to the interests of individuals or of particular groups,
"There is also the buying off of consciences, and even the buying of conversions. There is also the squandering of the national patrimony for purposes of prestige: or the maladministration of public funds. which sometimes entails the breaking down of the economy in countries otherwise well endowed by nature: or again the disorganisation of administrative services that have been drained of the spirit that should animate them, namely, professional conscience and dedication."
The bishops then go on to ask: "And who will reap the bitter fruits? The lower classes of the rural areas and the workers, or the ordinary civil servants whose purchasing power is crumbling away from day to day. in the face of the offensive prosperity of the wealthy minority."
Realising that part of these injustices are perpetrated by some of Africa's 58 million Catholics, the bishops point up the need for deeper evangelisation by posing two rhetorical questions: "In this world which is so disfigured by injustice. have Christians understood that their faith calls for a different kind of behaviour'? Have they grasped the fact that works of justice are part and parcel of the Christian ethic which they profess?"
Bringing the message of justice to today's world is not an easy task. It will, the bishops observe. "bring us face to face with the Cross," but "we have chosen to follow Him who first suffered persecution for the sake of justice."
The call to justice goes beyond national borders. What happens in one nationhave serious repercussions on other nations. The world is faced with refugees who are forced to abandon their homes, prices for both raw materials and finished products being set by 'the industrialised nations, and millions for arms but relatively little for the starving millions. We all need a deeper understanding of what is meant by "a new order of relations between nations."
Role in politics
Stressing that "we Africans are very sensitive" to the fact that "every man is my brother,'" the bishops emphasise the need for pastoral workers to go into greater depth and instruct the faithful on what the Gospel requires in matters of justice and not be satisfied with easy rhetoric. "A programme of education for justiceshould be worked out and consciences should be mobilised.
Education for justice can overcome the antagonisms of tribalism, racialism and discrimination by instilling mutual understanding and love, an an appreciation for the qualities and talents of other groups in our society.
Education for justice should follow the Christian through life. In African culture, it starts in the family which is "still the first school of justice" and which has traditionally taught our children their "social responsibility.Then as they grow, more emphasis should be placed on liberation from sin, the social dimension of life, the Church's social teaching
and the spirit of service. This should continue through the whole gamut of education and even after one takes his or her place in society as an adult.
It has been African tradition that mature people play an active
part in society and this is the best guarantee against any form of dictatorship. "We shall always fight for the guarantee of freedom of speech for all citizens.' People should be encouraged to see the value of their efforts in the
political field and not lose heart by "the constant need to begin all over again.
In regard, however, to pnests and religious standing as candidates for political election, the bishops state, "it is for each Episcopal Conference to judge" on the is of Church Docu
ments, ber "for our parL, we ask for abstention: the place of ecclesiastices is not in govdrnment.
Action for justice presupposes a knowledge of all the forms of oppression and causes of corruption from the grass roots up and an awakened critical faculty "which will lead us to reflect on the society in which we live and on its values.
"Speaking out in the cause of justice,however, the bishops add, "it is not necessarily a public act,Before doing so. it is normal "first of all to get in touch with those who are responsible for, or even guilty of, these situations." This is the African and Christian way of approach.
"Our interventions in the cause of justice ought to be well prepared and documented." Serious analysis is necessary. "Welltrained laity who are in 'direct contact with the social and political realities of the country are indispensable co-workers in this field."
Each Conference must decide on the structure it wishes to use for this work. be it a national commission for Justice and Peace, social action or human development, but what is essential is that the structure chosen should' be adequate to the challenge.