On Saturday 19 November 2011 at midday, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI signed the Post-Synodal Exhortation, Africae Munus, in Cotonou, Benin. The importance of this document coming at the crucial moment when the universal Church is discussing NEW EVANGELIZATION, is a unique opportunity for Africans to reflect, stand up and walk. These are the words with which the Pope actually begins Chapter 3 of Part 2 of that exhortation: Stand up take your mat and walk!! Africa has been lying down affected by years of paralysis. Now is the moment to jump up, take heart and face the challenges. None of us can afford to remain lukewarm any more. We either make or marr. Below is a summary and reflection I have made on this Exhortation. Anyone is free to exploit in whatever way he thinks necessary.

An overview of the Post-Synodal Exhortation, Africae Munus, 19-11-2011

Tatah Mbuy

On Saturday 19 November 2011, at midday local time in Cotonou, the capital city of the Republic of Benin, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI signed the Post-Synodal Exhortation, Africae Munus. The Second African Synod took place in the Vatican from 4 to 25 October 2009, 12 years after the first. The theme for the synodal gathering was: The Church in Africa at the service of peace and reconciliation. For those who are in touch with contemporary Africa, this theme touched on very sensitive socio-political and cultural concerns in a continent that is today rocked by violence provoked by bad governance and unaccountable management of the common patrimony. Africae Munus, the post-Synodal exhortation, clearly states the stand of the Catholic Church in relation to issues of Justice, Peace and Reconciliation in Africa. So the present exhortation is of capital importance.

Composition and Scope of the Exhortation
Africae Munus is addressed primarily to bishops, the clergy, consecrated persons and the lay faithful of the Church in Africa. It takes off with the words of Jesus to his disciples in Mtt. 5:13-14: You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. This document brings together all the 57 propositions made during the Second African Synod.The exhortation consists of an Introduction, two Parts -1 & 2 - and then a Conclusion. Like most Vatican Documents it is divided into numbers - 177 in all, each taking up a specific concern.

The Introduction
The Introduction runs from numbers 1 to 13 and pays tribute to the Synod Fathers for the relevance of the theme which they chose. It recognizes that Africa's commitment to Christ Jesus is a treasure and that the Second Synod continues the reflections began during the First Synod which took place in 1994. The quality of speeches and interventions at both synods were remarkable; yet the more urgent need is how these are put into practice.That is why this exhortation particularly identifies and shares in the lot of those Africans who are living in tragic situations of war, hunger, disease and other catastrophies. If the Church in Africa must be the salt and light of the continent, then it must see these difficulties and problems as challenges, not as “insurmountable obstacles.” (no. 12). The document is however, positive in its expectations because it recognizes that the African naturally has a “spiritual lung” (no.13) which the modern world needs but lacks.

Part 1: Behold I make all things new
Part 1 of the exhortation consists of 2 chapters held together by a quotation taken from Rev.21:5: “Behold I make all things new”. This part of the document gives a panoramic view of the structure of the Church in contemporary Africa.

Chapter 1 considers the Church in Africa as an authentic servant called to commit herself “in service to reconciliation, justice and peace”. A faithful servant hears and obeys what he is commanded to do. Christ came to bring peace to the world. The Church in Africa must be committed to peace, not violence. Peace cannot be gotten in a situation where there has been no reconciliation. So the Church in Africa is also committed to foster reconciliation among disenting and quarreling groups, tribes and ethnic units. One can only think here of the many conflicts in the continent where the Church could actively play a major role as peace-brooker. Peace and reconciliation, however, mean nothing if there is no justice. So, the Church in Africa must stand for justice at all levels, including setting the example herself. The local Church must promote truth in love and fraternal concern for others. This demands that the African church re-examines her approach to evangelization and education. That is why

Chapter 2 of Part 1 highlights the paths to take towards reconciliation, justice and peace. The dignity of the human person, concern for the family and adherence to the original African concept of human life in the world will all help to promote dialogue and communion among believers. That is why the document makes another special call for the study of African Traditional Religion and Islam, the two other major religions that together with Christianity form part of the religious culture of present day Africa.

Part 2: To each is given the manifestation of the spirit for the common good
Part 2 consists of 3 chapters linked by the Pauline advice to the Corinthians: To each is given the manifestation of the spirit for the common good (1Cor.12:7). We are all different, yet belong to the one humanity that owes its origin in Divine Creation. Each has a special mission to accomplish, hence the differences in our talents. Yet all of these are meant for the common good. The community is an important cultural value that is built in the African instinct. Therefore, if the recommendations of the Second African Synod are to work at all, then the concept and reality of the common good must remain foremost in every consideration and action that we take as individuals and as a collectivity.

Chapter 1 of Part 2 is entirely dedicated to and makes a special appeal to each and every member of the Church- bishops, priests, missionaries, permanent deacons, consecrated persons, seminarians, catechists and all lay people. Each has a unique contribution to make towards the realization of the common good. We need to work as a team and tap on the resources that are available without letting other considerations mislead us. This is important in a continent where nepotism, tribalism and all the bad -isms often frustrate the many talents that the continent needs, many of whom are today in the diaspora.

Chapter 2 of part 2 focuses on special areas of apostolate in Africa. These area include Catholic schools, health care and communication services of the Church. Historically, the Church brought formal education to most countries in Africa. A good number of the educated elite today are products of Church schools. We need to begin evaluation by seeing what these our products have done in the continent, and use this evaluation as a challenge for new strategies in producing better leaders for the future of Africa. In many places, even today, the Church is the only hope that the people have to receive some decent health services. Again the local Church must re-examine her mission to the sick and the vulnerable. We live in an era of Information Technology. The African Church is condemned to get actively involved in the professional and responsible use new media or to become irrelevant in a generation where citizens are increasingly becoming more digitalized. The exhortation is convinced that through her schools, health and communication services, the Church can make a major impact on the African society.
Chapter 3 begins with Jesus' encounter with the man by the Pool of Bethzatha in Jn 5. The man had been paralyzed for 38 years and that morning when Jesus meets him, the Lord tells him: “Stand up, take your mat and walk”(vs.8). Africa has been sick for long, she bears marks almost unforgetable marks of slavery and colonialism, of ill-treatment, oppression and every imaginable cruelty. The continent can either continue to accept this unfortunate treatment or for once, jump up, take up their ruins and walk in the face of all challenges. The tools for Christians to bring this about are to be found in the Word of God, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist in particular and in reconciliation at all levels. Africa must now bury the hatchet and map a new begining for herself and her children to come.

In an era of the New Evangelization, new situations in Africa call for new approaches. Hence African bishops and clergy together with all the forces of evangelization must discuss new ways of how to tackle concrete socio-political, economic and religious challenges. Things can never be the same as before. This is not the moment to look back and either complain or be nostalgic. It is the right moment indeed to “stand up, take your mat and walk”! The whole world is looking for spiritual leadership. True African culture, coupled with the growing numbers of Christians, give Africa what it takes to take the lead in being missionary not only to herself, but to others. More and more Africans must now take up to being missionaries after the footsteps of Christ (no.167-171).

The Post-Synodal exhortation ends with encouraging words taken from Mk 10:49- “Take heart, rise, he is calling”. These were the words of Jesus to blind Bartimaeus on the way to Jericho. While Bartimaeus was shouting out for help, even the apostles tried to silence him, but he shouted all the louder until the Lord heard him and came to his rescue. Africa has been blind for too long, far too long. Some of her children have seen that the face of the continent could change for the better. Their cries and shouts for justice are often and sometimes, muffled by the powers that be. Through this Post-synodal exhortation, the Pope assures Africans that their voices have now been heard. So, let us take heart and act. Jesus is calling each and everyone of us to that action.

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