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Africa, liturgy on bishops’ agenda


In three major documents, U.S. Catholic bishops are set to take up a call to solidarity with Africa, to consider ways to recognize the growing Asian and Pacific presence in the U.S. church and to accept an updated pro-life plan.

The documents are among issues on the agenda for the bishops’ meeting in Washington Nov. 12-15.

The bishops also are to take up a range of internal church matters, including new norms for lay preaching and for translation of liturgical texts.

The norms for translation were issued last May in a Vatican instruction. A preliminary discussion when the bishops met in June revealed strong disagreements with some aspects of the new instruction (see essay on Page 17).

The proposed statement on Africa “seeks to generate a new sense of urgency and a more visible expression of commitment toward the peoples and nations of Africa by the Catholic church in the United States, the U.S. government and the international community.” The document was drafted by the bishops’ Committee on International Policy.

“Africa is quickly becoming the primary place of poverty … where lives are being lost at an alarming rate” because of hunger or the lack of adequate health care, says the 46-page statement, “A Call to Solidarity with Africa.”

The urgency of paying attention to Africa has emerged from recent trips there by a number of bishops. They have seen firsthand the plight of some of the 3.5 million refugees and 25 million internally displaced persons as well as the ravages of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, which threaten to wipe out one-quarter of the population of some African nations over the next 20 years.

The bishops also write of the proliferation of armed conflict, the widespread corruption in African governments and the deteriorating effects that the debt burden has had on education infrastructures, community life and health care.

The United States needs to play a more central role in promoting peace throughout Africa and to develop trade relationships “that are an engine for the elimination of poverty,” the bishops write. The document calls on Washington to dedicate an additional $1 billion toward poverty reduction in sub-Saharan Africa.

They urge American Catholics to contribute to Catholic Relief Services, which offers $140 million in support programs in 36 sub-Saharan countries.

Catholics managing U.S. and multinational firms bear a special responsibility to play a central role in helping to promote “prosperous and just economies in Africa,” the bishops write. They ask managers to exercise corporate responsibility where the activities of their firms might “exacerbate conflict, corruption, human rights abuses and environmental degradation in Africa.”

They also encourage dioceses to help Catholics educate themselves about Africa. Twinning programs exist between Kenyan Catholics and those in the St. Cloud, Minn. diocese. Catholics in the Sioux Falls, S.D., see have developed special relations with their confreres in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“The church is a real power in Africa for good,” Bishop John Glynn told NCR. According to Glynn, auxiliary bishop of Military Services in Washington and a member of the bishops’ international policy committee, with this document the bishops are saying to the African church, “You are not alone over there. We have some understanding of what you are going through.”

Another committee member, Bishop Peter Rosazza of Hartford, Conn., told NCR he hoped the document would “raise consciousness about the importance of Africa.” Though many U.S. Catholics may be looking toward the Middle and Near East, rather than toward Africa, in the wake of the terrorist attacks, Rosazza thought the letter could prompt more contact with Muslims in America. Islam claims some 315 million followers across Africa.

The statement is intended for the 60 million Catholics in the United States and the 115 million in Africa. African Catholics comprise nearly 15 percent of the continent’s 800 million people. More than 350 million Africans in 54 nations are Christian.

The bishops’ Committee on Migration has proposed the 57-page pastoral statement on the Asian and Pacific presence in the U.S. church, titled “Harmony in Faith.” The committee said the statement seeks to express the bishops’ appreciation of Asian- and Pacific-American Catholics, to underline the challenges they face in the United States and to find practical steps “for their appropriate integration into the church in the United States” (see story on Page 13).

The new Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, a comprehensive effort at all levels of the church to combat threats to life at all stages, was proposed by the Committee on Pro-Life Activities. The 40-page document marks the first revision of the plan since 1985. It takes into account new issues such as partial-birth abortion and the destruction of human embryos for the sake of research on embryonic stem cells. It also incorporates teachings of two major new documents since the last revision: Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, “The Gospel of Life,” and the U.S. bishops’ 1998 statement, “Living the Gospel of Life.”

Internal church matters the bishops will be voting on include:

  • A norm giving diocesan bishops discretion to permit qualified laypeople to preach in a church or oratory, though never at the time reserved for the homily at Mass.
  • Norms governing permission for qualified priests, religious and lay people to talk about Catholic teaching and morals on radio or television or to participate in radio or TV programs that treat those topics.

Bishops will also elect a new president and vice president for the next three years. With the November meeting, Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston ends his three-year term as conference president and Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., ends his term as vice president. If the bishops follow past practice, Gregory is likely to be elected president from among the 10 nominees for that post.

The upcoming meeting will be the bishops’ first as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. That name took effect July 1, replacing a two-conference structure, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and U.S. Catholic Conference.

Patricia Lefevere is a special report writer for NCR. Catholic News Service contributed to this report.

National Catholic Reporter, November 9, 2001