More than 100 bishops from the Europe and Africa met outside Rome last week to tackle the problems facing Christianity in Europe and the suffering of the people in Africa.
The gathering of prelates from 32 African countries and 30 European nations Nov. 10-13 was the largest gathering of its kind, reported ACN News.
The four-day symposium, called Communion and Solidarity, was also attended by leaders of aid organizations, such as Aid to the Church in Need, Catholic Action for Overseas Development Caritas, Misereor and Missio.
Speakers underlined the gravity of the problems on both continents. Citing statistics showing that Africa's Gross Domestic Product represented barely two percent of the world total, Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo, said sometimes his continent fears that "if Africa disappeared, the rest of the world would not notice."
Militant Islam emerged as a key concern for the African bishops, who reported on the in-roads the religion was making from traditional strong ground in the north of the continent into more central African countries.
Gabriel Cardinal Zubeir Wako, archbishop of Khartoum, Sudan, urged the conference to realize "the dangers of Islam." Reporting on how Sudan's faithful had "foiled" the authorities' plan to make the country totally Islamic by 2000, he said: "We are playing the problem of Islam too cool in the name of dialogue. In Africa, there are many evangelistic forces but Islam is the most active. Collaboration with these Muslims is very difficult."
Andrys Cardinal Backis, archbishop of Vilnius, Lithuania, said secularism in Europe was causing a decline in faith even in former communist countries, where Christianity had been so strong.
The archbishop and other speakers from the West targeted the mass media for creating a society deprived of values, obsessed with wealth and power, all of which were damaging the family.
The symposium, held at the Salesians' general headquarters, examined practical initiatives to encourage co-operation. Among them, were ideas to "twin" an African diocese with a European equivalent, which would facilitate co-operation between priests and religious in the seminaries, and practical help, such as sending second-hand computers to Africa.
Others included public awareness initiatives to raise the profile of Africa's problems. The African bishops no longer want the country to be typecast as poverty-stricken but as people searching for social justice and self-sufficiency.