Synod launches with focus on issues facing Church in Africa

.- Over two hundred bishops and dozens of experts and observers are gathering in Vatican City today for the Second Special Assembly for Africa, where they will discuss the continent’s evangelization as well as food security and the situation in Darfur.

The assembly’s theme is related to Pope John Paul II’s 1995 apostolic exhortation “Ecclesia in Africa.” That document collected the results of the First Special Assembly for Africa held in 1994. The first assembly had as its theme the Church in Africa and her “evangelizing mission towards the year 2000.”

Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, speaking on Friday at a Holy See Press Office briefing for journalists, explained that the Church in Africa is “very dynamic.” He reported that the number of African Catholics increased from 55 million to 146 million between 1978 and 2007.

“Vocations to the priesthood and the religious life also saw a notable growth in numbers,” he said.

The archbishop also lamented that 521 pastoral workers have been killed in Africa between 1994 and 2008.

The Second Special Assembly will take place Oct. 4 to Oct. 25. It will be attended by 244 Synod Fathers, of whom 228 are bishops. A reported 197 of the Synod Fathers are from Africa while 34 are from Europe, ten are from the Americas, and the rest from Asia and Oceania.

“Fraternal delegates,” representatives of six other Churches and ecclesial communities with a significant presence in Africa, will also attend. Another 29 experts and 49 observers will participate in the event.

Archbishop Eterovic listed three “special guests” invited by Pope Benedict: Patriarch Abuna Paulos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church; Rudolf Adada, former head of the Joint U.N./African Union Peacekeeping Mission for Darfur; and Jacques Diouf, director general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Patriarch Abuna will take part in the synod’s Third General Congregation. Adada will speak about the efforts for peace in Darfur while Diouf will discuss FAO efforts to ensure food security for Africa.

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