Disunity among followers of Christ is counterproductive to the mission of witnessing the Gospel message and evangelization, Cardinal Robert Sarah said recently at a symposium in Kenya. 

Sarah, who served as prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments from 2014–2021, in delivering the keynote address at the 2024 Theological Symposium organized by the School of Theology of Kenya-based Tangaza University College (TUC), warned that divisions among Christians expose them to “exploitation.”

“If we are not one, if we are divided, then our witness to Christ is divided and the world will not believe in the Gospel,” Sarah said Feb. 22, the first day of the two-day event.

Sarah urged followers of Jesus Christ in Africa to prioritize their adherence to the Gospel message, allowing the principles of the Christian faith to trump all other identities, including tribe, nationality, and race, among other affiliations.

“Seek unity first in Christian faith, and then with our fellow countrymen and fellow Africans,” he said in his address titled “Make Disciples of all Nations: The Missionary Mandate of Christ.”

To emphasize the need for unity among followers of Jesus Christ, the 78-year-old Guinean-born cardinal warned that divisions leave Christians “vulnerable to exploitation.”

“If we do not strive for unity in Christ then we are even worse off. The divisions among us — religious, ethnic, and political — are vulnerable to exploitation; they may be exploited by corrupt politicians or even foreign powers,” he said. 

Sarah has previously expressed his opposition to Fiducia Supplicans, the Vatican Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) declaration that has elicited mixed reactions and deep divisions among the people of God in general and Catholic bishops around the world in particular since its release on Dec. 18, 2023.

In a Jan. 6 reflection that he shared with Settimo Cielo, an Italian blog, Sarah maintained his previous stance of not opposing the Holy Father.

More in Middle East - Africa

“We do not oppose Pope Francis, but we firmly and radically oppose a heresy that seriously undermines the Church, the body of Christ,” Sarah said, clarifying his opposition to the recommendations of Fiducia Supplicans, permitting members of the clergy to bless “same-sex couples” and couples in other “irregular situations.”

Persons practicing homosexuality are “in the prison” of sin and in need of the truth of “the word of God” to liberate them, he said, adding: “The truth is the first of the mercies that Jesus offers to the sinner.”

“The freedom we must offer to people living in homosexual unions lies in the truth of the word of God,” he said. “How could we dare to make them believe that it would be good and desired by God for them to remain in the prison of their sin?” 

The DDF declaration’s lack of clarity “has only amplified the confusion that reigns in hearts, and some even seized it to support their attempt at manipulation,” Sarah wrote in his Jan. 6 reflection, referring to divisions caused by Fiducia Supplicans’ recommendations.

In his Feb. 22 address in Kenya, Sarah linked unity of the disciples of Jesus Christ with progress. “Only together can we prosper,” he said.

According to Sarah, challenges hindering the mission of witnessing the Gospel message and the evangelization ministry can be addressed “by turning to God in prayer and fasting.”

“By turning to the Lord in prayer and fasting, by this means, God lifts us up. He frees us from selfishness and narrowness and reveals himself to us in one way or another. He disciplines us, so we do not allow mild differences to prevent us from working together in every permissible way,” he said. 

(Story continues below)

The cardinal went on to emphasize the need to combine prayer and fasting, two of the three pillars of the Lenten season, alongside charity through almsgiving. 

“Evangelization must involve prayer and fasting together, even with those of other religious traditions in response to evils that we recognize together. By praying and fasting, the obstacles to evangelization will be overcome,” Sarah said.

This story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, and has been adapted by CNA.