The 244 senior Roman Catholic clerics from Africa meeting in Rome this month are confronting the problem of priestly celibacy on the continent, according to some sources close to the Vatican - writes Luigi Sandri.
High on the agenda are reconciliation, justice and peace at the Special Assembly of the Synod of the Bishops of Africa that Pope Benedict XVI that opened in Rome on 4 October. It is a meeting which will last three weeks.
The first gathering of the body took place in 1994. Since that time the church has seen rapid growth in Africa.
Monsignor Nikola Eterovic, general secretary of the synod of bishops, told journalists: “Out of 943,743,000 inhabitants in Africa, the number of Catholics is 164,925,000, namely 17.5 per cent.”
“This figure is very significant if one considers, for example, that, in 1978, at the beginning of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, the number of African Catholics was about 55,000,000”, Eterovic said.
The synod, created by Pope Paul VI in 1965, is a special general assembly for the Catholic bishops and senior clergy from Africa. A Vatican official told Ecumenical News International that its goal is not to make church policy, but to give “counsel” to the pontiff.
Speaking to the bishops and priests, the Pope underlined that Africa “is keeping an invaluable treasury for all the world: its deep sense [of] feeling towards God”.
Benedict noted that Africa “represents an immense lung for humanity”, but he added that this lung can fall sick, because “colonialism, which ended on a political level, has never ended” and “practical materialism, relativism [and] religious fundamentalism can hurt it”.
The Pope reaffirmed his commitment to the “family founded on marriage”, which he said can develop only if it is based on faith in God.