Nairobi — The Archbishop of Abuja, John Onaiyekan, has said that the late Pope Paul VI had a very special interest in Africa even before his papacy began. Already as Cardinal Montini, he visited many African countries among them Nigeria in 1962.
"One of his first major papal acts was in 1964, when he canonized the Uganda Martyrs in St Peter's Basilica. During the ceremony he delivered a powerful homily that was the first shot in his later ever growing interest and confidence in the church of Africa. The canonization of the Martyrs of Uganda was indeed a great morale booster for the church in Africa at that period when Africa was emerging from colonialism," said archbishop Onaiyekan.
He was speaking to over 300 delegates who were attending an international conference on Pope Paul VI and the Church in Africa, at the Catholic University for Eastern Africa on August 1-2. Among them were cardinals, archbishops, bishops, religious men and women and the laity.
Pope Paul VI published the Africae Terrarum in 1967 where he insisted on the church to continue to be faithful to the traditions of Christian faith. He also stressed the importance of respecting the cultures of the peoples of Africa even in the expressions of our Christian faith.
"This discussion was further developed when he visited Kampala, Uganda in 1969 for the inauguration of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM)," he said. Paul VI became the first pope in modern times to step on the African soil during this pastoral visit.
"Pope Paul VI made sure that Africa was not left out of the process of internationalization of the top echelons of the church. In 1971, he brought Archbishop Bernadin Gantin from his See of Cotonou in Benin to a top position in the Propaganda Fide. In 1976 when he created 20 cardinals he chose five from Africa," added Archbishop Onaiyekan.
He further said that Pope Paul VI challenged the church in Africa to be missionary to itself. That means that each country, efforts should be made to share missionary resources.
"At times there is also the suspicion that missionaries are sent to where they can get well paid. If that were the case, it would indeed be a tragedy since such missionaries would better be called mercenaries, which indeed God forbid," concluded the Archbishop.
Archbishop Onaiyekan had several personal and direct encounters with Pope Paul VI while in Rome as a seminarian and as a priest.
Earlier on retired Nigerian Cardinal, Francis Arinze said that Paul VI "will be remembered for having encouraged the Church in Africa to incorporate inculturation in its teaching."
On many occasions, Pope Paul VI underlined to Bishops in Africa the importance of gratitude to the missionaries who brought the faith to their peoples, recalled Cardinal Arinze.
The missionaries came to Africa "to share with the African peoples the message of peace and redemption entrusted to the Church by her Devine Founder. For love of him, they left their country and family, and many of them gave their lives for the welfare of Africa," said Cardinal Arinze.
In his opening remarks John cardinal Njue reflected on the life and pontificate of Paul VI. "The choice of his name, Paul, already indicated what he stood for: a pope who viewed his pontificate as a time for renewed worldwide mission to spread the message of Christ," said Cardinal Njue.
Cardinal Polycarp Pengo from Tanzania and the current president of the Symposium Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) said that Pope Paul VI felt that the African Church, being a young Church needed to embrace the two great forces that Christ had established to build up his Church, namely the hierarchy (which gives the Church its visibility) and the grace of the Holy Spirit, and wished that the Church in Africa will let these two forces work together with great intensity to move it forward.
Archbishop of Kinshasa, His Eminence Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya cited some countries in Africa, including his country, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where conflicts and not peace has continued to prevail, a phenomenon he said has and continues to result negative effects to the people.
"The Church must continue to confront these vices as one of the ways to show that the legacy of Pope Paul VI still lives on," he said.
The two-day international conference, the first to take place in Africa was jointly organized by The Paul VI Institute from Brescia, Italy, an international Study and Documentation Centre on the live and the Magisterium of Pope Paul VI and the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, CUEA, Nairobi, Kenya.