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Let Africa “sing” her Success Stories, Burkinabé Cleric on Challenges Facing Continent

Fr. Paul Béré

The biggest challenge in Africa is the inability to bring out successes on the continent and the bright future that awaits various African countries in the coming years, a Rome-based Catholic Priest, a native of Burkina Faso, has told ACI Africa in an interview.

Fr. Paul Béré, a member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) who teaches at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome expresses regret that most of what is told about African countries are negative stories while little is told about “the signs of the time that point to the new dawn of Africa”.

“Let us create a new narrative, sing a new song that celebrates the transformative efforts at work on the African continent,” Fr. Béré told ACI Africa on Friday, April 9.

The award-winning African scholar added, “Prophets of doom are all over the place ready to trumpet the negatives on the continent. By so doing, they deplete our energy, our strength, our capacity to make new things happen.”

He expressed the need to heal those in despair with the narratives of the women and men who strive every day to effect some optimism and positive change amid despair.

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“Something is happening. We must see that,” the Jesuit Cleric told ACI Africa, and appealed, “We must proclaim that. In the deepest night, a candle will always catch the eye of the walkers. May we show the candles burning all over the African continent.”

His call, he notes, is not an invitation for Africans to indulge in their success, but to be witnesses of the action of the Risen Lord and the Holy Spirit on the continent.

He gives examples of people who he said provide “the signs of the time that point to the new dawn of Africa,” and maintains that the continent has been changing for the last three decades.

They include Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, and Barack Obama. Others include Tidjane Thiam, former CEO of Prudential, Dambisa Moyo, a brilliant macroeconomist of Zambian origin, Ms. Emma Naluyima, a Ugandan veterinary surgeon who shows the way in agripreneurship in Africa on small-scale farming, Kgaogelo Moagi, alias Master KG, and Nomcebo Zikode who made what gave rise to the “Jerusalema Challenge.”

Fr.  Béré says that such are the people who have demonstrated leadership on the global scale in terms of politics and diplomacy, economy, education, and arts and culture.

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The Burkinabé Cleric also highlights the case of the Centenary Bank owned by the Catholic Church to promote integral human development and self-reliance in the work of evangelization in Uganda as well as the Mapon Foundation in Kindu, the Maniema province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is showing the way in Education, Health, and Agriculture.

Fr.  Béré who made history as the first ever African to win the Ratzinger Prize, which rewards the work of theologians and specialists from related disciplines, calls upon Religious Institutes to spread the good news to other places especially where they have communities.

He says that more than half of the global population growth by 2050 will occur in Africa, which will also be home to a majority of the world’s young population, underscoring the need for the continent to prepare for this reality.

The challenge, the Jesuit Cleric says, lies in formal education and formation. He adds that though the Catholic Church has been known to deliver the best form of education, there is no reliable database to prove it.

“Should we want to be more efficient in delivering high-quality education with a global vision of Catholic education in Africa, we would need a reliable database. As far as I know, we do not have any,” Fr.  Béré says.

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He also stresses the importance of paying attention to the way the members of various Religious Orders and Societies of Apostolic Life in Africa are trained.

“If we do not invest in high-quality formation for our men and women, they might fail to deliver where they will be missioned to,” he says, and continues, “Because of such a failure, they might become problematic in our communities and works, and we might even see a growing number of mental health problems in our midst.”

The Cleric urges the people of God in Africa, especially members of Religious Institutes, to “dispel the darkness of mediocrity” by telling the beautiful stories that are happening on the continent.

“The new narrative will impact the new generations,” he reiterates, and adds, “The next three decades ahead of us will make Africa the home of the world youth. So, let the focus of minds and hearts be the emerging Africa in order to channel our peoples’ energy towards that.”

In the April 9 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Béré observed that though Africa is presented with a myriad of political and economic challenges addressed by members of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) in their Kampala Document (KD), there is need to turn the challenges into opportunities for future generations.

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The Kampala Document is an outcome of the discussions that SECAM members had at the conclusion of their year-long Golden Jubilee celebrations whose launching in July 2018 and conclusion in July 2019) were hosted by the Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC) in the Archdiocese of Kampala.

The 100-page document addresses a series of topics, among them the various challenges facing the people of God on the continent including economic and political challenges, socio-cultural challenges, ecological challenges as well as ethical challenges.

Other challenges addressed by the Catholic leaders in Africa and Madagascar revolve around modernization and capacity building.

Making reference to the document that was unveiled in January in Burkina Faso, Ghana, and South Africa, Fr. Béré says that the challenges facing Africa are related to politics and economy and that the Church has a role to play in improving the lives of the deprived in society.

“We will be judged on the impact of our mission on the economic and political life of our people,” the Jesuit Cleric told ACI Africa April 9, reiterating the message he delivered to the members of the association of Africans and Malagasy Servicing in Generalates (AMSG) last month.

The leadership of the association that brings together members of Religious Institutes from Africa and Madagascar who are living and working in Rome invited Fr. Béré to give them a talk on the topic, “The chief challenges facing Africa from the last three decades into the next three ones.”

“It is our duty to ensure that, at the economic level, people are not hungry and thirsty, and that they do not wander around because they are strangers, without any piece of land to dwell in, to make their living, no place they can call home,” Fr. Béré AMSG representatives during his March 7 address.

At the political level, the Jesuit Priest explains, “The politics Jesus wants us to pay attention to, I submit, fosters freedom and dignity.”

He says, “The Lord does not tell us how to do it. He trusts that we are endowed with wisdom and intelligence, and that we can lead his sisters and brothers out of the land of servitude.”

He calls upon members of various Religious Orders in Africa and the Indian Ocean Island of Madagascar to examine their contribution to the wellbeing of the society.

He poses, “When we look at Africa today and what our respective institutes have done since they landed on the continent, we wonder what legacy have we left that transformed and enhanced peoples’ lives? Which actions have uplifted the little ones whom Jesus calls his sisters and brothers?”

According to the member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), Religious Institutes have facilitated the accomplishment of many things in Africa and Madagascar.  The biggest challenge, he says, is Africans themselves appreciating their successes.

“One of the chief challenges I see can be the creation of a new narrative, or better a new song,” Fr. Béré who has participated, as an expert, in several synods of Bishops says.

He adds, “We must ‘sing a new song.’ We must tell the stories of the blessings that the charisms of our respective institutes have brought to the continent.”