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Two-day Youth Gathering in Nairobi Discussed Future of African Economies: Jesuit Priest

Participants of the Economy of Francesco Africa Hub Regional Meeting. Credit: ACI Africa

The future of the economy in various African nations has been at the center of a two-day youth forum organized by the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) in collaboration with the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The discussions by the youth drawn from eight African countries in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, were in line with Pope Francis’ call to plan for a future that fosters human life, the Director of the Justice and Ecology Network Africa (JENA) of JCAM told ACI Africa Wednesday, September 29. 

“This has been about shaping the future through the young people,” Fr. Charles Chilufya said in reference to the September 28-29 gathering of young people from Kenya, Benin, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Uganda under the auspices of the Economy of Francesco Africa Hub Regional Meeting.

Fr. Chilufya added, “The Pope, through this framework of Catholic Social teachings is calling us to help advocate for an economy that gives life rather than kill, an economy that takes care of our common home rather than destroying it, an economy that takes care of the needs of the poor rather than neglect them and an economy that promotes justice rather than injustice.”

The Jesuit Priest noted that the gathering, which was organized ahead of the global meeting of the Economy of Francesco, was to help the youth in Africa “reflect on the situation of the world, especially paying attention to the fact that in the world we live, the economy matters.”

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“Time has come for us to engage them and give them the opportunity to shape the kind of world that we want,” Fr. Chilufya said in reference to the youth, adding that they “are the ones who are going to lead in the future.”

In the September 29 interview, JENA Director explained that the societal transformation expected from the youth starts at individual levels.  For this reason, Fr. Chilufya said, the youth who gathered in Nairobi had to reflect about themselves before focusing on global contexts.

“We started by looking at young people’s hearts, helping them to reflect what kind of values I need in my heart to be a changemaker before I look at the world,” the Zambian-born Jesuit Priest told ACI Africa.

Fr. Chilufya added, “We spoke a lot about inner change because even though we want to change the world, we cannot change it without first changing ourselves.”

There is need for the youth to build “consciousness of personal responsibility, justice, orderly life and develop a consciousness that is empathetic, and compassionate because one of the things that we really need in the world is compassion, love, understanding,” the Nairobi-based Catholic Priest further said, adding, “These are things that you do not produce by policies but they come from our hearts.”

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Speaking to ACI Africa on the sidelines of the youth gathering, the Global Policy and Advocacy Officer of JENA, Fernando Saldivar, described the Economy of Francesco as a call by Pope Francis to rethink economic structures and infuse them with the reality that the world is interconnected. 

“We are all interconnected and as Pope Francis says, to give a soul to the economy, to breathe life into it so that we are really able to care for and provide for all of humanity,” Saldivar, a Jesuit Scholastic, said.  

The vision of the Holy Father, he further said, is important for Africa which has a large population and unique challenges.

“This is such a young continent and the numbers create its own set of pressures and it is a recognition that the more people there are, it puts pressure on a very limited set of resources,” the Jesuit Scholastic said.

It is important for the young people to address the challenges now “because these are problems that we cannot say we will address in the future,” he told ACI Africa, and added, “The time is now, the moment is here. Young people see these problems in their communities, countries, homes and they ask themselves what they can do.”

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Saldivar further described the Nairobi gathering of young Africans as part of “Pope Francis’ larger vision for synodality in the Church." 

"As we gather together, we are listening to each other, learning how to listen and before we step out and try to change the world, one skill is listening because each one of us comes with their own experiences, hope and strength. We are channeling all that in faith and as St. Ignatius of Loyola says, to set the world on fire," the Jesuit Scholastic explained.  

Dominic Chai, a Jesuit serving at the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development, also described the Nairobi meeting as one happening “in the spirit of synodality to discern what our own local communities can do to bring the Economy of Francesco vision to life.” 

He said that the meeting, which took place ahead of the October 2 global gathering of the members of the Economy of Francesco aimed at providing “a space for the young change makers to gather in their local communities to share their hopes for the economy of tomorrow.” 

Some of the participants in the two-day Nairobi meeting said they had acquired the value of love and had the desire to transform their respective societies. 

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“In these two days, I have received more reasons to have and expand the word and action of love to the community,” Jane Martha who is the founder of the Havila Rescue Foundation in Kenya told ACI Africa. 

Martha added, “When love is generated, more ideas come. It will bring us together in running our activities.”

The Kenya-based environmentalist further said that African youths who are mostly tech-savvy should lead in changing mindsets of resources. 

“If we change our mindset on how these resources can bring change to our economy to be a sustainable solution, we will do well,” she said. 

On his part, Prosper Maokola who serves as the Job Service Officer at Don Bosco Oysterbay in Tanzania said he had learnt the value of cooperation.

“The youth should be able to cooperate with one another so that collective ideas will change their way of living,” Mr. Maokola said, and added, “As Pope Francis says, through interaction, collaboration, observation, dialogue, the young people will move forward.”

For Chalo Mwansa, the two-day meeting in Nairobi was an opportunity to look at how to rebuild African economies. 

“Africa’s economy had shrunk by 2% last year but here we are looking at how to rebuild our economy and do it better so that no one is left behind, minding the poor and the less privileged,” said the founder of the Zambia-based Spotless Africa

Mr. Mwansa added, “A lot of what I have learnt about change making will be useful especially thinking about what role I have to play at an individual level to create change in my country.”

For Sabina Obere, the workshop was eye-opening as she got to understand “how models can be used to solve pertinent issues in society.”

“I had not had the idea that we could incorporate the whole aspect of life. In this conference, I had an encounter and I fell in love with the whole aspect of life introduced into the economy,” Ms. Obere said.  

She added, “We are going to move out as young change makers and we are going to give life, dignity and spread love even as we endeavor to solve the pertinent issues in society.”