At the end of the 19th Plenary Assembly of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) held from 25 July to 1 August 2022 in Accra, Ghana, on the theme, Ownership of SECAM: Security and Migration in Africa and the Islands, the Bishops issued a communique signed by the new President of the continental body, the Ghanian Bishop of Wa Diocese, Cardinal-designate Bishop Richard Kuuia Baawobr.
It pains to see young people leave
“One can emigrate for various reasons: natural, economic, political, intellectual. Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes migration a right. This is why migration cannot be considered illegal but could be irregular …. To all intending migrants, especially young people who seek to exercise their right to migrate, we urge them to do so in a manner that is administratively acceptable and with full knowledge of the challenges that await them,” said Bishop Baawobr.
The SECAM Bishops’ communique adds, “We wish to express our pain in seeing our youth leaving our countries, knowing that they are going to suffer and possibly lose their lives, and we lament our inability to stop them from leaving. We commit ourselves to take measures that will encourage their free choice and the ones that will involve them in the construction of their countries,” reads the statement.
Bishop Baawobr presented the communique at the SECAM Plenary Assembly’s closing Mass held Sunday at the Holy Spirit Cathedral of Accra, Ghana.
Pastoral care and programmes for migrants
“We encourage our youths not to lose hope and to hold on to God through a life of holiness,” the Ghanaian prelate said, adding, “Migration is a normal social phenomenon that is linked to the history of humankind. It has a Biblical basis. Thus, according to the book of Deuteronomy, the offering of the first fruits of the harvest to the Lord was accompanied by a solemn profession of faith: ‘My Father was a wandering Aramaean. He went down to Egypt, where he lived as a sojourner with the small number of people who accompanied him’ (Dt 26, 5),” said Bishop Baawobr.
The suffering and deaths of migrants are not linked directly to the fact of migration as such, he said. Still, migration can involve suffering such as the abuse of the social status of migrants, exploitation, and ignorance, among other violations, affirmed the SECAM President.
The SECAM Bishops want Africa’s socio-political decision-makers to erect structures and conditions that discourage irregular migration. These structures should include good governance, employment opportunities, multifaceted security, political and social inclusion as well as the promotion of social justice. The Bishops further implore transit and host countries to respect the rights and human dignity of migrants.
The Bishops’ communique encourages Christian communities on the African continent to develop active pastoral care for migration, summarised in four actions: welcome, protect, promote and integrate.
The Bishops of Africa dedicate time in the communique to promoting renewal and recommitment to the continental body, SECAM. They appeal, in particular, to a new generation of African clerics and the Catholic faithful who perhaps are no longer familiar with the initial ideals of SECAM. They underline the importance of SECAM as a continental body of pastoral solidarity hence the urgency for re-engagement with the broader African Church.
“SECAM is the organ of pastoral solidarity for the Church in Africa and Madagascar,” the African prelates emphasise and insist that it is, therefore, “urgent that SECAM should strive through concrete engagement of all her members to be financially and materially self-sufficient. We, your pastors, commit ourselves to henceforth support fully the mission of SECAM and urge you to identify with her in order to make her more dynamic and functional in the execution of her mission of evangelisation,” reads the Bishops’ message on the future of SECAM.
Insecurity on the continent
The Bishops encourage social and political stakeholders and decision-makers to continue to do their utmost to fight against insecurity on the continent. The Church, too, must take an important part in this search for peace and security.
“This is why the Church must play her prophetic role, by firmly and clearly denouncing situations of insecurity and their causes. She must also continue to offer everyone reasons for hope and peace in collaboration with organisations working for reconciliation, justice and peace,” urged Bishop Baawobr.
SECAM and Social Communications
In their communique, the Bishops of Africa once again place social communications as a pastoral priority on the continent. It was widely discussed in the aftermath of the first African Synod and led to the establishment of many Catholic diocesan radio stations in Africa.
“As Church family of God in Africa and Madagascar, we remain committed to engaging the world of media through the traditional, modern and social means of communication and the new discoveries of the digital era. We shall intensify the ethical and technical formation of the professionals and practitioners of Church communications while engaging with the philosophies and ideologies that underpin contemporary media institutions, practice and expertise in order to help make them agents of communion, reconciliation and peace,” Bishop Baawobr told the Accra Cathedral congregation.
The Synodal process in Africa
The Bishops of Africa also gave a collective nod to Pope Francis’s synodal process.
“This process of synodality has already begun at the level of basic Christian communities, parishes, dioceses, nations and regions. We are now entering the continental phase, whose assembly will be celebrated in the month of March 2023. We invite all the faithful to support this dynamism and to make it theirs through prayer and lifestyle,” said Bishop Baawobr.