AN ADDRESS BY MOST REV. IGNATIUS A. KAIGAMA, PRESIDENT OF RECOWA-CERAO
AT THE 3RD PLENARY ASSEMBLY IN OUAGADOUGOU, BURKINA FASO 13TH TO 20TH MAY, 2019
Your Excellency Mr. Marc Kaboré, President of Faso,
The Holy See Chargé d’Affaires in Burkina Faso,
The President of the ECOWAS Commission,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
The Clergy and Religious,
Honourable and distinguished guests,
Gentlemen of the media,
Ladies and gentlemen,
With profound sentiments of Easter joy I welcome everyone to this opening ceremony of the 3rd Plenary Assembly of RECOWA-CERAO, holding in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Travelling in West Africa, despite some considerable progress, unfortunately still remains very difficult and expensive. In spite of this, you made huge sacrifices to be physically present here. For this, I am immensely grateful. We pray that this week spent together will be one of multiple graces and blessings.
We express our deepest gratitude to His Excellency Mr. Marc Kaboré, President of Faso and his Government for their gracious welcome and hospitality and for facilitating visas for our brothers who needed them.
To Mr. Jean-Claude Brou, President of the ECOWAS Commission, I say, thank you for honouring us by personally taking part in this opening ceremony. To the good people of Burkina Faso and the Burkina-Niger Episcopal Conference we say a great thank you for hosting us.
We wish to express our respectful and profound gratitude to the Holy Father, Pope Francis here represented by Rev. Msgr. Luca Caveada, Chargé d’Affaires at the Apostolic Nunciature of Ouagadougou.
The great work done by the staff of the RECOWA-CERAO General Secretariat, the Burkina-Niger Episcopal Conference and the contributions of the National and Inter-Territorial Bishops’ Conferences in organizing this 3rd Plenary Assembly are greatly appreciated. To the gentlemen of the press we acknowledge your precious contributions to our society and your interest in the Church. Be assured of our spiritual closeness.
THEME AND SUB-THEMES
The theme for our Assembly is, The New Evangelization and the Promotion of Integral Human Development, with two sub-themes:
1. Integral Human Development and Social Services in the Church Family of God in West Africa
2. Youth, Faith and Migration: the Role of the Church Family of God in West Africa
A third sub-theme, Governance (Political, Economic and Land) and Social Cohesion in West Africa, the Role of the Bishops of West Africa, will be addressed during the year.
The choice of the theme and sub-themes shows that the 3rd Plenary Assembly intends to pursue on the one hand, the momentum gathered from the Second Plenary Assembly in Accra when we reflected on The New Evangelization and the Challenges of the Church Family of God in West Africa and on the other hand, to translate into action the mission that our conference has set for itself, namely, to inspire and strengthen the Church family of God in West Africa for a credible witness through the promotion of unity and solidarity, justice and peace among the peoples of West Africa. It calls for a true social commitment following the example of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, who has already set the ball rolling with the creation of an important dicastery concerned with the Promotion of Integral Human Development.
A cursory glance at the political context of our region reveals that there are cases of poor democratic transitions due to many factors such as non-respect for the rule of law, weak institutions, shrinking space for political participation/engagement and recurring human rights violations with some of our political leaders wishing to perpetuate themselves in power either directly or indirectly. The political tensions caused by the manipulation of constitutions and the electoral processes weaken the people’s participation in governance while politicians take advantage of ethnic and religious divisions to achieve their personal selfish desires. Elections cost unnecessarily so much due to the bribery of voters, political godfather syndrome and post-election legal tussles.
Dear brothers in the episcopate, in our evanzelization effort, we have to do so by taking into account «the contexts of time and place, where the announcers and those who listen to them live, evolve” as was suggested, by His Eminence, Adrian Cardinal Sarr, at the 2nd Assembly in Accra. With RECOWA’s eight Commissions, we hope to impact on both the spiritual and social life of our people more positively.
CONTEXTS AND PLACES OF EVANGELIZATION TODAY
Think about the mud slide in Sierra Leone in 2017 and its death toll, the torrential rains in Ivory Coast in 2018 and its death toll, the terrorist attacks or jihadist violence in Burkina Faso and Mali, Boko Haram and herdsmen menace in Nigeria etc. Taking into account the growing poverty, lip service and superficial democracy, land grabbing, the inadequacy of social infrastructure, increasing number of unemployed youths, our proclamation of the gospel should be inspired more by the announcement of the Master who, citing Isaiah 61, 1-2 and Zephaniah 2, 3 said in the synagogue of Nazareth “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and to the blind a return of sight, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim a year of the Lord’s grace.” (Lk 4:18-19).
We, too, like Jesus, and the Apostles after him, must practise, with love certainly, the prophetic denunciation of all oppression and exploitation. Our gospel proclamation must have a social impact. This is the reason for the workshop on the social impact investment which according to our programme, will be facilitated by a CRS team in collaboration with His Eminence, Peter Cardinal Turkson, on Friday May 17th.
Also, our modest social commitment has led us to the formation of the RECOWA Peace Committee (REPCO), composed of three Cardinals representing the three linguistic zones: Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone as well as Bishops, priests and lay persons with the necessary expertise. With this body, the Church in West Africa offers a helping hand to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and wishes to engage the political, social and economic leaders of our region to address the above-mentioned challenges, to bring about justice and peace, stability and development.
SOCIAL AND RELIGIOUS CHALLENGES
We are not unaware of some significant challenges within our region which need to be addressed. In fact, the RECOWA Presidential Council presented some of the challenges to the former President of Liberia, Mrs. Ellen Sirleaf JOHNSON, who was then the President of the Assembly of the ECOWAS Heads of State, during an audience that she kindly granted us on April 4th, 2017. These concerns include:
➢ The tumultuous political transitions and changes of constitutions with their corollary of instability
➢The danger of youth unemployment leading to a migration that has transformed the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea into cemeteries
➢ Religious intolerance that has turned into extremism and terrorism
➢Nomadic herders often associated with acts of rape, murder, destruction of farms, kidnapping and conflict.
Other challenges such as social injustice, corruption, human trafficking, exploitation by extractive industries, climate abuse, land grabbing, etc., stare us in the face. We have an obligation to develop a common vision to face these evils before they destroy the foundation of our common heritage.
Let us remember that about sixty-five percent of our population are young people. Unfortunately, the majority of working age population are unemployed and therefore highly exposed to human trafficking, drug addiction, violence and forced migration, and so on. As long as these youth remain unemployed after completing their education and travelling within our region, they are easy prey for warlords and political criminals who can recruit them for violent crimes and terrorism (cf. Pope Francis in Christus Vivitnos. 20, 41, 73, 183).
There is another challenge that we must not lose sight of during this 3rd Plenary Assembly. This is the problem of sexual abuse and paedophilia. We have the moral, pastoral and fraternal duty not only to be attentive to the protection of the victims but also to put an end to the impunity of the proven abusers. We must also uncover the deadly link between abuse of power and sexual assault and be able to accompany and listen to the victims. Pope Francis states very clearly in the Apostolic Letter, Motu Proprio, VOS ESTIS LUX MUNDI, “The crimes of sexual abuse offend our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harms the community of the faithful.”
May the deliberations of these days bring to us all, new methods and a new commitment to work with more prophetic and missionary zeal especially for our suffering and most vulnerable populations.
I renew my thanks to you all for sacrificing your precious time, to be present here in Ouagadougou and in the spirit of our fraternal bond and communion, I now declare in the name of the Most Holy Trinity, our third Plenary Assembly of RECOWA/CERAO, open.
Thank you very much; Merci beaucoup; Muitoobrigado!
Ouagadougou, 14th may 2019
+ Ignatius A. KAIGAMA
Coadjutor Archbishop of Abuja Archdiocese,
Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Jos
and President of RECOWA-CERAO