africa logoROME – Challenging participants to render the Christian Gospel “more credible” in their context, Pope Francis on Wednesday sent greetings to a major summit of African Catholic leaders taking place in Rome March 22-25 and sponsored by the University of Notre Dame.

“Mindful that this conference will bring together a diverse African assembly, including bishops, professors and experts in sacred disciplines, the Holy Father encourages all present to profit from this opportunity to discern ways in which the Gospel can be rendered more credible in the African context,” the pope said.

The pope’s comments came in a letter to the conference signed by Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State and effectively the pope’s top aide. It was presented to Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, who’s taking part in the gathering.

Titled “African Christian Theology: Memories and Mission for the 21st Century,” the conference is sponsored by Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture, and is taking place at the university’s “Global Gateway” center near Rome’s Colosseum.

On his call to discernment, Pope Francis said it will “help deepen the commitment to evangelization, which will not be complete unless it takes into account ‘the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man’s concrete life, both personal and social,’ quoting his own 2013 document Evangelii Gaudium.

“Pope Francis hopes that your deliberations will strengthen the Church in Africa to continue transmitting the faith, drawing her members more deeply into the grace of Christ and the mission of the Church,” Parolin wrote.

Beyond Onaiyekan, several of the continent’s other most prominent ecclesiastical leaders will take part in the meeting, including Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze; Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, the Archbishop of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo and a member of the group of cardinal advisers who are helping Pope Francis reform the Roman curia; and Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, head of the Vatican’s office for Integral Human Development.

Convened by Nigerian theologian Father Paulinus Odozor of Notre Dame, the gathering aims to continue a conversation initiated by a 2001 pastoral letter of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s titled “A Call to Solidarity with Africa”.

Crux will have extensive coverage of the conference, available on a special page on the site.

Odozor opened the conference Wednesday morning by saying that while this gathering builds on an earlier one in 2003, it’s not a repetition because Africa’s situation today is different than it was fourteen years ago.

“What he had hoped would be Africa’s shining moment in the sun has turned into a big disappointment in many ways and places,” Odozor said.

Yet, he said, the Catholic Church on the continent is among its bright spots.

“It has its problems, and Christians could be more of a leaven, it’s becoming more and more a player at various levels of African societies,” he said. “The African church has come of age, and, like all adults, it must examine its life.”

Odozor said the aim of the conference is “to bring African issues and conversation to a worldwide audience.”