YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Bishops from across Africa have expressed dismay at the misery that many African peoples are subjected to, accusing some African leaders of being at the heart of their despair.

Meeting in Dakar, Senegal, from September 17-21 for the second continental meeting of Bishops of Africa on Caritas, the bishops took aim at African leaders who fail to take care of their own people.

“Our hearts are bleeding to see that the misery of our people is often caused by some of our own leaders, in collaboration with foreign powers, while these very ones are supposed to fight poverty and stem it out,” they said in a statement.

“In the end, they force us to act as extinguishers of the hotbeds of tension which they light and feed, thus pushing our young people into exile or turning them into militants of political or religious extremism,” the bishops continued.

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The event was organized by Caritas Africa, with the support of Caritas Internationalis, and was attended by over 100 prelates.

The previous meeting took place in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, five years ago.

Africa has been described by the World Economic Forum as having “impressive economic potential” with an annual growth rate that averaged 5% over the past 15 years. Yet poverty, hunger, civil war and socio-economic strife, lack of access to education, health and clean water have continued to afflict the continent.

The bishops said they were committed to dealing with Africa’s problems, and said this starts with expanding on the work of charity.

Citing Pope Francis’s conviction that “Africa is not a land to be exploited but a friend to love,” the bishops said the continent deserves better than it is getting for the well-being of its people.

The theme of the meeting – ‘Organizing the service of charity in Africa: The role of the bishops’ –  was a sign of the Church’s commitment to driving positive change on the impoverished continent.

“Our limited means of action must not be an excuse for a wait-and see attitude, for the development of the poor can only be achieved by the poor themselves. That is why we strongly encourage South-South cooperation as well as North-South exchanges within our Churches, the capitalization of experiences and pooling of expertise and resources, harmonization at all levels of the guidelines that guide our collective commitment,” the bishops said.

Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, who heads Francis’s recently-created Dicastery for Integral Human Development, said charity is a way “we respond to the one who first loved us – God.”

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“All we try to do therefore is to spread the love that God poured on us…As Pope Benedict XVI said: You cannot love someone and not want to change his situation, that of the society. It is in this sense that religion is very much linked to social development,” the cardinal continued.

Senegalese Archbishop Benjamin Ndiaye of Dakar called for more targeted interventions, underscoring the need to focus on poor communities that are in dire need of assistance.

“We struggle, in our different dioceses, and are not without difficulties,” Ndiaye said. “It is true that to revitalize our diocesan Caritas agencies, we need the help of our people, those acting on the ground, and our various partners – especially in the rural world.”

Migration: A major Preoccupation of the Church

The bishops also expressed concerns over the continued migration of Africans to Europe and America.

Despite the rise of anti-immigration political movements in Europe and America, more and more of Africa’s young people continue to undertake perilous routes to those places. Driven by the desperation that comes with poverty and unemployment, many do so at the risk of their own lives.

Thousands have drowned in the Mediterranean, attempting to cross over to Europe. Others face murder, robbery, rape, and assault as they make their way to what they thought would be a brighter future.

The executive director of Caritas Ethiopia, Bekele Moges, lamented the fact migrants were dying in North Africa, while others “are really struggling to survive.”

He said they were not just leaving their home countries on a whim.

“We move because there is something forcing us to move. We need the world to protect us on our way. We need the world to support us [in finding] our destination,” Moges said.

As countries such as the United States restrict their flow of migrants and refugees, the Catholic Church has been advocating on their behalf.

At all levels, Catholic organizations have not only tried to help individual migrants, but are also seeking solutions to an international migration crisis the likes of which the world hasn’t seen since World War II.

“We want policy makers to understand that the Church gives much attention to the phenomenon and want multi-lateral interventions to resolve the crisis,” said Albert Mashika of the Congo, the Africa Regional Coordinator of Caritas.

But it’s not only a question of Africans taking to the high seas in efforts to escape hardship back at home. The bishops are also concerned about the internal migration that is also affecting the continent.

“African countries must join efforts to offer appropriate solutions to the problem of migration,” Mashika said.

“Many people forget the internal migration, that is to say, Ethiopians who are escaping to South Africa; Nigerians migrating to Senegal or Burkina Faso…et cetera.”

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On September 27 – barely a week after the Caritas meeting in Dakar – Francis launched Caritas Internationalis’s “Share the Journey” campaign, inviting all Catholics to extend a hand of welcome to a migrant or refugee. The pope called on Catholics to welcome migrants and refugees coming to their countries with “arms wide open.”

“Hope is the desire to share the journey of life, as the Caritas campaign that we inaugurate today reminds us,” Francis said. “Brothers and sisters do not be afraid to share the journey! Do not be afraid to share hope!”