ROME — One of the most prominent African churchmen participating in this month’s gathering of bishops at the Vatican believes some of the concerns raised to date have been too Eurocentric.
At a Vatican press conference on Saturday, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa, said the current version of the working document for the Synod on Bishops on “Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment,” lacks a global perspective.
Although Napier, who has participated in seven previous synods, praised the process thus far, he outlined a number of themes in which he and his fellow African bishops believe the final document should better reflect.
While the current working document highlights the fact that young people in the West are leaving the Church, he said that in Africa the situation is quite different, where “young people are looking for Jesus…and they’re looking to the Church” for such answers.
“In Africa, it’s a very different kind of phenomenon,” he said.
He also said that the current mentions of unemployment woes that plague many young people are “Eurocentric,” and does not address the “uncontrolled exploitation of minerals and other resources,” along with the fact that “rainforests are being destroyed and the environment is being degraded.”
Such troubles, he noted have contributed to the wave of migration to Europe and other parts of the world. While migration has been a front-burner issue for many of the synod participants, he said they have not adequately reckoned with the fact that it means the African continent is losing many of its best young people.
Napier also said he hopes the final document calls attention to the fact that many young people are not getting the education they deserve because of the reality of child labor that many impoverished families are forced to resort to. He also said the document needs to address the bad governance and corruption that is rampant in many African countries, which “means the cycle of exploitation continues.”
The cardinal praised the fact that the synod is operating along the lines of traditional Catholic social teaching’s method of “see, judge, and act” and expressed hope that in the end, the outcome document would “represent African reality much more clearly.”
Also on hand for the press conference was Cardinal Juan José Omella Omella, archbishop of Barcelona, making his synod debut.
He addressed the issue of clerical sexual abuse, noting that it had been widely discussed.
“Pope Francis has tackled this issue and has been a blessing in the way in which he has committed to eradicating this scourge and reaching out to victims,” said Omella.
While noting the issue is not, at least yet, a “mass phenomenon,” in Spain, he added that “we are tackling this with humbleness and courage.”
“I would like for our society to deal with this issue as well, as it does not just apply to the Church,” he continued.
Napier concurred and said that while the Church in Africa has prioritized sex abuse, there was still the need to “put a lot more efforts” into child protection.
Corina Fiore Mortola Rodríguez, a young adult auditor from Guadalajara, Mexico, spoke enthusiastically about the synod process and said that on the issue of abuse, “young people want a Church that doesn’t give up in the face of abuse.”
She also thanked the bishops for having apologized directly for the Church’s failing on sex abuse and committing to change.
All three speakers highlighted Pope Francis’s direct involvement in the synod process and his collegiality during the discussions.
Napier, in responding to a question about a recent remark he made on social media criticizing conservative Catholic news outlets for their unfavorable coverage of Francis, said that while social media is something young people do better than older users such as himself, he dislikes the fact that when anything is reported on Francis, “a negative is added on.”
Going forward, he said that the success of this synod does not rest with the pope, the young people, or the bishops — but most importantly with the priests, who are the point of reference for most Catholics.
“If you have any influence,” Napier concluded, “please let them know we will be thankful for their imitation of listening at the synod.”