December 21, 2015

African Catholics embrace Jubilee Year as time for Muslim understanding

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Catholic faithful pray in front of a cross of Jesus Christ erected by a roadside in Kakoge, north of Uganda's capital Kampala, on October 18, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/James Akena

Catholic faithful pray in front of a cross of Jesus Christ erected by a roadside in Kakoge, north of Uganda's capital Kampala, on October 18, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/James Akena

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) As African Catholics usher in the Jubilee Year of Mercy, many bishops and priests here are hoping to use the opportunity posed by Pope Francis to make inroads toward a more meaningful interfaith understanding with Muslims.

Francis marked the start of the jubilee on Dec. 8, when he opened the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The yearlong celebration calls on Catholics to reflect on the theme of mercy and forgiveness and showcase a more inviting faith.

That theme resonates in Africa, home to about 200 million Catholics. A sizable part of this population is tormented by war, violence from Muslim extremists, HIV/AIDS and poverty.


READ: ‘God is peace, salaam,’ Pope Francis tells Christians, Muslims in CAR


Pope Francis kisses a child as he visits the refugee camp of Saint Sauveur in the capital Bangui, Central African Republic, on November 29, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-JUBILEE-AFRICA, originally transmitted on December 21, 2015.

Pope Francis kisses a child as he visits the refugee camp of Saint Sauveur in the capital Bangui, Central African Republic, on November 29, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-JUBILEE-AFRICA, originally transmitted on December 21, 2015.

The pontiff set the tone on his first African tour last month, when during a visit to war-torn Central Africa Republic, Francis urged the pro-Christian anti-Balaka and Muslim Seleka to work for peace.

“Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself. God is peace, ‘salaam,’” the pope said, using the Arabic word for peace.

The Jubilee Year coincides with the African Year of Reconciliation. The year, declared by the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, an Africa-wide Catholic group, began July 29, 2015. Through SECAM, the bishops have said they will focus on compassion toward people living with HIV/AIDS during the Holy Year of Mercy.

Bishop Giorgio Bertin of Djibouti, a country that borders Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, stressed that mercy is central to the many people living under difficult situations on the continent.

“I think we should stress the aspect of reconciliation with God and among all the peoples living in Africa as well as reconciliation from an ethnic, social, interreligious and individual point of view,” he said.


READ: Pope Francis tells Vatican bureaucracy reform will go ahead with ‘firm resolve’


Bishop Giorgio Bertin, the Bishop of Djibouti and the apostolic administrator of Mogadishu, Somalia at the Holy Family Basilica during a recent visit to Kenya. Relgion News Service photo by Fredrick Nzwili

Bishop Giorgio Bertin, the Bishop of Djibouti and the apostolic administrator of Mogadishu, Somalia at the Holy Family Basilica during a recent visit to Kenya. Relgion News Service photo by Fredrick Nzwili

Somalia, in particular, has been struggling with Muslim extremists since 1991, when a civil war broke out. It is the base of the al-Shabab terrorist group.

“The main issues we will be talking about in Somalia and Djibouti are: respect for our differences, forgiveness as a step towards reconciliation, greater love and justice for the poor,” Bertin said. “We also have to respond to the needs, as people’s shepherds.”

The Rev. Chrisantus Ndaga, deputy general secretary of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa, said Christians must forgive Muslims who attacked churches or public places.

The failure to forgive is the real cause of most of the problems Africa is experiencing, Ndaga said.

“Bishops and priests will be seeking to make forgiveness real in people’s hearts,” he added. “They will be asking the people not to (take) revenge since these acts are behind most problems in the world,” he said.

In Libya, Catholics have embraced the Jubilee Year observance, despite the pressure on Christians exerted by the so-called Islamic State, which expanded here in 2014 and has released videos showing the beheadings of Christians.

With the threats posed by Muslim militias, Christians have been fleeing the country.


READ: Vatican urges World Trade Organization to remember the poor


The Rev. Don Bosco Ochieng Onyalla, a priest of South Sudan and a lecturer at Tangaza University College in Nairobi, said a significant symbol of the Jubilee Year is the move by the pope to allow priests to forgive the sin of abortion.

“This is a significant lesson about our merciful God, that God will not deny anyone forgiveness who sincerely repents and seeks reconciliation with him,” he said.

In addition, South African Bishop Jan de Groef urged Catholics to take advantage of the jubilee to reach out to those who have fallen away.

“I very much encourage you to celebrate … as a joyful encounter … full of mercy and compassion, throughout the year,” De Groef said in a statement.

(Fredrick Nzwili is an RNS correspondent based in Nairobi)

 

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  • Ted

    The Bible calls false teachers “wells without water” and “clouds without rain”. This describes the apostate church which is in every way deluded and incapable of knowing truth. They want to say “peace and forgiveness” where there is no repentance and where the religion of Islam dictates that infidels be killed, converted, or subdued. The only way to survive and coexist with Islam is to fight back and either eradicate or subdue them. The Gospel of peace with God will win a small number of them over but won’t save your family from getting beheaded by the non-persuaded Muslims.

  • Ted

    “…a significant symbol of the Jubilee Year is the move by the pope to allow priests to forgive the sin of abortion.” No man on earth has that power or authority. The Scriptures say you can be justified by faith to have peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord and BY whom we have access into His grace.(Romans 5:1-2) There is no Scripture that authorizes anyone else to wedge themselves in between a repentant sinner and the cleansing blood of Christ. And there is no “Jubilee Year” as applies to New Testament Christians. The “Pope” and his fellow clergy are mere frauds making merchandise of people’s superstition. (2 Peter 2:3)

  • Cursed Goat, Returned to the Comfortable Stable

    the fellow above (the Gentleman -more or less – above) is clearly a Christian Fundamentalist Jihadist.

    Which is too bad for him.

    If he wasn’t – he would not be sooo anti Catholic – and fearful of Muslims.

    He would still be a realist – and also be ready to talk to him Muslim siblings on a case by case basis – as he would have them do unto him.

    But, we should try to get through to hm too, in love – on a case by case basis.

    He is inherently a good guy – who has some misguided – and slightly as cue thinking.

    But, just like a smart person can need a councilor to differentiate when they are inspired, from when the intelligent inspiration is taking too much control – and they are now sitting in a councilor’s chair because they’re body is playing tricks on them ~ and they are now manic. Correct in some regards – delusional in others:

    Ted needs us to help him dial back his jihadist notions – and lower the intensity just a bit. So, I am reaching out to him/you on a one…

  • Cursed Goat, Returned to the Comfortable Stable

    …limited basis: The same way xians are expecting Muslims to do – inorder to derail recruitment by Islamic Extremists who recruit online using the same rhetoric packaged in the appropriate semantic as Teds (your statements above).

    So, Ted – chill out. Thanks yo.