Unity, peace building, and strong families were among the themes of a document released by the bishops of Eastern Africa after an 11-day meeting in Ethiopia this month.
The Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA), met this month for its plenary assembly, held every four years, in Addis Ababa.
The July 13-23 gathering was held with the theme, “Vibrant Diversity, Equal Dignity, Peaceful Unity in God in the AMECEA Region.”
The association consists of the bishops’ conferences of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, and Zambia, as well as affiliate members from Djibouti and Somalia.
At the end of the assembly, the bishops released a communique commenting on social and pastoral issues in the region.
The document highlighted the equal dignity of all people, regardless of ethnic background. It stressed the need for integral human development, which “cannot be limited to mere economic growth alone” but must “focus on the human person, should be holistic and cover all aspects of life of the human person and geared towards the common good.”
“We uphold and endeavor to promote the Church’s basic peace building plan which has four principles: recognition and defense of equal dignity of all members of the human family, promotion of integral human development, support for international institutions and forgiveness in AMECEA region,” the bishops said.
“These peace building blocks are the basis for enhancement of human dignity that must be enjoyed by every human being through respect of human rights.”
The communique voiced hope in the resolution of two conflicts in the region. It noted the peace agreement signed this month after 20 years of conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, “breaking the barriers that divided the two countries for two decades.”
“The Catholic Church in both countries had been raising their voice to denounce the fraternal conflict and war, prayed together and gave hope to the people throughout by remaining firm to solve the situation peacefully and showing solidarity with the peoples of both countries,” it said.
“As this process of reconciliation continues, the Catholic Church urges the stakeholders to ensure that justice and peace are restored and let the peoples of these countries be involved in the process, their voices heard and captives return to their families.”
The document also voiced hope over “the progress in the South Sudan peace talks,” calling for prayers and aid for people of the region.
Looking more broadly at challenges facing East Africa, the bishops drew attention to attacks on the family, including poverty, unemployment and social inequality.
“A stable family is a foundation for positive vibrant diversity, equal dignity and peaceful unity in God in the AMECEA region and beyond,” they said.
“As shepherds, we continue to support the development and implementation of pedagogy and programmes for on-going formation and catechesis for families…We intend to collaborate with like-minded organizations to provide catechesis, formation and pastoral care of families at all levels.”
They also noted the need for pastoral care for youth, promoting vocational discernment, morality, education, and peace. They voiced hope in the growth of Catholic universities and encouraged these institutions to embrace the Church’s social teaching and aim to promote human dignity and integral human development.
The bishops also discussed the importance of accountability and transparency in Church management, the proper use of natural resources, and the need to support migrants and refugees.
They decried the “rampant corruption” that continues to plague many of their countries and condemned “abuses against minors and vulnerable persons” while calling for “mainstream guidelines for protection of minors.”
The communique also recognized the “continuous threat that faces the youth in relation to radicalization and terrorism” and pledged to “continue to support as well as collaborate with governments’ efforts on counter-violent extremism and deradicalization.”
In implementing the goals of the assembly, the bishops said, attention must be paid to new means of communication.
“Aware of the very positive steps taken towards evangelizing through mass media, we commend efforts made to invest on creation of interactive Catholic content in diocesan and parish websites as well as social media platforms, catholic radios, televisions and newspapers,” they said.
“At the same time, recognizing the role of the media in the process of integral human development, we exhort media practitioners to be responsible, credible and accurate in providing information to society.”