John XXIII, John Paul II, and the Quest for Peace in Africa | Allen Ottaro | CWR blog
The two newest Saints have a deep history with Africa, and their teachings offer guidance today and for years to come
These past weeks leading up to the canonization of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II, have provided a wonderful opportunity to revisit and reflect on their contribution to the Church and the world. This week , at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome, the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) organized a two-day event with the theme, “The Church in Africa: From the Second Vatican Council to the Third Millennium”. The conference was a chance to celebrate the contribution of the two Popes to the Church in the continent of Africa.
The two newest Saints have a deep history with Africa. While Pope Paul VI was the first pontiff in history to set foot on the continent when he visited Uganda in 1969, it was Pope John XIII who created the first African Cardinal, Laurean Rugambwa (1912-1997), in 1960. Pope John Paul II made numerous trips to Africa, including three visits to my own country, Kenya, within a span of fifteen years.
However, what has caught my attention, especially in light of recent and ongoing events on the African continent, is what I and my fellow African citizens can learn from these two great Saints as we seek to advance justice and peace.
During the month of April, Africa and the world have been commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. The tragic events in Rwanda are still very fresh for many in the Central African country. The words “Never again” have been used repeatedly, in expressing the commitment that humanity will no longer remain as spectators in the face of the evil of war.
Regrettably, violence which has been described by various international agencies as “genocidal”, erupted late last year in the Central African Republic and South Sudan. And just this week, the world has witnessed what is being described as the “Massacre of Bentiu”, in which hundreds of civilians were killed in a church, a mosque and a hospital in the South Sudanese town of Bentiu.
The current conflict in South Sudan, pitting rebel forces under the command of former Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar, against government troops and President Salva Kiir, began in mid-December and was precipitated by internal power struggles within the ruling party, the Sudanese People Liberation Movement (SPLM). An agreement on the cessation of hostilities signed by the two parties and brokered by the Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) on the January 23rd, failed to hold, even after weeks of mediation talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Watching a country—whose birth I was old enough to witness—disintegrate so soon, along with the human suffering, death and destruction being experienced, is a sad experience.
I recently turned to Pacem in Terris, the encyclical of Pope John XXIII on “Establishing Universal Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity and Liberty”, given on April 11, 1963. Now, the 1960s is significant in various ways in the history of the African continent, besides the many events in the life of the Church. More than thirty African countries gained independence during that period (1960-1969). A few weeks after Pacem in Terris was given, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor to the African Union (AU) was formed, to promote unity and solidarity of African states in order to achieve a better life for its people.
The first thing that stood out for me in Pacem in Terris is that Pope John XXIII laid out the rights but also duties, beginning with the right to life: