“Young Africans want to live and they want to live in dignity,” said Coadjutor Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
He said that the number of young people on the African continent “is evolving in a socio-political context in which they no longer see a future.” This impacts on their faith since they are sometimes tempted to make use of inappropriate means to solve their problems, he said.
“The greatest problem faced by young people is unemployment,” said Congolese Synod auditor, Merveille Mantantu Vita. “This leads to negative social consequences, including delinquency, prostitution and drug addiction,” she warned. “An attraction to occultism and fetishism may also develop as well as the possibility of young people being recruited by armed groups.”
Bishop Joseph Atanga of Bertoua added that eastern Cameroon is the country’s region with the poorest people and where people face “illiteracy and poverty.”
The situation in Burundi is similar. Bishop Blaise Nzeyimana of Ruyigi in the nation’s east said that the problems of young people are primarily linked to unemployment, following the end of their studies.
“They have great difficulty in finding work so some people continue to go to school because they find their paths blocked,” he said. “However, there is hope.”
Bishop Gaspard Beby Gneba of Man in western Ivory Coast, who represented the Catholic Bishops Conference of Ivory Coast also insisted on unemployment, poverty and their impact on peace and security.
“There are many unemployed young people in Ivory Coast,” he said.
“Some are very involved in the Church,” he said. “But when they go home, they have nothing to eat, they have nothing, not even to help their own families let alone help the Church.”
This may have a serious impact on peace and cohesion, he warned. “When you are unemployed and you can’t find work, it can lead to temptation,” he said.
“If someone offers you 5,000 francs to take up arms for some purpose, what can you do?” he asked.
Migration was another issue emphasized by African Synod participants.
“Economic issues are the main reason that young people leave the country in search of a better future,” said Bishop André Gueye of Thiès in western Senegal.
“If our best forces leave, who will stay to develop our country?” he asked.
Ivory Coast faces a similar problem.
“Several years ago when Ivory Coast was at peace and doing well materially and economically, few young people left to go into ‘exile’ without relatives, friends or acquaintances,” explained Bishop Gneba.
“Now, however, particularly after the crisis, poverty has worsened and many people are thinking of leaving,” he said.
In his view, a continental-level response involving all bishops’ conferences is needed.
Bishop Fridolin Ambongo of the DR Congo also pointed to the same issue leading to “young Africans braving many dangers in the desert as well as at sea to reach Europe.”
Similarly, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban in South Africa also condemned the impact of massive migration from Africa.
“Africa is in the process of losing some of its most gifted people,” he said, blaming “exploitation of natural resources and the environment.”
Peace and reconciliation
Meanwhile, in countries affected by wars and conflicts, peace and reconciliation remains the principal aspiration of young people, including in Rwanda, 24 years after the 1994 genocide.
Bishop Servilien Nzakamwita of Byumba in Rwanda’s north-east, who also took part in the Synod, has placed his hope on young people themselves.
“We are counting on them to be able to bring people and families together because young people are active and try to live in fraternity,” he said.
To achieve this, the Rwandan Church periodically organizes meetings at parish and the diocesan level across the country.
“Young people meet, play together and receive teaching,” said Bishop Nzakamwita.
“They are hosted by families who do not know them but the very fact of being welcomed by others helps promote unity and destroy ethnic prejudice,” he said.
Peace is also an issue in the Central African Republic.
“Young people in Central Africa need those who are carrying arms to be disarmed,” said Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga of Bangui.
“They need to now take up the arms of faith, the arms of dialogue to express their hopes, anguishes and concerns and to find social solutions,” he said.
Politics is the fourth concern raised by African Synod representatives.
Chadian auditor, Gabin Djimtoloum Djenaroum, said that the government of his country has failed to take responsibility for young people and has paid little attention to their well-being.
“Young people are often given little consideration by the government and they are under-estimated,” he said.
Guinea Conakry Synod auditor, Henriette Camara, was also very critical of political leaders.
“They make use of young people to achieve power,” she said.
However, Archbishop Ambongo of Kinshasa, where thousands of young people demonstrated recently in support of a two-party system, has a different outlook.
Young people are political actors, he said.
“They are conscious of being victims in a socio-political system that stifles their futures,” he explained.
“So, those who are really aware are ready to demonstrate to put an end to a system that debases them and they are seeking new perspectives for the future,” he said.
In addition, young Africans aspire to be listened to and to have a more significant role in the Catholic Church.
“They are asking to be more involved in the decision-making processes of the Church,” said Merveille Mantantu Vita.
“That would mean offering greater leadership roles because experience is gained at the grassroots by working with elders,” she said.
Bishop François Gnonhossou of Dassa-Zoumè in Benin agreed that young people want to be recognized and have a place of their own in the Church.
But “young people also need to listen to their elders,” he added.
“If young people today are asking the Church to listen to them, they also need to listen to the Church,” he said. “A culture of listening is necessary. If people do not pay attention, they cannot hear the other person.”
However, according to Henriette Camara, young people were able to make themselves heard at the Synod.
“Young people from around the world succeeded in making known their common concerns as well as their desire to be heard and their desire to act with the Church,” she said.