The Pontifical Council for the Laity is organising a Congress of Catholic laity in Africa

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Africa is close to the heart of Benedict XVI. The pope has demonstrated this fact by visiting the continent twice, by calling for a second special assembly for Africa by the Synod of Bishops, and by delivering the post-synodal apostolic exhortation  Africae Munus to the lay faithful of Africa on the occasion of his visit to Benin on 19 November last.

The pope does not look on Africa as simply a place of suffering for its people. Of course he does not close his eyes to the extreme poverty of large numbers of the population, to the wars being fought on their territory or to the pandemics that often take even more lives than armed conflict. The Holy Father maintains that the African continent is “a spiritual lung for humanity”. He believes that the African view of life predisposes people “to hear and to receive Christ’s message and to appreciate the mystery of the Church” (Africae Munus, n. 69).

The message that Benedict XVI conveys is demanding, but at the same time it is energising. It asks the Christians of Africa to be committed to the service of reconciliation, justice and peace on their continent as well as throughout the universal Church. Many of the priorities that we see in the apostolic exhortation Africae Munus pertain to the secular sphere. This means that they concern the lay faithful in a special way and that they extend an invitation for renewal in ecclesial and civil commitment.

It is against this background that the Pontifical Council for the Laity is organising a second Pan-african congress of Catholic laity. It will be held in Yaoundé in Cameroon from 4 to 9 September 2012. In line with other continental congresses that have been held, the theme will be “Being witnesses of Jesus Christ in Africa today”.

The main objective is to sustain the lay faithful at a time when Africa is being asked “to explore its Christian vocation more deeply”. The pope says at the beginning that “Africa’s commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ is a precious treasure” (ibid., no. 1).

With the Congress less than a year away, the Pontifical Council for the Laity is involved in studying the magisterium and looking at the ecclesial and civil challenges facing the African lay faithful at this time in history. An ad hoc group of experts have been invited to help the dicastery in the preparation of the event. Since December 2010, representatives of ecclesial associations and movements present in Africa have been involved in the preparations.

The Congress is expected to have about three hundred delegates from bishops’ conferences and associations and movements from all over Africa. After an initial study of the geopolitical situation and the Church priorities on the continent, there will be discussion on the vocation and mission of the lay faithful. Reference will be made to the apostolic exhortation Christifideles Laici in discussions on the special features of the lay vocation in Africa. Emphasis will be given to the need for adequate faith education.

“The Church as God’s Family” (ibid., no. 7) is the ecclesial context in which the congress will take place. The  co-responsibility of the lay faithful in building up communion will be an important point for discussion. This will include the subject of the new ecclesial movements and communities that are present on the continent.

Special attention will be given to the commitment of the lay faithful in the many areas of public life and in the efforts being made to achieve justice, peace and reconciliation. This topic will take up the whole of the last day of the Congress.

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