If given appropriate support, Africa’s young people can be the engine to propel the continent’s growth, said a participant at the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar.
“How to generate economic opportunities for young people” is among the topics the 300 participants in the July 21-28 meeting in Kampala are discussing, Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, said in a July 25 telephone interview from Uganda’s capital.
The theme of the 18th plenary meeting of the symposium, known as SECAM, is “Church-Family of God in Africa, Celebrate Your Jubilee! Proclaim Jesus Christ Your Savior.”
The risks facing young Africans who cross borders to seek work include being conscripted into insurgency groups such as Boko Haram in West Africa, Callahan said.
Sixty percent of Africa’s population is younger than 25, according to the U.N.
The SECAM bishops should give young people “space so that they may become good leaders of tomorrow,” Archbishop Thomas Luke Msusa of Blantyre, Malawi, told a press briefing in Kampala.
“If we ignore the call of our young people today and continue with business as usual without recognizing them, without empowering them, it means that the SECAM of tomorrow will not be very powerful,” he said.
Archbishop Msusa and Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Cape Coast, Ghana, said that the SECAM bishops are seriously considering the request made by young people at the meeting for a bishop to be tasked with overseeing youth outreach at a continental level.
SECAM brings together 40 national and regional bodies of Catholic bishops in Africa. Also at the meeting are representatives of other bishops’ conferences and humanitarian aid agencies from around the world.
Ebola, a highly infectious hemorrhagic fever that the World Health Organization has declared a global health emergency, and HIV and AIDS are problems that cross international borders, Callahan said.
Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa, told CNS it is important for participants to share their experiences of how the Church is dealing with HIV.
The concerns of the Church in Africa are often overlooked by the global Church and the Kampala meeting can help to address the issue, Cardinal Napier said.
“Europe is looking to Africa” to help solve its shortage of priests, he said, noting that “many African countries are in a strong position to send missionaries abroad.”
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent a message that was read to participants July 21.
“Throughout these difficult times, the Church in Africa has stood firm to proclaim the Gospel, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, defend the persecuted, thus bringing a credible witness, sometimes at great risk, to her efforts to promote justice, peace, the rule of law, and democratic governance,” he said.