Canadian Jesuit named expert for African Synod

By 
  • September 11, 2009
{mosimage}A Canadian Jesuit based in Nairobi, Kenya, has been appointed one of about 30 experts who will assist bishops at Synod of Bishops for Africa at the Vatican Oct. 4-25.

Fr. Michael Czerny founded the African Jesuit AIDS Network in 2002 as a way to help Jesuits in Africa work on the problem of AIDS. His appointment as “adiutor secretarii specialis” to the second Synod of Bishops on Africa will require him to step away from running AJAN at least temporarily.

A 62-page working document for the synod issued in March made relatively few references to AIDS. By appointing Czerny, whose writing has appeared in The Catholic Register , it seems the Vatican may be reappraising the importance AIDS might have in the bishops’  discussions in October. About two-thirds of the world’s 33 million HIV-infected people live in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2007 1.5 million Africans died of AIDS, compared with 23,000 in North America.

On a flight to Cameroon in March Pope Benedict XVI sparked widespread criticism by stating that promoting condom use to the general population would not significantly slow the spread of the disease.

The working document for the synod, called an “instrumentum laboris,” emphasized globalization, war and fragile political institutions. On AIDS it called attention to the church’s dedication to the sick.

About 25 per cent of the world’s HIV-positive people receive treatment from Catholic hospitals and clinics. In some African countries it is as high as 50 per cent.

Czerny told The Catholic Register he didn’t think he was asked to work with the synod solely because of his expertise in the pastoral care of people with AIDS and AIDS-affected communities.

“I am astonished, or with more pious accuracy filled with holy confusion,” said Czerny in an e-mail to The Catholic Register on his appointment.

It is too early to say what precisely he will do at the synod, and the Vatican’s confidentiality rules prevent him from discussing synod business before things get underway in October, Czerny said.

The Vatican’s first synod on Africa was in 1994 and resulted in the 1995 papal exhortation “Ecclesia in Africa.” The theme for the upcoming synod will be “The Church in Africa In Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace.”

Though regional and world-wide synods are an ancient practice in the church, dating back before the Roman emperor Constantine, they were revived following the Second Vatican Council by Pope Paul VI as a way for the bishops of the world to participate in governing the world-wide church with the pope. Synods are called by the pope and he presides over them, but once assembled the bishops are free to consider any issues that come up among them and are not limited by a pre-determined program.

“The impression I get is that the experts have a lot of work to do in formulating and reformulating, but how that fits into the work of the synod I don’t know,” said Czerny.

Czerny begins his duties in Rome in mid-September. A young Jesuit in studies for the priesthood, Augustine Ekeno, will become acting director of AJAN.

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