VATICAN CITY (Zenit.org): The main treasure of Africa is its young people, but they need protection from those who would force them into lives as child soldiers or prostitutes, the bishops of that continent have said.
Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, Uganda, is one of the prelates who made this appeal on October 13 at the Synod of Bishops for Africa.
The prelate spoke from personal experience of the “great violence done to children” in his archdiocese.
According to an English summary of his intervention, released by the Vatican, he stated that this violence has been perpetrated by rebel soldiers of the “Lord’s Resistance Army, who the past several years have terrorised the people and particularly targeted children”.
Archbishop Odama said these forces “have taken young boys and girls to force them to become child soldiers, damaging their minds and spirits in terrible ways”.
He said the soldiers have “abducted young girls as sex slaves, ruining their hopes and futures”.
Archbishop Odama said these violent acts took place in many other parts of Africa as well, affirming that this included the “violence of hunger, lack of educational opportunities, shortage of adequate health care, and unfit living conditions in urban slums and refugee camps”.
He appealed to the synod to “speak out against the political, economic and social situations that do such violence to our children”.
“But let me add yet another way in which violence is done to children, and this is the shocking rates of abortion that take away the lives of innocents even before birth,” he said.
Bishop Ernesto Maguengue of Pemba, Mozambique, another of the 27 prelates who gave interventions in this session, also spoke in favour of protecting the young.
“The main riches of the continent is represented by its population, and especially the youth, adolescents and children. Africa is a continent with the youngest population in the world,” he said.
“African youth is an inestimable treasure that cannot be forgotten or lie unused, if one wishes to guarantee a future of lasting development, reconciliation, justice and peace in Africa.”
Bishop Maguengue lamented the fact that many young people fell into “violence, prostitution, drug trafficking and use, organised crime, political, ethnic and tribal strife, as well as into religious fundamentalism and satanic sects among others”.
He appealed to the synod to give a “strong message of trust and encouragement” to young people.
Bishop Maguengue called on the Church and government to stimulate and tap into the “vast potential which African youth represents”.
The bishop underlined the need for “education and integral formation of youth that takes into consideration the context and their culture so as to make them able to be true servants of reconciliation, justice and peace”.