Osservatore Romano - 28/01/2011

Focolare Conference in Nairobi on the project requested by Chiara Lubich

Economy of Communion for African Development 

Published in the Roman Observer on 28/01/2011

Nairobi, January 27 - "An authentic African development should bring with it the "spirituality of communion", concern for others and solidarity towards those in need. This conference is a great opportunity to introduce a new dimension in the study program on economic and human development.

Traditional Africa already has this unusual dimension, which though the course of the modern age seems to have been ignored to the point of conforming itself to the new theories of making profit in a globalized world. Thanks to Chiara Lubich and the Focolare Movement, today, we can reawaken this spirit of concern for others in order to return to the roots of true African develpoment". 

Opening the international conference, "Economy of communion: a new paradigm for African development",  yesterday at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi, the university's vice rector, John Maviiri, underlined how "the ideal dreamed of by Chiara Lubich, the economy of communion", is at the center of the reflection of the conference's participants.

Maviiri continued to say that it is an ideal borrowed by the example of the first Christian community and held in the fact that among them "no one was in need" (Acts 4:34). "This is a great challenge for the African continent, and I have the hope that this conference will concentrate on finding a solution for this reality, in which around 60 percent of those residing in the Sub-Saharan territory live on less than one dollar and twenty-five cents per day"

2011 will be the twentieth anniversary of the "Economy of Communion", launched by Chiara Lubich in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on May 29, 1991. The occasion will be celebrated in the South American country from May 25-29, with a series of events dedicated to current and future initiatives. 

The meeting in Nairobi, organized in collaboration with the Focolare Movement, was strongly encouraged by Maviiri and by the dean of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa's Department of Commerce, Aloys Ayako. The African people have urgent need of an entrepreneurial culture and of economic development, but it is also in search of an economic and business model that does not destroy the community and communion, which are important values in its cultures. That is why the economy of communion represents great hope for the continent. "Africa," said Ayako, "is not an undifferentiated mass of territory, but is rather a mosaic or a spectrum of great diversity in terms of history, topography, resources, natural gifts and traditions. And as a continent, it must face numerous challenges, from democratization to political stability, from peace to economic growth to chronic poverty". 

Besides members of the International Commission of the Economy of Communion of the Focolare, composed of scholars, entrepreneurs and social workers coming from the United States, the Philippines and various European countries, participants of the Nairobi convention (which concluded on Friday the 28) included civil and religious authorities, entrepreneurs, bankers, entities that work in development projects in Africa, representatives of local non-governmental organizations, and young students coming from many African nations. Special attention was given to the so-called "business culture". Today, the opening message to the working sessions was given by the Archbishop of Nairobi, Cardinal John Njue, president of the Kenyan Episcopal Conference. 

For Maviiri, "there are important questions regarding the leadership in the fight against poverty and all forms of degradation to the African person. It clearly can be seen that the image of God with respect to which these persons were created (Gen, 1:27), is heavily darkened by a load of appeals that disfigure the human face. That makes it impossible to see the image of God reflected in our faces. What should we do to clean and adjust our face and return to man and woman's original situation, created in the image of God?" the vice rector asked. It is never too late to give hope, and the ideal that had come to life in the Acts of the Apostles can still be reached in the 21st century. "We'll hear witnesses from Africa and from other parts of the world to show how the economy of communion has already given good results in many circumstances," he added. 

To give continuity to this important moment, there is a professional development course in the works at Catholic University of Eastern Africa. It is aimed at spreading an economic business culture for the African continent and will be entrusted to a group of economists and scholars that work throughout the world developing the Economy of Communion. “The experience lived," said Genevieve Sanze, one of the heads of the project, "helps us understand that it is not possible to escape the trap of extreme poverty with money, even if it's abundant. Neither is it possible with the redistribution of wealth or by building public goods. Nor is it possible with an increase in commercial relationships between the North and the South... We will come out from this trap when we will be capable of building authentic and deep human relationships among people who are different but equal; when we know how to understand that there are no people in the world who are so poor that they are not able to be a gift for others."

From January 23 to 25, Mariapolis Piero, the small town of the Focolare in Kalimoni, Nairobi, hosted the first "Economy of Communion School" for young aspiring entrepreneurs coming from 12 African countries. Formation, reciprocity and inculturation are the pillars of the school, lead by the project's worldwide director Luigino Bruni. "Africa," he explained, "needs to open itself up to the market while saving its community roots, so strong in its culture’s DNA. So, one can understand how the economy of communion can truly be an important opportunity here.”

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