By Antonella Ferrucci
The International Conference, "Economy of Communion: A New Paradigm for the African Development", will take place from January 26-28, 2011, at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi, in collaboration with the Focolare Movement. Dr. Aloys Blasie’ Ayako, Dean of this university's Faculty of Commerce, has strongly encouraged this event, as he sees great hope for his people in the Economy of Communion culture.
To give continuity to this important moment, there is a professional development course in the works at CUEA. It is aimed at spreading an economic business culture for Africa and will be entrusted to a group of economists and scholars that work throughout the world developing the Economy of Communion. Around 300 youth from many African countries will participate in the convention.
In the days just before the conference at the Catholic University, from January 23 to 25, in Mariapolis Piero, the small town of the Focolare in Kalimoni, Nairobi, there will be the first Pan African EoC School for African youth, also including some participants from Europe, United States and Asia.
Africa is the second largest continent in the world with a surface area of nearly seven and a half million square kilometers. It has many, many tribes, ethnic groups and communities with very different cultures, habits, lifestyles and languages. The Focolare Movement arrived in Sub-Saharan Africa in 1963, in Cameroun. Since then, little by little, the spirituality of unity has spread and is now lived throughout the continent, although in different ways in each country.
We've asked Genevieve Sanze, member of the international commission of the Economy of Communion and coordinator of the first African EoC Summer School, to tell us a little about the history of the Focolare Movement in this great continent:
The first focolarini to arrive in Africa were Italians. Their main goal when they came was to dialogue, to know, to love, to live together with the African people. As in all relationships, especially coming from such different socio-cultural environments, it was normal that there were misunderstandings and initial difficulties on both sides. Lucio Dal Soglio, one of the first doctors to go to Fontem, said, “We went to the top of a small mountain, and the chief who came with us to show us our land, showed us the whole plain below. He made a wide gesture over all that was below and said, ‘All that you see below is yours’. And we said, ‘Beautiful, at least this is clear’. Then, we went to cut down a small tree, and they told us 'No, you can't cut that down'. 'Why not, if it is ours?' They answered, 'The land is yours but the trees are not'. And we realized that perhaps we had misunderstood. In the Bangwa (Cameroun) culture, land may belong to one person but the trees on it to another. And that land was full of trees and palms. If we couldn't cut down the palms, we couldn't build anything." This anecdote explains that contracts and laws do not tower over relationships. On the contrary, relationship is the most important thing, and through it all can be resolved.
What do you do in a case like this?
The pedagogy of the Focolare is always that of love, so the focolarini started living together with this people. Lucio Dal Soglio said the following, "We're here to live together with the Bangwa, not to do great things, and not even to save the lives of the Bangwa. We'll save them if the Bangwa ask us to do so. We don't want to build a super hospital; we don't want to build a university; we don't want to teach one program or another. We'll do the things that we agree upon together to do. We have to understand together, reasonably, what is needed. This is the base of equality and fraternity." This love then became everything.
Do you think that the meeting between those of the Focolare and the African people has brought about something new?
Communion, fundamental to the charism of the Focolare, has brought a new light to the African people, a new dynamism to understand and live the great solidarity of the African culture. Therefore, the Economy of Communion, which began in Brazil in 1991, was also a great joy for the members of the Focolare Movement in Africa. It was an answer to the subplot of our society: poverty. But in front of the "smallness" of the African countries, there are many challenges to face: the inexistence of indispensible technological and financial means and the lack of competence that guarantees necessary development put the majority of African countries in unfavorable situations, in positions of weakness.
At what point is the Economy of Communion in Africa at today? What can it contribute to the debate on poverty and development?
Africa has been an integral part of the EoC project since the beginning. Nevertheless, while going ahead, it experiences the difficulties I mentioned earlier. The experience of the EoC lived 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 (schools, roads, wells, etc.). Nor is it possible with an increase in commercial relationships between the North and the South. All of this is certainly necessary, but it is not enough. The world will see fraternity and communion flourish when we will be capable of building authentic and deep human relationships among people who are different but equal; when we overcome the very titles of "poor people" and "rich people"; when we know how to understand, thanks also to the life experience of the Economy of Communion, that there are no people in the world who are so poor that they are not able to be a gift for others. Poverty can also be hidden in wealth, because the other is necessary to our happiness. Therefore, being rich is not enough to be happy. If someone is in a difficult situation, they will only find the will to get out of the trap and start walking again if they feel loved and esteemed, treated with dignity because recognized for their value.
Therefore, development that starts from communion...
Yes, first there must be this deep act of freedom and human dignity that each person must make. Only then can we give help, funds, contracts, business relationships, etc., which are only instruments that contribute to global development of the person. Then, social living will have solid foundations on which the lasting flowering of the human person can take place. That is why we sustain that the EoC is a new paradigm for Africa's development.
These events in Nairobi - the international conference at CUEA and the Summer School in Mariapolis Piero - will be Pan African, the first on the African continent. They're events that we've prepared and awaited for years. They're geared especially towards the youth but are open to all who want to understand, deepen, share experiences, bring contributions for Africa's integral development. Besides the African people, there will also be economists and entrepreneurs from the United States, Europe and Asia to be able to create together an exchange of communion.