Catholics say AIDS and unity are church priorities in Africa
A senior Vatican leader has said that the Catholic Church will work with other Christian denominations and faith communities to fight poverty and AIDS in Africa.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, made the remarks during a meeting yesterday with Archbishop Tillyrides Makarios of the Orthodox Church in Kenya.
The encounter took place at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi, where Catholic clerics from 17 African countries are attending a six-day seminar to address key challenges facing the church.
The prelates said AIDS had claimed many lives in Africa and left millions of orphans. They pledged to help lift up the lives of the poor and said internal divisions were the main threat to Christianity across the continent.
Cardinal Kasper was representing Pope Benedict XVI at the conference. He is a major German theologian, and had been seen as a possible candidate for the papacy by the more liberal wing of the church after the death of Pope John Paul II.
"The restoration of unity of all Christians remains a major concern for the Catholic Church today, and must be a major preoccupation for the church in Africa too," declared Cardinal Kasper.
"The Catholic Church's dialogue with mainstream Protestant churches should be conducted in an atmosphere of respect for diversity and opinions, understanding and tolerance," he said.
Calling for more research and dialogue, he added that many who join what Catholics regard as religious sects are the rural and urban poor "who do not have great depth in their faith".
Archbishop Makarios agreed that misunderstandings among Christians, the spread of Pentecostal groups and the expansion of indigenous churches were the main issues facing Christianity in Africa today.
Cardinal Kasper said there were 60 million indigenous churches in Africa "and they are growing fast."
The renewed commitment of the Catholic Church to anti-AIDS work will be welcomed by health promoters. But the Vatican is under increasing pressure to change its hard line against the use of condoms, which many believe is worsening the situation and allowing fatalities to rise.
Some senior church figures, especially in Europe, wish to see a change of direction on the contraception issue.