By Vatican News
The Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the EU (COMECE), is holding a webinar on Thursday to provide a faith-based contribution towards a future, people-centered, and fair partnership between the European Union and Africa.
The event is organized in collaboration with several Catholic organizations, and is taking place under the theme: “Fostering human security and resilience in the future EU-Africa partnership – The role of local communities.”
The online event will offer a platform for open dialogue between members from civil society, religious and faith-based actors from Africa and Europe, as well as other stakeholders and EU policymakers. The webinar will also feature speakers from different African countries who will talk about local initiatives and how grassroots actors play a role in building human security and resilience.
Other co-organizers of the webinar include the Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network (AEFJN), Caritas Europa, the International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity (CIDSE), COMECE, Don Bosco International, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Europe, and the Community of Sant’Egidio.
A human-centered EU-Africa partnership
Father Barrios Prieto, General Secretary of COMECE, explained to Vatican News that the webinar’s focus on the themes of human security and resilience comes from proposals in view of a now-postponed meeting between the EU and Africa on partnership.
The meeting, he noted, was supposed to be held this year but has been postponed to 2022.
Ahead of it, COMECE and the Bishops’ Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) prepared a document addressing the issues of human security and resilience. The webinar, therefore, is a part of the Church’s contribution toward a human-centered EU-Africa partnership.
Voices from the grassroots
Fr. Prieto underscored the importance of the work of grassroots actors in various fields and policy areas, highlighting that the purpose of the webinar is to “hear what the grassroots actors are doing in Africa to foster human security and resilience.”
“We want to hear these voices … in defending human rights for example in Zimbabwe, in building social cohesion in Liberia, in fostering resilience in Kenya and vocational training, in providing capacity support for the family, farmers in Nigeria, or what is done with young people in the Central African Republic.”
He added that these accounts from local actors can be instrumental in policymaking and in the formulation of proposals.
Speaking further on the joint COMECE/SECAM document addressed to EU and African leaders on partnership, Father Prieto said it has met with “very positive reactions.”
Explaining further, he said the Bishops centered the document on the “people, the families and the persons” in Africa and put them in the first place.”
“This document has an important advantage,” he said. “It was elaborated together with the African Church,” as COMECE and SECAM put forward proposals for the partnership between Africa and the EU ahead of the now-postponed meeting.
However, the postponement of the high-level meeting is not all bad. Fr. Prieto said it gives the parties time to “hear more the voices of the local communities and what is being done.” In addition, he noted, “we are having follow-ups and meetings.”
Fratelli tutti and EU-Africa future partnership
Fr. Prieto points out that Pope Francis’ latest Encyclical Fratelli tutti’s focus on universal fraternity “speaks to the heart”. This, he pointed out, is a concept that “can help very much.”
Interreligious dialogue is another aspect that Fr. Prieto hopes will speak to the African context. He noted that the Holy Father himself said in his latest Encyclical that one of his inspirations was the 2019 Abu Dhabi document on fraternity in Abu Dhabi.
Fr. Prieto added that interreligious dialogue and fraternity are concepts that can be used fruitfully when developing the partnership between Africa and the EU.