KAMPALA – Archbishop Charles Gabriel Palmer-Buckle, of Cape Coast, Ghana, is a member of the Standing Committee of The Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), the Assembly of the African Bishops, that will be making 50 years in July 2019, with the climax of the celebrations to be hosted in Kampala, Uganda. SECAM was launched by His Holiness Blessed Pope Paul VI when he was welcomed to Kampala in July 1969, the first ever visit of a Pope to Africa.
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle on July 29, 2018 spoke to journalists in Kampala about the significance of the SECAM Golden Jubilee Celebrations, the Catholic Church in Africa and why Uganda is the heart of Catholicism on the continent. PML Daily Editorial Director,ALEX B. ATUHARE attended the interviews.
QN: Archbishop Palmer-Buckle, you are welcome to Kampala and thank you for the opportunity to discuss SECAM and its agenda.
Thank you very much and the pleasure is mine.
QN: What has been the vision and focus of SECAM for the last 50 years? What is the significance of the Golden Jubilee celebrations?
Archbishop Buckle: It is good to know the history of SECAM and how it is closely linked with in Kampala, Uganda.
After 1964, when Blessed Pope Paul VI, canonized the Uganda Martyrs, he came here on his first visit to Africa in your beautiful country . When he came here, he met the African Bishops who had participated in the Vatican Council II of 1962 – 1965. They were having their first meeting here and they invited him and he used the opportunity to inaugurate SECAM here in Kampala on the soil of theAfrican Martyrs. Why the word Symposium? The Bishops decided to call it [their Assembly] a symposium unlike many other types of Councils or Conferences or something else. So a Symposium, from the Greek word, “symposion”actually means sitting around a meal, having a conversation and doing consultation, sharing ideas, worries and trying to find solutions to it.
So the Bishops wanted a coming together of African bishops, seat around to discuss issues as far as evangelization [was concerned], look at the challenges, [think about] how to bring about human development, [manage] their relationship with other religious bodies and also how to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. That how it started. And we are now 50 years old come next year, so we came here to launch it and we are praying and hoping that Uganda being where SECAM was born, will welcome us once again to come for this celebration.
QN: And what is the significance of the celebrations?
Archbishop Buckle: 50 years in the scriptures is a very important time to celebrate. It’s when we REFLECT — stop and take stalk [of what has happened], thank God for the many blessings you have received, look back into the past, see where God has blessed us, how we have used the talents, where we have failed and ask for forgiveness; RECONCILE –– by coming to the reconciliation with one another, and RENEW — our commitment to Jesus Christ and his Good News. So that what we looking to do.
QN: 50 years down the road, what are some of the milestones achieved by SECAM?
Archbishop Buckle: The first one definitely is the fact that the Catholic Church has grown exponentially in the last 50 years, from about 55 million somewhere in the 1975 to now 178 million. So the church has grown very big. From the 60s we had just about some 20 or 30 dioceses in Africa, now we have more than 400 dioceses, and about 37 Episcopal Conferences.
Then you can also think of the fact that in these 50 years many of our own African bishops have risen to become influential members of the universal church in administration like [Lauren) Cardinal Rugambwa of Tanzania, then you have heard of [Bernardin] Cardinal Gantin who was Prefect in charge of all the Cardinals. We have had [Francis} Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria, who served in the Vatican for over 20. We have [Peter] Cardinal Turkson from Ghana who currently the Pope’s right-hand man promoting integral-human development in whole world, and dealing with justice and peace. We have [Robert] Cardinal Sarah who is in-charge of the Council for Divine Worship. So you see that the church has grown from being missionary, receiving missionaries to now offering its own share of what it can do for the greater church in the whole world. So, the Church has been able to do what Blessed Pope Paul VI prophesied when he launched SECAM in 1969, he said, be missionaries to yourselves.
QN: It terms of human development amid challenges like conflict, political instability and refugees crisis in Africa, what has the Catholic Church done to influence a positive trajectory?
Archbishop Buckle: SECAM actually is an Assembly or coming together of the bishops. Now, every bishop is running a church, wherever he is in whatever location. If I take my country Ghana for instance, we have 20 dioceses, and in Ghana we run at least 11 percent of the educational facilities, we run at least 12% of health services and the rest of it. We run almost 40% of teacher training colleges. We are involved in social issues; justice issues, governance, education for mission and the rest. Now this is just Ghana, and that is replicated in every other country in Africa, where the Catholic Church has presence.
And where there have been challenges for instance in elections, we have been there. For instance, in the DR Congo now, the Catholic Church is really at the forefront of trying to discuss and talk to the head of state to see how things can be better done for the good of the country.
In South Sudan, the Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Dioceses of Africa -messiah have been there helping to bring about peace. When Rwanda had its issues we were there. In Nigeria issues with Boko Haram the Catholic Church was there, playing an important role. If you take Sierra-Leone where they didn’t have elections for decades, the Catholic Church has been there. So when you look at the Catholic Church, even though evangelization, preaching Jesus Christ is our focus, we are very conscious of promoting human development and also help in bringing about peace.
QN: Give is the year-plan for the SECAM Golden Jubilee celebrations?
Archbishop Buckle: The celebration is going to be a very good one and we have launched int here in Kampala in your beautiful cathedral at Lubaga. The theme is; “Church, Family of God in Africa, Celebrate your Jubilee! Proclaim, Meet and Welcome Christ your Savior.” Church family of God it is one of the biggest hallmarks of the church. You know so when we talk about family, every Christian, every catholic is my brother is my sister and the rest and you learn to relate with a person because it’s the same blood of Christ, the body of Christ that we receive at the Altar and therefore we want to become better and better church family not only for the church but also for the society. We want to celebrate this jubilee you know and as I said we want to render thanks to God for the many blessings he has given us, we want to review where we have not done well enough and where we should do better. We want to recommit ourselves to the message of Christ and to the development of the continent.
The celebrations will be a year-long, and every month we have a specific focus. We are focusing on youth, the children, our grandfathers, refugees, women, politicians, professionals of all kinds of people.
QN: We understand the African Bishops have invited the Pope. Will be be gracing the celebrations in Kampala, in 2019?
You know Holy Father has a very big schedule, but we have invited him and we are praying that he makes it. I believe that 50 years anniversary of SECAM, all the bishops of Africa about 600 of us will be here in Kampala, we pray that the Holy Father listens to our prayers, mightily and he comes to this your beautiful country once again. He was here not too long ago; we pray he comes back because your country is so beautiful. You have the Martyrs of Uganda praying for us and, I am sure that the heart of the Catholic Church in Africa is here in Uganda.
QN: Your last words.
Archbishop Buckle: To the Catholic Church in Uganda; you are really the heartbeat of the Catholicism in Africa. We cherish this.
********** The Most Rev. Charles Gabriel Palmer-Buckle, is the Archbishop of Metropolitan Archdiocese of Cape Coast, Ghana’s oldest Archdiocese first erected in 1950 and also doubles as the apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Accra. Archbishop Palmer-Buckle, is a member of the Standing Committee of The Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), and also its Treasurer.