Over 250 Catholic Bishops, Priests and Laities over the weekend converged at the Lagoonda conference hall in Freetown to witness the opening session of the 11th Plenary Assembly of the Association of Episcopal Conference of West Africa (AECAWA).
The President of AECAWA, Most Rev. John Onaiyekan, who is also the Archbishop of Abuja- Nigeria said that the decision to hold the plenary assembly in Sierra Leone was an initiative undertaken about two years ago. This he said, was to make the assembly a visible gesture of solidarity with brothers and sisters in this part of the region, which is undergoing a lot of difficulties and challenges.
He hoped that their visit will give much needed consolation, courage and hope for the people in the region.
The Plenary, Archbishop Onaiyekan remarked, is one of congratulations and enhancing sincere prayers that the Lord will sustain the bright hopes that this region now has.
As the country has just gone through a peaceful election the Archbishop said, “we thank God that in the mean time, much has taken place. A courageous process of free and fair election, the foundations for a harmonious socio-political development have been laid.”
Commenting on the theme for this particular conference which is ‘The Church and the Christian- Muslim collaboration in West Africa’ the President explained that in the world at large, a lot of debate and discussion about the relationship between Muslims and Christian has been going on, although some unfortunate events have tended to aggravate the tone of the discussions.
“This has been done for reasons often more political than religious as inevitable conflict based on perceived clash of civilians has gained much ground in certain influential circles” he said.
The theme, he went on, highlights the inter-faith cooperation as all over the region in different offices, people with different faith live and work together.
Although this is also found in some homes, effective inter-faith cooperation requires a minimum of institutional framework to coordinate and promote common reflection and action the Bishop said.
Bishop Barnett of the Lutheran Mission and President of the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone in his goodwill message said that, there has been inter-faith cooperation between the Catholic Church as in 1997 a communiqué was signed between the two missions.
He added that Lutheran and Catholic can bear witness to their faith to people outside this fold. Bishop Barnett said that during the Presidential and parliamentary elections, the Inter Religious Council came out with a strong warning against violence, pointing out that it does not matter which religion you belong to you should work for a common good.
Haja Mardi on behalf of the Muslims said that the theme is not only relevant but timely against the backlog of religious tolerance.
She said that as we reflect on the theme, Sierra Leoneans can proudly draw solace from a unique characteristic that God has brought us through as the country has a unique of religious tolerance.
She maintained that Sierra Leone “is one of the country’s that enjoy religious tolerance … as other nations are tearing themselves apart we are having peaceful tolerance.”
Speaking on behalf of the President, Spokesman Alhaji Alpha Kanu echoed that the theme is not accidental but a lot of deliberation has been done among other religions.
The Presidential Spokesman said that this is an example as he was born in a Muslim home but attended both Catholic and Anglican Schools.
He said that despite the different religion “but we are all heading to one destination.”