Headline: AFRICA: TELLING OUR OWN STORIES


Posted on: 2016-06-03


Until lions write their own stories, hunters will remain the winners of all encounters between the two. What hunter would document the death of his own kind at the hand of lions? Only lions can do that and they are yet to write their own stories. The expression "tell your own story" has almost become a cliché all over the world. Even the Church encourages populations and organizations all over the world which languish under powers which do not promote their interest to tell their own stories. Who on earth can tell your story better than you? At the very least be the very first one to tell your story. In today's gullible culture of "credibility by precedence", whoever first tells the story gets the credibility. Today, those who control the media  tend to tell everybody else's story from their own perspective in spite of claims of objectivity. Unfortunately, the Church in Africa does not yet wield much media power to tell her own story. No wonder that when the Standing Committee of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, SECAM met with Pope Francis in February 2015, the Holy Father strongly urged the committee to give the African Church a stronger voice universally. SECAM could not but take the Holy Father's words very seriously to heart and so it re-energized its communications committee, the Pan African Episcopal Committee for Social Communications, CEPACS, to regroup and get kicking.

 

The Cameron example

Most Nigerians were inflamed by Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain recently caught on camera classifying Nigeria as one of the most "fantastically corrupt" countries in the world. It took the astute response of President Muhammadu Buhari and the stout defense of some people of goodwill to assuage the sting of the truth, so blatantly spoken. What Cameron said was not new. Many Nigerians, including the President of Nigeria, had said similar things. The real problem with it was that it was not the whole story about Nigeria. By the time he spoke, Nigeria was already making credible  effort to roll back corruption in the polity. But Nigeria was not promptly and effectively telling her own story. Many informed commentators have urged that the country's government be more forthcoming with its plans and progress made in various areas of life to avoid such "Cameronic" ambushes on Nigeria's reputation. Again, be the first to tell your own story!

 

The CEPACS assembly

That is one reason why I, as President of CEPACS, this week attempt to rally and re-energize church communications on the African Continent at a meeting holding in Accra, Ghana  from 6th till 9th June, 2016. The meeting will assemble the Bishops Chairmen and Secretaries of Communications in the 8 Regional Conferences in the Continent. These will be joined by Catholic International Media organizations, partner support international organizations like SIGNIS, the Catholic Media Council, CAMECO, Missio and other Church pastoral Charity organizations from outside Africa in order to chart together a way into the future.  CEPACS was revived by the 5th Plenary Assembly of SECAM held in Yaoundé, Cameroon, in 1981. It was approved as an Episcopal committee with a mandate to take up all matters concerning Social Communications that come under the aegis of SECAM and work in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, the PCSC but it has had many problems along the way

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Objectives of CEPACS

According to the Statutes of CEPACS the following are some o its objectives:

1.    To stimulate, promote and co-ordinate the Church’s mass media activities both on the Regional and Continental scenes.

2.    To promote the Christian dimension by engaging  all aspects of the mass media in the evangelization process, including the integral development of the human person.

3.    To foster good relations with both Christian and secular media organizations at the Regional, Continental and International levels.

4.    To work in close collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Social Communication with Catholic International Organizations and with other African and worldwide organizations which have relations with the Church's programmes

5.    To inform and recommend to the Episcopal Conferences the opportunities of scholarships for training in the field of Social Communications and mass media

The future

 

The future relevance of CEPACS will clearly be determined by an astute revision of the Church's teaching on pastoral Communications especially since the Second Vatican Council, which emphasized that on Continents or in Regions wherever there is an Episcopal Conference, an office for Social Communications should be established. The Church has since continued to push for more constructive engagement with all media. With the publication of Aetatis Novae in 1972, the role and place of the media and communications have been expanded to cover all the pastoral activities of the Church such as those concerning social services, Education and evangelization. Closer home, the Post Synodal Exhortation of the 1994 Synod of Bishops for Africa,  Ecclesia in Africa urged that “programmes of continental co-operation which exist in Africa, like the Pan African Episcopal Committee for Social Communications (CEPACS) be encouraged and revitalized. That revitalization will only attain relevance if CEPACS can rise up to the challenge of animating the Church in Africa to tell her story at every level from parish through the diocesan, to the National and Regional Episcopal Conferences to a worldwide audience. It is a daunting but necessary task that requires not just hard work and careful strategies but abundant prayers from the Clergy and faithful alike.


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