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Two-part conference focuses on relationship between United States and Africa

Meghan Martin | Monday, September 22, 2003

In November 2001, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved at its general meeting a document entitled “A Call to Solidarity with Africa,” which addressed the bishops’ concerns over the appropriate relationship between Africa and the United States.

This week, the University’s Institute for Church Life will sponsor the American leg of its two-part conference, the second of which will be held in Nigeria this January.

The conferences on both sides of the Atlantic will focus on the statement issued by the bishops, which called attention to the violence, medical and educational crises that afflict Africa today.

“Our fear is that Africa’s hopes could be destroyed by indifference and inaction in African and around the world,” the document said.

In a response to the bishops’ request that the needs of Africa not be ignored, this week’s conference, which began Sunday with a keynote address by Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, and will continue through Wednesday, will focus on creating a greater understanding between Americans and Africans, which coordinators say they hope will foster a tangible response to the call for solidarity.

“The idea came to us when we got knowledge of the bishop’s conference on Africa,” said Father Paulinus Odozor, a Notre Dame theology professor and one of the event’s coordinators. “We thought we should not let this document die … We then decided to give life to this document, as a way of keeping the concerns of Africa alive on the table.”

Over 70 scholars, relief workers, church leaders, policy makers, business people and students will be on hand throughout the conference to discuss the needs of Africa and how Americans can help Africa meet those needs.

“When they think of Africa, people think of diseases, war, other things – but there’s a lot more going on in Africa,” Odozor, a native Nigerian, said. “Above all, they are human beings like the rest of us … we must keep Africa in view, and we must never let Africa die.”

Part of keeping Africa in view involves understanding its needs as well as its promise, Odozor said. Conference topics, many of which will be addressed in the form of moderated panel discussions and scholarly papers, range from “The Role of Civil Society in Africa” to “International Business and the renewal of Africa.”

“There’s a religious focus, and an economic focus, a policies/issues focus,” Odozor said. “We are going to talk about finance, we are going to talk about trade, we are going to talk about health …We tried to look at the issues that affect Africa and the rest of the world and we tried to bring in as many experts as possible to address them.”

Experts such as Dr. Titus Owolabi, chief of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the North York General Hospital in Toronto, who will discuss his recent experiences with controlling the SARS epidemic in Canada, will address issues that range from public health to the relationship between religion and politics.

Round-table discussions and break-out sessions, as well as mealtime addresses and a final resolution session on Wednesday have been planned to facilitate discussion and understanding among conference participants.

“We have tried to cover as wide a canvas as possible,” Odozor said.