By Cyprian Musoke
ABOUT 400 African bishops begin a seven-day meeting in Entebbe today for the second All Africa Bishops Conference. The theme of the conference, organised by the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA), is â€œSecuring the future, unlocking our potentialâ€.
President Yoweri Museveni will officially open the conference tomorrow.
The conference takes place at Imperial Resort Beach Hotel. Yesterday, the lobby of the hotel was a beehive of activity, as delegations of clergy from Burundi, Central Africa, Congo, Egypt, Indian Ocean islands, and Kenya checked in for registration.
Others from Nigeria, Rwanda, Southern Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, West Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Togo, Comoros and West Saharawi arrived.
More delegations were still streaming in by press time.
The hotel was fully booked, forcing other delegations to book into nearby hotels.
Prayers, the Holy Eucharist and Bible study sessions will be held every morning from the conference hall.
The CAPA general secretary, the Rev. Canon Grace Kaiso, said Uganda was chosen by vote as the venue for the conference by the standing organising committee on the sidelines of the first conference that sat in 2004 in Abuja in Nigeria.
â€œIt is interesting that we are having the second African bishops conference in Uganda just after the African Union summit. Those of us who believe in God think this is a message in terms of the privileged place Uganda occupies on the continent,â€ he said.
Kaiso noted that the conference would focus on the future of Africa.
â€œWe cannot have a prosperous future when the greater part of our population is under war, disease and our population is merely surviving. We are saying as the church who believe in the fullness of life, things must be done differently. We are here to reflect together on how we can tackle some of these bottlenecks of perpetual conflict, poverty and disease,â€ he said.
It is not Godâ€™s will, Kaiso added, that people should live a hopeless life. â€œChange is possible in Africa but how can we achieve it? Our leaders use our money badly and fail to build hospitals, wells and roads. But since the church is everywhere, even where governments donâ€™t reach, we can use that strength to mobilise people.â€
Asked whether homosexuality that has split the Western church from their African counterparts was on the agenda, Kaiso said the church was finding ways of advocating for change in the mindsets of those who purport to be homosexuals.
Kaiso, however, noted that there were other pressing issues to address, saying homosexuality was not high on the agenda.
â€œIt is no longer an issue because even when AIDs came, it first shocked us as a church but we moved quickly to offering pastoral support and created support and advisory groups. The Church never gets defeated because we believe in a living God,â€ he said.
The problem that caused homosexuality to creep into the church, Kaiso added, was lack of clarity and vision. â€œAfter this conference, we will have a more harmonised vision for Africa to address issues of spiritual conflict between faith as a practice. We will also have policy changes in conflict management and accountable leadership.â€
Asked about the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who defends homosexuality, Kaiso said the Anglican church was still grappling with the issue and was trying to get to grips with it.
â€œNobody has got the right answer yet. We are all trying to get answers for the Christian family. There are no right or wrong answers yet our presence here is a pastoral response to all these matters,â€ Kaiso said.
Williams said he would give a speech at the conference about the roles of the clergy in the political and social arenas.
On Saturday, there will be visits to the Namugongo Martyrs shrines, another group will tour Uganda Christian University Mukono, while the other will visit the Source of the Nile and Bujagali falls.
The prelates will go to different churches to be guest preachers on Sunday. The conference will end on Sunday with the commissioning of new provinces by CAPA.
Bishops speak out
Rt. Rev. Dr. Stephen Kazimba of Mityana Diocese:
Gone are the days when we Africans thought we had to rely on donors. We need to stand firm and strengthen ourselves because look, the Church of England and the Church in Canada is deviating from the scriptures. We have to rely on ourselves because we have disassociated from them.
Bishop Anthony Poggo of Sudan:
The conference should address issues of poverty and conflict resolution in the Great Lakes region.
Bishop Emmanuel Chukwuma of Nigeria:
God has given us talents to address issues like poverty, sickness, bad governance and insecurity. We invited Archbishop Rowan Wiliams to make our stand known to him, that whatever God has given us should not be misused, and that the Western world has to move with us and not mislead the people of God.
Archbishop Ian Ernest, CAPA chairman:
We are looking forward to helping the Anglican community face its challenges so that the people of Africa can regain their dignity.
Bishop John Ruchhana of Rwanda:
The theme addresses the critical issues of the Anglican community. It shows that the church has finally understood and appreciated the need to build a Christian holistically. That is why the conference is addressing the social, economic and spiritual being of a Christian.
Bishop Samson Mwaluda of Kenya:
Everywhere in the world people are thinking of unlocking and utilising their full potential. The theme of this conference is a sign that the church is moving at the same pace as other parts of the world.