Fr Joseph Caramazza MCCJ

“Once more, I appeal for a renewed appreciation of politics as a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good”. (FT 180)

“Charity finds expression not only in close and intimate relationships but also in macro-relationships: social, economic and political”. (FT 181)

In his guiding document Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis writes: “I ask God to give us more politicians capable of sincere and effective dialogue aimed at healing the deepest roots – and not simply the appearances – of the evils in our world! Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good. (…) Why not turn to God and ask him to inspire their plans? I am firmly convinced that openness to the transcendent can bring about a new political and economic mindset which would help to break down the wall of separation between the economy and the common good of society.” (EG 205).
A few months after the publication of Evangelii Gaudium, Cardinal Turkson organised an international meeting of chaplains in various parliaments. During that meeting it became apparent that chaplaincy was no longer responding to the needs of politicians who wanted to allow their faith to inspire their actions. New responses were needed, adapted to the needs of our times. Today’s politicians cannot accept a purely religious approach. Nor are they happy with a church that speaks to them from the top down. There is a need for dialogue and participation in the political discussion that welcomes the church and politicians on an equal footing.
In March 2012, a group of Kenyan politicians contacted the Institute for Social Ministry at Tangaza University College. They wanted support from a church institution, both spiritual support and political deliberation. A forum for Catholic parliamentarians was born and they proposed to start with a weekly celebration of the Eucharist as a first activity. After a short time, the parliamentarians recognised that this group could be of real support to their work if it went beyond mere chaplaincy. They wanted support in the socio-economic analysis of the country, and proposals for future development.
Among the various initiatives that mark the life of this group is the school of politics. Once a month, a study evening is held, focusing on legislation under discussion in Parliament. An expert explains the topic and opens the discussion. The parliamentarians show that they appreciate these meetings. Although there are excellent facilities for legal research in parliament, most MPs and senators cannot devote much time to studying the laws that are being passed. It can therefore happen that legislation is passed that goes against the wishes of the legislators themselves.
The activities of this group were initially hindered both by the Parliament, which did not approve of the formation of a religiously inspired group, and by the local church, which had doubts about the true purpose of the initiative. As time went by, Parliament recognised the Catholic MPs Spiritual Support Initiative (CAMPSSI) as a parliamentary group with an important role in the political field. The Bishops’ Conference has also been able to benefit from the support of MPs in various campaigns.
Through CAMPSSI, for the first time in Kenya’s history, a parliamentary committee agreed to receive suggestions from the public, and to do so in an environment other than Parliament. The meeting enabled the revision of several provisions of the new School Education Act, taking into account the needs of religious denominations.
Over the years, CAMPSSI has come into contact with various institutions with which it now actively collaborates. In particular with the National Association of Christian Professionals and the International Justice Mission. The International Justice Mission is an organisation of lawyers that defends victims of abuse, but also helps the police in the countries where it operates by training officers to act in a way that respects the human and legal rights of suspects.
Since 2013, a CAMPSSI delegation has participated in the annual assembly of the International Catholic Legislators Network, the organisation that brings together Catholic politicians from around the world. During one of these assemblies, during a papal audience, Pope Francis noticed the presence of African legislators and inquired about their background and activities. During that meeting, Pope Francis asked the Kenyan parliamentarians to export their model of activity to neighbouring countries. Since then, CAMPSSI members have taken the initiative to speak to their African colleagues, and to organise pan-African meetings of Catholic legislators.

This kind of collaboration and support for political work is new in Africa. It is a model that can be easily exported and adapted to local needs. It is also a practical way of moving beyond the obsolete chaplaincy approach towards direct church participation in the politics of the country. The main tools are academic support, dialogue and human formation. There is a continuous reference to the Social Doctrine of the Church. A doctrine that Pope Francis continually emphasises.

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