African Catholic Scholars Discuss Challenges and Opportunities of the African Church Ahead of Synod on Family

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African Catholic Scholars Discuss Challenges and Opportunities of the African Church Ahead of Synod on Family

CANAA || By Fr. Don Bosco Onyalla || 16 July 2015

African Catholic scholars gathering in Nairobi, Kenya, for the third year in a row for the theological colloquium on Church, religion, and society in Africa, on Thursday shared about the challenges and opportunities of the African Church ahead of the Synod on the family, among other deliberations.

One participant identified “lack of self-criticism” and not being so “good at evaluating ourselves” as one of the weaknesses of the African Church ahead of assemblies involving the universal Church.

The participant sited some gaps in the last Synod on the family with specific reference to aspects particular to the African Church, which were missing in the 46 questions and answers for the Instrumentum Laboris.

“No mention last December in Lineamenta on HIV and AIDs, not one reference. No mention to female genital mutilation. No mention of children-headed households,” the participant observed as discussions started on the first day of the three-day conference.

“One reason is that African Bishops have not come up with a strategy to clearly and incisively present in Rome those priorities,” the participant went on and clarified, “Unlike other continents, which plan together and then come with clear priorities, our African interventions are often scattered and not planned together.”

Last month (June 9, 2015), the Vatican-based Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, Robert Cardinal Sarah, encouraged Church leaders in Africa to speak “with one credible voice” on the family.

Cardinal Sarah was addressing representatives of African Church leaders in Accra, Ghana, who gathered for a consultative meeting ahead of the October Synod on the Family.

The input on challenges of the African Church at the Nairobi colloquium followed the presentation, “Gospel of Family – from Africa to the World Church” by Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa.

Bishop Dowling addressed the opportunities that the African Church can offer, suggesting that the Synod on the family would do better to avoid the restatement of doctrines and ideals in “predominantly Eurocentric constructs.”

In his view, more time should be expended “on hurting and struggling parents and families, on all the systemic issues, which threaten relationships between people in societies and make it so hard for parents today to nourish their relationship with their own children and so bring them up in wholesome and life-giving ways.”

“Instead of individualism, anthropocentricism, and the capitalist concept of a development that cannot be sustained, Africa and other indigenous communities offer the world a more wholesome and holistic value, I am because you are, and out of this flows the all-encompassing value of relationship, of being with, of community, of Ubuntu, of reverence for the other, of respect for the elders, of the extended family, small Christian communities, of your child is our child, and everything else that characterizes an African way of being, which includes the spiritual in its worldview. It leads to such extraordinary experiences and examples of generosity and self-sacrifice,” Bishop Dowling explained.

“Let us from Africa share our ways of finding and building hope and communion through our stories and the vision of truly being family in which diversity is truly a gift,” Bishop Dowling, who has served as Chairman of the International Sudan Ecumenical Forum through which he was engaged in the Sudan Peace Process said.

He identified the disconnect between religion and culture as one of the challenges the secularized Western world is currently facing.

“We cannot presume that this secularized world will not touch or have an impact on our children, our young people, families and society in Africa. In some places, it is already having an impact,” Bishop Dowling remarked.

The colloquium, which is the third and final gathering of a three-year research program has the theme, “An Agenda for Vatican III: Ideas, Issues, and Resources from Africa or the World Church.”

“Instead of looking back at Vatican II, we want to now begin to examine those issues that will shape and frame the mission of the Church for the future, so we are looking forward now; and that is why we’ve called it ‘looking towards Vatican III.’ We are saying that we should at this point be looking forward, fifty years after Vatican II,” the colloquium convener, Father Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator told CANAA on Thursday at Hekima Institute of Peace Studies and International Relations (HIPSIR), the venue of the conference.

“Vatican II is a process; it is not an event that is fixed in history that once we have completed everything, then we move on. No! Time continues. History unfolds. The story continues,” Father Orobator clarified, adding, “Vatican II is moving towards the future and therefore as part of that future, we are saying, what are the issues that Vatican II allows us to see even better and deeper?”

Meanwhile, in his presentation, Father Eugene Elochukwu Uzukwu, a Spiritan and Professor in broad areas of theology identified the African reception of Vatican II and the African reception of Christianity on one hand and the African indigenous religious experience and the cultures that emerge from these indigenous religious experiences on the other hand, as “the two broad sources that should be utilized by any group trying to plan for Vatican III.”

Participants expressed appreciation for the colloquium, sharing how the two previous conferences have offered positive impact in their various ministries and service among the people of God.



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