Voices from Africa Speak out for Change

By Thavis, John | National Catholic Reporter, May 6, 1994 | Go to article overview

Voices from Africa Speak out for Change


Thavis, John, National Catholic Reporter


Inculturation called key to bridging gap

VATICAN CITY - The need for local freedom in inculturation and for a forceful proclamation of the church's social teachings emerged as important themes in the midterm report of the special Synod of Bishops on Africa.

The document also called for strong support of women's rights, both in society and in the church. It encouraged the sometimes-difficult dialogue with Muslims in Africa and denounced international birth control programs that target the continent.

The report, called a relatio, summarized the first two weeks of individual speeches and set the thematic agenda for two weeks of small group meetings to follow. It was read to synod participants April 22 and made public in summary form. The report said inculturation was clearly "an overriding concern" at this synod, the key to bridging the gap between professed faith and daily life in Africa.

"The universal church should continue to give the churches in Africa and Madagascar the necessary trust and freedom to accomplish this great task," it said. Traditional religious can make a special contribution, as a "reservoir of African religious and cultural values," it added.

Specific areas of inculturation listed by the relatio reflected synod speeches earlier in the week. Several bishops, for example, discussed ancestor veneration and its implications for Christianity. South African Bishop Mogale Paul Nkhumishe of Witbank noted the "potential richness" of such traditions, which affect almost all aspects of the African's life.

But the church must also recognize that ancestor worship and the intermediary role of witch doctors have also caused much suffering, he and other bishops said. They called for serious study so that Catholic teaching is not just seen as one among equally valid approaches to the world of spirits. Inculturation in the liturgy was another focal point in synod talks. Bishop Peter K. Sarpong of Kumasi, Ghana, said local churches in Africa should not be tied too closely to the format of the Roman Mass. He said a recent Vatican document on inculturation tended to underline uniformity in liturgy, which is not helpful to anyone.

Some bishops and auditors spoke of overcoming a "dependence syndrome" in the African church, which needs to rely more on its own financial resources and develop its own type of pastoral structures - specifically seminaries - that move away from the European model.

The relatio urged the inculturation of church structures and the development of more self-reliant communities, along with appropriate new ministries for laypeople.

The report identified "living Christian communities" as a crucial form of evangelization in Africa. These small groups can "take up questions related to marriage" and the exclusion of couples involved in irregular unions from the sacraments, it said.

The pastoral problem of Africans who have married according to local tradition but not in the church had prompted several bishops to ask for greater flexibility in recognizing the validity of the traditional African marriage.

African problems of war, tribal conflict, the arms trade, mistreatment of women, the swelling ranks of refugees and efforts at democratization all came to the fore during the two weeks of synod talks. The relatio, saying evangelization must take place in the real world, emphasized that "the proclamation of justice and peace is at the heart of the mission in Africa."

"The condition of woman in Africa leaves much to be desired. The church is to uphold her liberation in society; new recognition is to be given her in the church," the report said, reflecting a point made by several bishops.

A Nigerian observer to the synod, Kathryn Hauwa Hoomkwap, said African women still face discrimination in such areas as widow's rights, the place of girls in the family and the female genital mutilation still practiced among some peoples. …

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