The African Church is confronted with an immense and original undertaking; like a ‘mother and teacher’ she must approach all the sons of this land of the sun; she must offer them a traditional and modern interpretation of life; she must educate the people in the new forms of civil organization; while purifying and preserving the forms of family and community; she must give an educative impulse to your individual and social virtues: those of honesty, of sobriety, of loyalty; she must help develop every activity that promotes the public good, especially the schools and the assistance of the poor and sick; she must help Africa towards development, towards concord, towards peace.” – Pope Paul VI, Uganda, 1969

2019 will be an important year for the Church in Africa. It will mark the Golden Jubilee anniversary of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM). The group was established in 1969, stemming from the desire of African bishops at the Second Vatican Council to speak in one voice on matters relating to the Church on the African continent. The bishops then chose the visit of Pope Paul VI to Uganda in July 1969–the first visit of a pope to Africa in modern times–as the occasion to launch the forum.

In his homily at the conclusion of the Symposium, Pope Paul VI highlighted two main themes that, 50 years later, still seem relevant, even in the political and socio-economic situation that the African continent finds itself in today.

“By now, you Africans are missionaries to yourselves.”

Paul VI’s first theme was to recognize that after many years of missionary endeavors and labors, predominantly by European missionaries, the African Church had come of age, and was now “assuming its direction,” adding that “Africans must now continue, upon this continent, the building up of the Church.” He advised that for the Church to continue to flourish, two great but different and unequal forces must work together with great intensity.

They are: The hierarchy (by which name We mean the entire social, canonical, responsible, human, and visible structure of the Church, with the bishops in the front line); and then the Holy Spirit (that is, grace with all its charisms). Both must be at work in the dynamic form which is precisely that suitable to a young Church, called upon to offer itself to a culture responsive to the Gospel, such as is your African Church.

The second theme that Pope Paul VI explored, which is worth revisiting in the context of the Golden Jubilee, is what he referred to at the time as “a burning and much discussed question…that of the adaptation of the Gospel and of the Church to African culture.” He posed the question, “Must the Church be European, Latin, Oriental…or must she be African?” Fifty years on, the world seems a much smaller place, a phenomenon scholars describe as “globalization.” It seems to me that in the context of a globalized world, the question of inculturation has become less significant today than it was decades ago. Still, we continue to see differences on certain issues as expressed by the hierarchy of the Church in Africa. A recent example that comes to mind are the remarks by the archbishop of Dar es Salaam, Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, urging the Tanzanian government not to accept aid from western countries that comes attached with conditions on homosexuality. “If we are starving because we have refused to engage in such acts, then we would rather die with our God,” he is reported to have said during Mass at the Msimbazi Centre in the Tanzanian capital. Such differences of opinion stemming from cultural identity, pitting African prelates against some of their peers from Europe and North America, were also reported during the last two Synod of Bishops on the family and on youth, with Cardinal Napier of Durban describing the working document for the Youth Synod in October 2018 as being “too Eurocentric.”

Read more at Catholic World Report

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