Africa is the second largest continent in size and population. 45% of Africans are Christian. Although Pentecostal Christianity dominates the headlines, older Christian traditions are still extremely active. Roman Catholics will number 228 million by 2025. The future of the Catholic Church is in Africa, says Paulinus I. Odozor. This collection of essays reflects on the 2009 synod of African Catholic bishops held in Rome. If this is the future of Catholicism, the rest of the Catholic world will discover here our mutual future.
What we find in these twenty essays is a collection of theological thoughts, theories, and pleadings using the synod's conclusions for their points of departure. I found a constant tension between what the synod said and what the various authors told us it said. Knowing something about the synod may be helpful in providing the reader with a sense of authority for what is voiced here. I would suggest the articles are best read as what they are, theological arguments, rather than what they might be: majority views of Catholic African bishops. Those views are best found in the list of propositions found at: http://www.ecs.org.et/Doc/Propositions_Synod.htm. Saying that, Reconciliation, Justice, and Peace has a lot to tell the rest of the Catholic world about African Catholicism and our future. It does so by responding to the following five themes dependent upon the synod.
Theology of the Church, Interreligious Dialogue, and the Challenge of Reconciliation, Justice, and Peace. "Church" may be understood at three levels: the Roman Catholic Church, the Christian church, the church gathered to the divine self. Of course we are concerned with the Catholic Church but cannot do so without sensitivity to the other two for the fullness of truth. Thus the necessity for an empathic dialogue with all the diverse religions of the world but especially Muslims and the Traditional religions of Africa. Our Church must seek the truths present in these as a way of making ours better and acknowledging them as sources of God's love. There are many means to do this. Certainly, dialogue is mandatory along with a common religious language for carrying it out. As part of this dialogue the African church begins with a model of itself as a Family. This model has with deep scriptural roots and is used by all African synods as how to understand Church.
The Mission Of The Catholic Church In The Public Sphere. If, as Teresa Okure, says "Outdated empire values 'rebaptized' as gospel need to be courageously and fearlessly discarded.." how does this family-church sacramentalize itself in real life? Does it focus on reconciliation, justice, and peace only within its membership - thus saying to the world that its sacramental nature is more a metaphor of its true spiritual life rather than an incarnation of that spirit? Or does this church-family also get involved with real people with real issues and the suffering and joys accompanying these issues? Peter Henriot, in his epilogue to the book, says that these are two contrasting views of the church's mission and a balancing act performed by the bishops of the synod. The essays in this section, however, clearly favor political involvement for bringing the church's message of justice and peace. A political involvement that seeks to bring the Church's moral principles to bear without becoming politically partisan in the process. Several concrete examples are offered such as increasing justice and peace committees and parliamentary forums throughout the continent.
Ecclesial Leadership and Gender Justice in the Public Sphere. It is always difficult for many Catholics to read about gender inequality in the Church. Descriptions of such inequality in Africa abound throughout the text: How women religious are being used as handmaids of male clergy; their properties subject to the whim of these same clergy, and their spiritual life limited to the worst types of patriarchy. These essays review the raw suffering found on the Continent and the need for justice, peace, and reconciliation between those who cause the suffering and the sufferers. They perform this review while at the same time reminding us that the family-church itself is failing in its treatment of the poor, women, and ethnic diversity. The type of review is also found for the next two themes: Integrity of the Earth: Ecology, Natural Resources, Poverty, and the Church; Theological and Ethical Issues of HIV/AIDS. The essays are not a mere listing of horrors but also a diagnosis of their cause and a prescription of their diminishment. They are blunt in their critique of both the family-church and the cultures of its members. The propositions that conclude the synod are no less blunt as to what must be done in African to achieve peace, justice, and reconciliation. Two examples will suffice: "Proposition 23 ... the Synod Fathers absolutely condemn the production of nuclear arms, biological arms, anti-personnel and every sort of weapons of mass destruction." "Proposition 22 ... we call upon the particular Churches to... persuade their local and national governments to adopt policies and binding legal regulations for the protection of the environment and promote alternative and renewable sources of energy ..."
We can only hope that what is found in the propositions and proposed in this book are part of our Church's future.