Africa Faces Challenge of Inculturation

Prelate Says Christ’s Strength Is Not Magic

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By Chiara Santomiero

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 15, 2009 ( Africa’s Catholic leaders are facing the challenge of inculturation by discerning which cultural values are compatible with Christianity, said the president of the Kenyan bishops’ conference.

Cardinal John Njue, archbishop of Nairobi, stated this Wednesday in a press conference at the conclusion of the first phase of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops.

He affirmed, “We come from far away, we are far away and we are going far: this is the situation of the Church in Africa.”

“If we want to be Christians, we cannot choose the values we wish to follow,” the prelate stated, and thus we must discern which African values are “compatible with Christianity.”

The cardinal discussed the relation between inculturation of the faith and traditional religion.

The “relatio post disceptationem” [report after the debate] noted that “fear and uncertainty characterizes the life of faith in many African populations.”

This fear and uncertainty cause mistrust, self-defense and aggressiveness as well as recourse to magic and occultism, or an attempt at syncretism between Christianity and traditional religion.

Bishop Manuel António Mendes dos Santos of São Tomé and Príncipe addressed the topic of the persistence of esoteric practices.

He explained: “The relation with mystery is part of African culture. From this perspective, atheism, for example, is not comprehensible for an African.”

Cultural practices

The prelate affirmed that from this sense of mystery it is necessary to distinguish “esotericism, often as a means to give answers to frail persons who have material or psychological problems.”

If Africans understand their “existential frailty,” he said, “it is necessary to oppose” those who would “take advantage of it.”

The bishop challenged the faithful to find ways to present Christ as the “new man whose strength is not determined by magic.”

The archbishop of Dakar, Senegal, spoke about some efforts to combine cultural traditions and Christian practices, especially in marriages.

Cardinal Theodore-Adrien Sarr, also the vice-president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, explained, “We encourage spouses to celebrate a religious marriage.”

He added, “We ask that they take into account their traditional practices, such as the ceremony in the home of the bride’s father, and we verify that these were realized before they come to the Church.”

The cardinal affirmed that couples are asked “to celebrate their civil marriage with the commitment to choose, in the act of matrimony, monogamy and not polygamy.”

He explained that in his country, civil law allows either of these, but “if an option is chosen it cannot be changed.”

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