Africa's Response to the Synod

Rwandan Salesian Reflects on Catholicism

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By Mariaelena Finessi

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 26, 2010 ( Four months after the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, a Rwandan Salesian who participated as an expert is reflecting on the results and the response.

Father Aimable Musoni spoke to ZENIT about his continent and the social successes over the past 15 years thanks to Catholicism.
The priest, who is a consultor for the Congregation for the Saints’ Causes as well as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, also explained the next steps to by which Africa will concretely implement the conclusions arrived at during last October’s Synod.
ZENIT: Let’s begin by talking about the theme of the Synod held in Rome last October: «The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace.»
Father Musoni: It’s a very timely topic that affects everyone, from the pastors to the last of the faithful.
In particular, for this cause, the Synodal Fathers called on the members in consecrated life — because much is expected from their witness and prophetic function — so that in all those circumstances of extreme pressure that shake the continent such as wars, poverty, sicknesses and hunger, people would not give up or lose Christian values.
The conviction is that only by being reconciled with God can we be reconciled among ourselves and be witness-ministers of reconciliation in society.
Consequently, the need of a convinced and convincing personal witness on the part of all the members of the Church was highlighted.
From this point of view, the proclamation of the Gospel in Africa can only go hand in hand with the process of reconciliation.
The latter is an aspect on which the attention of Catholic politicians was also to be drawn so that they act in society and for society, guided by consistency with the Christian dictate, which also facilitates good coexistence.
ZENIT: Despite the successes in the sociopolitical, economic and cultural realms, it is still difficult to know how the results of the Synod find or have found a real application in Africa.
Father Musoni: Yes, it’s difficult to calculate the results exactly. In any case, compared to 1994, the year of the first Synod, there has been a notable growth of Catholicism on the continent; the Church’s members have increased from 102 million (or 14.6% of the African population) to 164 million (17.5%).
Likewise, there has been an increase, for example, in the numbers of consecrated lay missionaries, catechists and seminarians, as well as of ecclesiastical structures for evangelization, hospitals, schools, seminaries and Catholic radio stations (the latter have increased from 15 to 163).
There has also been a deepening of theological reflection, though problems remain — related to inculturation — to the degree that not everywhere can one find liturgical books and catechisms in the various local languages.
That is why it’s necessary to continue the work of translation, as well as to increase the repertoire of liturgical songs following, indeed, the canons of the tradition consolidated in Europe but also encouraging the creativity of the African genius.
ZENIT: The Instrumentum laboris expressly requested compensating for the lack of a follow-up system, especially in areas related to the family, women’s dignity and the mission of the Church. Can you say more about this?
Father Musoni: To prepare a systematic method of evaluation, the Synod first consulted the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), so that it could serve as the center of coordination of organic pastoral solidarity, thus synthesizing the different experiences in the continental, regional and national realms, as well as of the dioceses and of the parishes themselves.
In other words, the goal is to conceive, in all ambits, a mechanism of continual evaluation, to see if there is a practical and concrete reception of what has been said in the Synod.
The implementation will, in the first place, be affected by SECAM, which will determine the calendar, a precise agenda and an order of the day. Hence, the regional and national episcopal conferences, and the dioceses — which are invited to hold synods with the objective not just of having the bishops speak among themselves, or with the clergy — must involve and inform the whole of the people of God.
Therefore, it is the diocesan synods that offer the best occasion to devise an appropriate program.
Given that, as I already explained, the topic is that of «reconciliation, justice and peace,» it has also been requested that «Commissions of Justice and Peace» be established at all levels.
And this beginning with the parishes, because only by starting from a real awareness of the reality of a community can mature decisions be made in the social and ecclesial sectors, on the family, the dignity of women, the mission of the Church, social communication and self-sufficiency.
ZENIT: Although the data speaks of a growth of Catholics, the ecumenical and interreligious dialogue still continues to be a delicate challenge given the proliferation of sects, which continue to attract.
Father Musoni: The Gospel has not arrived everywhere and where there are no Catholics, the «traditional African religions,» with the modernity and actual presence, very often, of Protestant Christians — for whom as is known, the principle of free examination of the Sacred Scriptures is valid — have given way to indigenous ecclesial communities with the physiognomy of sects, no longer Christians in the proper sense, but not pagans either.
Syncretistic experiences give life to «independent African Churches,» which really don’t have great consistency from the doctrinal and disciplinary point of view, but whose existence demonstrates two meanings.
In the first place, it shows how an African is incurably religious; the second highlights the reason why they leave the official Churches, where one runs the risk of anonymity because of their large dimensions, which do not foster personal contact.
However, the Catholic response already exists, thanks to the birth of youth movements and grass-roots ecclesial communities, considered «small Christian communities,» organized by small towns and villages where they meet to pray or to exchange information on the situation of the group, as well as to consider joint initiatives to help those in difficulties.
ZENIT: It seems, therefore, that there is an initial distance between the Church and Africans.
Father Musoni: I would say that it is a problem that can appear anywhere. On the other hand, the Gospel was not born in Europe, but in the Semitic culture; therefore, to arrive in the West it had to undergo a process of inculturation.

In fact, now that the culture is increasingly secularized and is no longer only Christian, there must be dialogue with «modernity.»
In any case, yes, there has been at times a lack of attention to Africa by missionaries, in majority Western, who at the beginning had quite weighty suspicions about African culture, sometimes stating, in fact, that a culture did not exist.
This made possible the making of a sort of tabula rasa in an attempt to «wrest these poor ones who grew up in darkness from the devil,» as the missionaries of the years 1500-1800 said.
From evangelization and contemporaneous colonization there has been a move to the theology of adaptation, seeking the «stones of union,» that is, the link with African culture.
Inculturation was the next step to meet the African cultural heritage, so that the latter would offer its own interpretative channel of Catholicism and thus, for example, dance was introduced in the liturgy.
Today an African can express his being in the Church also through his corporeal nature. In this sense, inculturation has h
elped to purify African values to take them on as a vehicle of Christianity.
ZENIT: In some African cultures, chastity and poverty aren’t values, but wealth is, a sign of the blessing of the gods; sterility — attributed only to woman — legitimizes divorce, while to die without leaving offspring is a sign of a curse. What consequences are there for a society that stresses this type of family?
Father Musoni: Christians, and in particular African religious, live a certain tension in regard to the values and cultural traditions of their country.
For example, our concept of life has a more ample anthropological value: From the most remote ancestors to the present grandchildren, life is understood as «continuity.»
For the African — as someone has written — there is no life that is not concrete also today; hence the transmission of life through children also means the continuation of the life of the one who no longer is.
And not to be able to obtain it is like remaining on the margin of society. In Rwanda, for example, one of the worst curses is to wish that someone die without being married or having children, that is, without leaving offspring. It means, practically, to disappear.
However, in this African conception of life there is a religious meaning because the ancestor received life from God and in turn has transmitted it.
Then, also, there are the negatives appendices because, to reinforce one’s own life, for example in the Congo, one can take that of others (sometimes there has been talk of «eaters of souls»).
And the same for polygamy, which is regarded as a reinforcement of the family: To have many children means to have a work force, but also a defense force in tribal wars and, in that sense, marriage is an alliance with the wives’ families.
It is a complex vision, in other words, which often puts at risk knowledge of the excellence and value of Christian and consecrated life.
ZENIT: Specifically in regard to religious, the Synod recommended a careful discernment of candidates for consecrated life, whereas for international institutes present in Africa, the Synodal Fathers hoped that the initial formation — postulancy and novitiate — could be done in Africa. Why was this request made?
Father Musoni: Personally I think that men and women religious must learn to manage the natural emotional dimension of chastity, understood as celibacy and virginity, directing the sentiment of maternity and paternity, which for Africans is particularly strong, on another path.
Thus, for example, one can feel oneself a «mother» or «father» in the task of educating in the faith one’s «children,» that is, the men and women of the people of God.
This is an aspect that needs further reflection; without generalizing, sometimes one almost feels the «infidelity to the vow of chastity» as part of the priests and sisters.
The reason, one can surmise, finds among its roots this cultural vision of life in Africa, which does not always go in the same direction as the Christian vision. It also serves for a real existential maturity between Christian life and African tradition.
And, to avoid a clash, one must really be converted, but on African soil, where the conviction of religious life can really be tested and hence the responsibilities derived from the vocational choice can be freely assumed.
To have to adapt to a new culture, which is European, and at the same time to have to mature one’s own vocational choice does not help to make within oneself an harmonious synthesis.
ZENIT: The Instrumentum laboris states that consecrated women should contribute more by revealing a certain dimension of God through their feminine genius of gentleness, tenderness and willingness. In what ways do women fulfill these privileged tasks? And how can she contribute better to the evangelizing mission?
Father Musoni: It is women who run the family in Africa, as well as education. Theirs is an important role, which the Church should also recognize.
They are already present in the parishes and in grass-roots ecclesial communities: it is an attempt to recognize this function officially and to appreciate it.
And, going further, in this way one will be able to contribute to having the dignity of woman in African culture in general recognized and protected.
For example, polygamy certainly does not honor women, at least in the Christian vision.
In regard to exploitation, the subordinate function of wives in the organization of the family is well known; this can be revised, instead, by a collaboration that, if it isn’t that of peers, at least respects personal capacities of each.
The Church, in keeping with the desire of the Synodal Fathers by giving women responsibilities, some in decision-making bodies, could offer the best example.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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