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'If the church won't be with us to whom will we turn?' (protesting holding the African Synod in Rome) (Transcript)

NEW YORK -- Plans for the 1994 African Synod are moving ahead but have not drowned out the voices of some critical of Rome's decision to hold the sessions at the Vatican instead of in Africa. These criticisms have become coupled with a view, based on a reading of the synod's working paper, that synod organizers have ignored some pressing local concerns.

Excerpted below is an example of these kinds of criticisms. The text is written by Father Renato K. Sesana, a Comboni priest and the editorial staff of the Kenya-based New People Feature Service, established by the Comboni Fathers. In coming months, NCR will bring readers other African responses to the forthcoming synod.

Open Letter to the Holy Father: An African Synod without Africa?

Holy Father, do not allow your collaborators to misinform you. The members of the local Church in Africa who are aware of the African Synod are not happy with the decision to hold the Synod in Rome, and the participation of the People of God in its preparation has been minimal. To speak of what happened so far as a "genuine African event" adds insult to injury.

The Working Paper

Reading the Working Paper (WP) one can hardly guess that we are dealing with a Synod on Africa. ... [T]here are 171 quotes ... [but] not a single quote from your numerous African apostolic trips; all your quotes are from general documents. ... Not even mentioned is Africae Terrarum, the first document of this kind dealing explicitly and uniquely with the African situation. ...

It is as if there were no local "magisterium," no local teaching church! Yet in Africa we have about 500 bishops organized at continental and regional level[s]. Haven't these bishops and episcopal conferences written anything worth quoting on inculturation, dialogue, justice and peace?

Haven't they contributed to the present African scene with statements and pastoral letters on all sorts of moral problems? Why have their contributions been so lightly dismissed? ...

The local churches of Africa do not emerge from the WP; they are reduced to a list of arid problems. ... We hope that the Synod, by a miracle of the Holy Spirit, will make the dry bones of this text come alive, and put in front of us Jesus walking, questioning, calling to conversion in the context of our villages and towns, forests and deserts, schools and drinking places. ...

Which model of evangelization?

It appears as if Africa should only learn from the universal magisterium of the Church while the universal Church cannot learn from Africa and the variety of Christian experience present here. ...

What has the universal Church actually learned and continued to learn from Africa? What does the Spirit say from Africa to the local churches of other continents? What does the Spirit say to the central government of the church, especially regarding the present style of leadership?

In the WP we read: "... [T]oday inculturation appears to be an urgent task for the church in Africa." Our question is: Is there any room left for it, for experimentation, for a reflection that is not a mere repetition of what is stated in official documents? Where is the freedom for the missionaries of today, the kind of freedom that the missionaries who evangelized Europe had?

Is "reformulation" enough? Is the inexhaustible mystery of God in Christ already totally unveiled? For Africa will there only be reformulations? Has the mystery of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit been so probed into that what is left now, for new human groups who now enter the church, is just to "reformulate"?

Facing the Challenges of the Moment

Holy Father, in spite of all the prophets of doom we are convinced that Africa is living a very positive moment, a kairos, a moment for critically evaluating the present situation and the past decades.

The challenges facing us in the political, economic and cultural fields are signs of the times for the church to read. At the same time, there are challenges which we could call internal to the life of the church. With great disappointment we see that the WP does not seem to face them squarely.

A non-Catholic friend with whom we have shared our reflections on the WP asked us: "Where in this document are the great, unfolding process of democratization, the dramas of civil wars and refugees, the anguish of the AIDS victims, the questioning gaze of the malnourished children, the enormous positive energy of our youth, the awakening giant that is the African woman? Where is Africa?" ...

Holy Father, we were enslaved and colonized by Lisbon and London and Paris. We are now brutalized by Washington and the faceless bureaucratic world powers residing in New York and Geneva. In spite of all this, the promise of total liberation brought by Christ is taking root in our hearts. Will this promise now wither and dry under the stern, indifferent gaze of a church behaving like a stepmother rather than a mother?

If the church will not be with us as an understanding and loving mother, to whom will we turn? To the African Independent churches? To the New American Sects from the Bible Belt? To Islam?

Many of our sisters and brothers have already done so; many more will follow them, if they will find in these religious expressions a more merciful God, a community more rooted in our traditions, a better response to our spiritual and material needs. ...

Holy Father, the message of the Synod must be a message of hope. ... Does the African church have a future? Will she be able to stand up and deserve one? Will she provide the generations to come with reason for hope?

The courageous and simple faith of many of our African brothers and sisters gives us the audacity to answer YES. The timidity and fear for any risk by the church bureaucrats based in Europe as well as in Africa make us less sure.

United with You we pray that the Holy Spirit will take the African Synod by storm, and lead all of us in paths we cannot imagine.
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Author:Sesana, Renato K.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Transcript
Date:Apr 23, 1993
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