The Church as
Salt and Light: The path to an African ecclesiology of abundant
Stan Chu Ilo, Joseph Ogbonnaya and Alex Ojacor,
James Clarke & Co. £17.75
THIS is a fine cutting-edge
book by energetic, young black African Roman Catholic theologians.
They tilt against the legacy of colonialism and current
centralising tendencies in Rome. They long for freedom to increase
inculturation, lay involvement, and the part played by women in the
life and administration of the RC Church.
The first "African Synod" in
modern times was held in 1994 and hosted in Africa by Pope John
Paul II, to wide excitement. The second was held in 2007 and hosted
in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI, and produced less enthusiasm.
These writers consciously
echo the classic pre-Second Vatican Council cry by French-educated
black RC theologians of 1956, Des prêtres noirs
s'interrogent ("Black Priests Question Themselves"). These
theologians are writing in English. There are six chapters,
together with an introduction and conclusion.
Stan Chu Ilo, of the
University of Toronto, considers the Gospels of St Luke and St
John, and draws on his ethnographical studies, at parochial level,
of Christological titles in Kenya and Nigeria.
Emeka Xris Obiezu OSA,
permanent Representative of the Order of St Augustine's NGO at the
United Nations, writes perceptively on social justice and states:
"The [Catholic] Church cannot fight the subordination and
subjection of women in the African socio-political economy without
first recognizing and granting women equal opportunities, according
to their potential, to creatively and freely participate in the
life and administration of the Church."
Joseph Ogbonnaya, a
theologian at the Lonergan Research Institute, Toronto, mentions
the neglect of ecology in church teaching documents. Alex Ojacor, a
seminary professor in Kampala, counters the "Afro-pessimism" of the
media with the positive influence of Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan
Nobel Peace Laureate in 2004.
For me, the most significant
chapter is by Bosco Ebere Amakwe HFSN, a Nigerian nun and authority
on gender and media issues: "Globalization and the African Woman".
She considers the effect of information computer technology (ICT)
on women in Africa. She cites a 1999 UN report, Against
Trafficking in Women, which states that Nigeria provides 70
per cent of the 70,000 trafficked victims from Africa: they "often
end up primarily in Italy". She recommends educating girls and
women for careers in ICT in the Church as well as the nation.
Bekeh Ukelina Utietiang, a
publisher and Nigerian priest in West Virginia, considers early
church history for clues to effective new evangelisation in Africa.
He points out the significance of Christian loving responses to
epidemics, and their development of social networks, especially
during the great second-century plague of Galen, which wiped out
between a quarter and a third of the Roman Empire. He hints at the
HIV/AIDS epidemic parallel.
Postcolonial theology in the
West too often, paradoxically, ignores African theologians. These
writers need reading, heeding, and discussing. With the fresh wind
of change which Pope Francis is beginning to signal, perhaps they
may hope for a more engaging third African Synod . . . in
Dr Graham Kings is the Bishop of Sherborne.