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Voices from one continent

by
18 October 2013

Graham Kings reads essays by young black theologians in Africa

The Church as Salt and Light: The path to an African ecclesiology of abundant life
Stan Chu Ilo, Joseph Ogbonnaya and Alex Ojacor, editors
James Clarke & Co. £17.75
(978-0-227-68008-7)

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 Africa?

Dr Graham Kings is the Bishop of Sherborne.

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