Growing up is a risky adventure. It’s diving into into the unknown. You need to dare in order to become an adult. That’s why a Bemba saying, from Zambia, goes: Mukolwe pakukula, afuna ipindo (the cock fractures its wing in the course of growing up). It affirms risks involved in the process of becoming an adult.
Growing up will involve exploring new things some of which may be risky. Inexperience also may account for possible accidents. Nevertheless, all that is only an occasion for correction, learning and for gaining confidence in oneself. Growing up can be a dangerous endeavour. But that is not a reason to abandon it. Isn’t this true for the African church?
Is African Church ready to risk?
We speak with enthusiasm about the growing Church in Africa: its high number of youth who practise the faith and growing number of local clergy and the religious. Yes, on this basis, it’s surely a picture of hope. Yes, there you have a growing church. However, becoming an adult entails also taking responsibility to do things for oneself, though that in no way excludes healthy interdependence. But how much is the African church really ready to take the risk of growing up? How much is this growing up instilling a sense of responsibility both in the clergy and the faithful?
How much is the African Church taking seriously this growth in terms of overcoming conformity or timidity? How much is she daring to re-read scriptures and church traditions in order to come up with pastoral methodes tuned to African realities? Surely, this opens the door to mistakes but, once open to advice and correction, that it is an occasion of growth.
South America took the risk
I have great admiration for Latin America in its Liberation theology despite the different reactions it has provoked. I appreciate this creativity to read the signs of time and the courage to rummage in the Word of God for inspiration and responses that are local. I value also the prophetic boldness to step beyond the beaten path especially in the methods of evangelisation. The point is not sending Africans to go and learn Liberation Theology, rather, how is the African church standing up to her own challenges?
HIV/AIDS Africa’s challenge
Africa is hit hard by HIV/AIDS and the result is a disaster. Disasters like earthquake or cyclone have befallen certain countries but only momentarily. Africa has been hit for decades and, lamentably, for more decades to come. This has raised questions especially on preservatives as topical issues, though not discussed in the manner it would have been had this scourge hit another part of the world in the same degree.
In Africa we have but a hushed discussion. The truth is that there are divergent views even among bishops, priests and the laity. Why not table issues like this one? Why not be open to those hot debates that are truly part of our situation? Is the maturity of the African Church to be sought in the quick silencing of discussion while the issues remain untouched? I find that a refusal to reflect, a refusal to do theology. More importantly, it’s a refusal to allow Africa to be original in her pastoral reflections and action that she can present to others for collegial discernment. One observation at the Synod is that the bishops seemed to be hinting on HIV/AIDS and preservatives yet remained quite vague. Question: who is going to reflect and make proposals for Africa?
New impetus for growing
Echoes of the just ended Synod should open our eyes and inspire courage in us to make daring steps. There is need to apply the Gospel to the concrete life of the people. This is will not happen by simply giving statements of what people must know and follow. Involve the faithful in reflecting and in searching for solution in the spirit of faith. When people debate and finally come to voice the faith of the Church in their own way, speaking the language sensitive and relevant to their situation, they own the faith. They mature in their faith. It’s no longer foreign, it belongs to them.
One of the participants of the Synod, in his personal observation, remarked that the African Church needs to look at herself in an honest way. Secondly, she should be ready to take the risk of speaking up for it is the same timidity that lets a lot of abuse go unchallenged.
That’s why, I feel, the African church should rise, take up her pallet and walk especially in affirming her faith in the words that are borne from her own continuous reflection on her local reality. It includes re-looking at those open ending answers in Canon Law. They are occasions to exercise her pastoral creativity and maturity.