A balanced formation is necessarily for priests in the universal church who are also pastors to the local people under their charge.
The proposition number 40 of the African Synod on the candidates for priesthood calls for a solid intellectual formation, moral, spiritual and pastoral, human growth of the candidates. The burden falls on the formators to help candidates conform their lives to Christ. Only in that way will they be able to rise beyond the their tribal affiliation and be effective ministers of reconciliation, justice and peace.
In the wake of the child-sexual abuse by priests, the church particularly in the West has acted quickly to revise the formation. We would say, it is an inculturated formation that takes into consideration the local situation. That is a point of concern for Africa. How much does the African Church re-work the formation of priests in the light of her pressing needs?
The enthusiasm about the theme of the Synod: The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace may give us the wrong impression as if these issues are topical only today. But Fr Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, in his article Justice and Peace, makes us aware that we are dealing with long time challenges. He observes, “Wherever we look, Africa yearns for reconciliation, justice, and peace,” seen in the multitudes of victims of injustice. He added, “Examples abound of how Africa has been torn asunder by tribalism and ethnicity”.
How responsive is formation to local challenges?
The question is how much have such long time challenges influenced the formation of the clergy? Is one seminar in seven years of formation enough? Yet we know that almost all priests ministering in parishes in Africa are dealing with an oppressed flock. Homes, places of work and politics all these areas are in need of reconciliation. Hence, we shouldn’t content ourselves with a system of one specialist in justice and reconciliation for the entire diocese while others stand aside as if it is none of their business.
In fact, the first African Synod took place in April 1994, around the same time as the Genocide in Rwanda. That was a serious case yearning for reconciliation long before such human tragic arrived. How much did that awake the African church to face tribalism especially that priests will have to minister in tribal related conflicts?
Tribalism inside the Church
Besides, are there not cases where both religious and priests in Africa are implicated, not as victims, but as fans of tribalism? At the Synod, Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, Archbishop of Dar-Es-Salaam, remarked, “It is sad to have to state that there are allegations against some of us pastors being involved either through our omissions or even by direct commissions in these conflicts.” Kenya lived such sad situation.
Fr Agbonkhianmeghe, cites the violence in Kenya of 2008 following the election saying, “the veil of tranquility covering religious life was torn to shreds by tribal and ethnic sentiments as sisters turned against sisters and brothers against brothers. Professing the same vows and promoting the same charism did not shield some religious communities from the atrocious strife and divisive sentiments that assailed the rest of the Kenyan society.” And I fully agree with him when he says “What happened in Kenya gives an indication of the larger continental profile.”
Need for inside healing
A participant spoke of the recurring remark in the Synod Hall that went like this: “Tribal or ethnic blood was still much thicker than the blood of Christ.” Tribalism is a cancer not only in civil society but also in the church. In some cases even the nominations of bishops, parish priests or other important offices in the diocese have not escaped this mess. Then, what are we waiting for? Don’t these cases deserve urgent and practical action in the manner to influence the structure and the content of the formation of church ministers?
The proposition 32, called for evangelisation that is well adapted to the pressing needs of local churches. But how is that possible if the ministers’ training is so disconnected from the local situation?
Here is just another area where the African Church needs to rise and take up her mat and walk. She needs to be creative and bold enough to work out the formation that will equipe priests to be effective pastors to the local people.