“The Church we want…” – A review (PE nr. 1083)

Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator (Ed.), The Church We Want. African Catholics look to Vatican III, ISBN 978-1-62698-203-1, Orbis Books, New York, 2016, XXXI + 272 pages

Over a period of three years, from 2013 to 2015, 60 African theologians of all shades of opinion shared their views on religion, the Church and society in Africa. Three volumes were published by the Pauline Press in Nairobi in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The present book in an anthology from these volumes edited for the world outside Africa. We thank the publishers Orbis Books of the Maryknoll Missionaries for their initiative. There are 19 contributors including two bishops and eight female theologians.

The work consists of three parts of unequal value: the impact of Pope Francis on the Church in Africa, an interesting part, which I will return to later, a review of the theological method and of ecclesial practice, which I found less interesting because it covers old ground already known and developed elsewhere, and a section on “A Church which is going forward with audacity and creativity.”

This third part should be kept in mind because it deals with both major problems that the Church has to face today on the continent, but above all it emphasizes the characteristics that theology and pastoral work should have in Africa today. It pleads for inclusive, appropriate, and creative practice, based on a theology in dialogue, in collaboration with specialists and non specialists alike, intergenerational (young people being the most numerous, most lively and most active generally speaking) and interdisciplinary. The contribution of Emmanuel Katongole, a Ugandan priest, describes 7 characteristics of ‘this Church that we want.’ A poor church for the poor, an active and non-violent community, advocating a silent revolution in a noisy Africa, rooted in the African soil (and no longer copied from the West), where those in charge are really at the service of all, a Church where women can exercise their role as leaders, finally a Church that is reliable and honest (pps. 161-175).

Another valuable contribution is that of Joseph Healy who works in Kenya. Beginning with the actions and declarations of bishops and other committed people, and returning to the pastoral care of the Small Christian Communities, he underlines two urgent problems, the absence of a Sunday Eucharist for 80% of the Catholics in Africa and the necessity to adapt the celebration of the sacrament of marriage in stages (pps.189 -211).

In reading this book, one can sense the impact of Pope Francis on the theological reflection expressed in the work. Bishop Kevin Dowling of South Africa, in the first contribution (pps 3-10) highlights the values of the principles of Vatican II taken up by the present Pope: subsidiarity, collegiality and discernment by dialogue and listening. He insists on the necessity of beginning at the grassroots to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Churches.

Bishop Antoine Kambanda from Rwanda looks at three qualities of the present Pope that each bishop should develop: compassion, love and attention to the poorest and an effective pastoral proximity to people (pps. 65 to 76).

I can only advise people to read this work. Each confrere will find elements for reflection, no doubt there are other elements that I have not touched on here. However the question remains (p. 189) will we have a Vatican III or a Nairobi I?

Guy Theunis, M.Afr.


Leave a Reply