Towards a consolidated strategic plan for encounter and dialogue with African Traditional Religions (ATRs)

Third day of the Working Session on African Traditional Religions at Kungoni Centre, Malawi

African Traditional Religions (ATRs) embody spiritual, social and moral values needed to live a better and dignified life, both at individual and societal levels. The Missionaries of Africa are aware of this fact. They consider it as a great opportunity to enrich their pastoral endeavours. How to access people’s values? This short reflection intends to offer some answers.

Firstly, we need to learn the local language. Today’s discussion has made us understand that learning the language and culture of the people is a gateway to the realm of their beliefs and values. Through daily interactions, one gets access to what people value and respect most. For instance, interacting with the young reveals their aspirations and ideals for the future. In this way, one discovers what motivates and challenges them. If need be, one can find with them some answers to their preoccupations, being spiritual, mental and psychological.

Secondly, as missionaries, we need to reach out to the people and spend time with them. Being with and for the people is another avenue to be treasured. A missionary discovers more about the people when he is in solidarity with them in their daily happiness and struggles. There are events that help in discovering and understanding people’s traditional and cultural values. For instance, attending important events such as marriages, naming ceremonies, harvest festivals, funerals, reconciliation ceremonies, etc., remain key avenues to discover, understand, appreciate and respect people’s traditions and customs. Such events open mutual enrichment between the Gospel and people’s traditions.

Last but not the least, we need to allow ourselves to be formed by the people and their way of life. Sometimes we get worried about what to offer and teach the people. Do we allow ourselves to be formed by the people’s cultures? Do we take time to be fascinated by their songs, dances, poems, artefacts, myths, worldview, understanding of the origin of life and the afterlife?

To effectively live such proximity with the people, we need a strategic plan. It will clarify contemporary manifestations of ATRs that call for attention. It will also point to what we can really do as confreres in our parishes, formation houses, cultural and social centres. It intends to open a window for rigorous research and publications that will enrich us and the people we are called to serve.    

By: Prosper Harelimana, M.Afr.

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