We, the Family of God in Africa gathered for four days at the inaugural Pan African Congress on Theology, Society and Pastoral Life in Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu, Nigeria from 5-8 December, 2019 together make the following statement:
We have come to reflect on the future of the Church in Africa and our roles as theologians and scholars in developing the prophetic role of the Gospel in our continent at the end of the 50th anniversary of the birth of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM); The 25th anniversary of the First Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa (1994) and the 10th anniversary of the Second Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa (2009).
We thank God the Father of all Creation, Jesus Christ our savior, the Holy Spirit who enlightens us, our African Ancestors, and for the grace-filled moment. The Congress offered to us as God’s family on mission in Africa the spiritual and communal atmosphere to listen to God and to one another in mutual love, engagement and respect.
2. The Commitment of the Pan-African Congress.
The “Sacred Space” of “Palaver” where we celebrate and share the joyful stories of our people’s faith in Christ our youth, the anxieties of our people and the lives of many people in Africa are lost through avoidable deaths; preventable wars; food insecurity; immigration; endemic diseases and poverty which still continue to take a huge toll on Africa and Africans. We identify with the cries of God’s people in our continent, the poor, the voiceless, the marginalized, the unloved and the forgotten.
Therefore, we unite ourselves with SECAM in its joyful celebration of its 50 anniversary of its existence. We commit ourselves to working with our church leaders in the search for concrete and transformative proposals for the renewal and reform of the Churches and their institutions, following the teaching of Vatican II
We identify with the plan of the Church in Africa to realise the goal of missionary conversion set by Pope Francis so that the Church in Africa will truly become “the spiritual lung” of Catholicism on an integral mission to Africa and beyond.
In line with the Second Congress of Black Writers and Artists, sixty years ago in Rome, together with the message of SECAM in its 1974 Synodal Response, this Congress accepts the fact that the Church needs a diversity of theologies and pastoral approaches to meet the changing and challenging contexts of faith and life in Africa and other parts of the world.
We, therefore, affirm at this Congress unfailing desire to accompany the Church-Family of God in Africa by seeking together the ways and means through which African theology, pastoral plans and projects in our dioceses, parishes, religious communities, Catholic social agencies and all channels of evangelization in the continent. We believe the pursuit of this desire could lead our people and society in Africa to a new level of hope.
3. Renewal of African Theology and Pastoral Life.
We aflirm together as one family that Africa, our Church and our reality can be renewed and transformed through the agency of God’s people in Africa. We cannot fail to decry that the hopes of our fathers and mothers for our Church and society in Africa is far from being realised. In many instances, things are getting worse as there is a growing gulf between our faith and life, and between the rich and the poor in our Church and Society. It is evident at the Congress that our Church and continent are facing signs of fragmentation and disconnection at both the level of intellectual and spiritual lives. This is why we will not cease to seek for the signs of God’s reign in Africa more concretely by showing the pathway to realising the dreams and hopes of our people.
During the Congress, we noted that things continue to fall apart in the quality of life Africa, even though the continent has the highest growth rate in the Catholic Church. Indeed, unless our theologies, institutional structures, and pastoral practices translate into tools of liberation and the flourishing of life for Africans, the growth of the Church will only be in number only. The kingdom of God does not grow simply in number. Rather, it grows in love, faith, and hope. This growth transforms communities, cultures and traditions.
We acknowledge that sometimes our theologies have been far removed from our contexts, and have not helped to deepen the faith of our people and the transformation of society. Going forward, this theology must necessarily be inclusive of all voices in their formulation, presentation, and application. Embracing the principle of subsidiarity, the practice of theology demands a shared authority with those who have experiences of the issues being discussed. For instance, neither can there be a discussion on the role of women in the Church without their presence at the table nor can we speak for the poor who themselves have the lived experiences of poverty and violence. Subsidiarity equally applies to the diversity of human experiences today, particularly the forgotten and those at the margins whose lives have been framed by narratives of exclusion – sexual minorities, persons with disabilities, divorced and remarried, migrants, and refugees.
4. Looking Towards the Future: What Must We Do?
We propose a dialogical approach to doing theology in Africa. This way of doing theology demands that we become aware of ourselves as a Church only through our immersion in the “smell of the sheep.” Dialogical approach includes doing theology through the experiences of women, and other marginalised group; inculturation; and being in dialogue with other religions present in Africa, social sciences, and other disciplines. Dialogical approach demands reading, understanding, interpreting, and responding to the signs of the times. We declare our commitment to be with God’s people in their places of fear and pain, joy and hope.
We propose a new way of pastoral praxis in Africa. This entails a vision of shared leadership. participatory ministries, pastoral solidarity, and mutual sharing in each other’s talents and gifts beyond the present clerical, hierarchical, and patriarchal structures and systems.
We propose a dialogical praxis between Church and Society. To do this, we must develop among other things, greater historical consciousness and deepen our understanding of the contemporary cultural, religious, socio-political, and economic realities of our people as well as deepening our understanding of the traditions of our Church. It is in these traditions we see the traces of divine footprints. We are committed to a transformative theological praxis of encounter, humility, and hope that shatters the boundaries of class, race, gender, nationality, creeds, and all exclusionary categories.
As members of the Family of God in Africa, we pray and resolve to form a Pan-African Catholic Theology and Pastoral Network that will meet biennially to assess our journey together.
We pray that God, through his Son, will lead us to see the surprises of the Spirit in our diversities and uniqueness. Our Lady Queen of Africa. Pray for us.