Pan-African Catholic Congress on Theology, Society and Pastoral Life

Date: December 5-8, 2019
Location: Enugu, Nigeria
Theme: “What Must We Do to Perform the Works of God”, John 6:8

What is the Pan- African Catholic Congress on Theology, Society and Pastoral Life?

  • This pastoral and theological Congress is being convoked by the African Catholicism Project at the Centre for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology (CWCIT), DePaul University, Chicago; and the Association of African Theologians with the support of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu and a number of Catholic seminaries and universities in Africa to celebrate 50 years anniversary of the establishment SECAM; 25 years of African Synod 1, and ten years of African Synod II. The primary texts for the Congress are the documents from SECAM especially the pastoral letter released at the end of the celebration in July, 2019, and the documents from the two African synods, documents from Vatican II and Pope Francis’ programmatic document, Evangelii Gaudium.

  • The Congress with bring together 80 prominent African clerics, laity, religious and scholars to develop best practices and new approaches for doing theology and pastoral ministries in the changing faces of faith and life in Africa.

  • The theme of the Congress is taken from John 6: 28, “What must we do to perform the works of God.” As a pastoral congress, the overall goal of this important assembly is to reflect on the faith and fate of our people, evaluate different pastoral and theological approaches and jointly develop some best pastoral practices for the renewal and reform of the Catholic Church in Africa. The Congress will lead to the publication of three books which will serve as a guide for theological education, pastoral life, formation of pastoral agents, and training of the laity in social justice, faith formation, and active participation in political and civic life in African countries at all levels.

  • The Congress will provide a forum to strengthen and expand the CWCIT Network of African scholars through collaborative, reflective and scholarly exchanges which will continue through a new website to be launched in the Fall of 2019.

  •  Those who will benefit from this project are: theologians, church leaders and pastors, students under formation for priestly and religious life, lay members of Christ’s faithful, African Catholics and other Christians and the universal church. This is because the new ideas, practices, proposals and a final statement of commitment will hopefully be a guide on pastoral and theological work in Africa as well as in other contexts of faith and life in the Universal Church.
  • The Congress will focus on ‘doing’, ‘performance’, ‘concrete solutions’ rather than mere theories and literature review. As a result, speakers are encouraged to develop their presentation in this way: (i) Review the available literatures in the field under the theme of your presentation; (ii) Relate your conceptual and theoretical analysis of these literatures to some case studies drawn from the pastoral and social life of God’s people in Africa; (iii) Explore some best practices relative to your topic or theme vis-à-vis some failed practices/approaches while showing how your proposals provide solutions to some of the challenges or opportunities which you identify in your paper. We are hoping to apply theological creativity and production of new insights and approaches which are rooted in history, Biblical phenomenology, the traditions of our Ancient faith, reified in the cultural, social and ecclesial life of God’s people in Africa. As a result, speakers must take time to pray over their text, reflect and allow the Holy Spirit to fertilize their minds to produce new body of knowledge which hopefully will move the Church in Africa forward from ‘talking’ to ‘doing’, from ‘proposing’ to ‘showing how it can be done.’
  • The hope is that at the end of the Congress we will also produce a short statement of commitment on how we as leaders of God’s people will work together so that we and our people can continue to do the work of God through bearing good fruits in our continent.

  • At the end of the congress, interested participants and speakers will be invited to join a strong cohort of African bishops, priests, scholars, practitioners, activists, laity and religious who through critical and creative research, dialogue and reflection on the implementation of the proposals of the two African synods and Africa’s commitments through her church leaders in realizing the teachings of Vatican II will continue this exchange through other channels which will be discussed during the Congress. This way, the Congress will continue beyond the presentation of papers and discussion in the Congress halls. We hope that this will be a biannual Congress.

  • We are launching and will maintain an online data base on African theological and pastoral research and publications to support the work of formation and theological education in Africa. Participants and speakers are encouraged to become part of this initiative by submitting their own publications, recommending new materials which will be uploaded to the sites in an ongoing basis.

  • The Method for the Congress is the African Palaver.

The African Palaver: What Is It?

Let me share with you a few ideas about the palaver method and approach to conversation for our plenary and concurrent sessions:

The African palaver is a philosophical method, its roots deep and entrenched in peace and beauty, always avoiding foolishness and the destruction of humanity. Peace and beauty create what is truly essential for humans. Our ancestors gathered under the tree to talk about their differences, things that ailed their societies, and to share their collective wisdom and develop practical approaches to problem solving in society. The voice of everyone was heard and people spoke with deliberation, respect, love, and deep roots in the sacredness of truth which held all things together.

The Palaver Tree is a designated location (originally a large tree such as the baobab) in many African communities where everyone comes together to discuss issues of common interest in a peaceful and constructive manner. At times, the Palaver Tree may also become a stage for performance and storytelling.

In recent times, the Palaver Tree has become a symbol of peace and reconciliation embodied in the belief that one can change and accept a compromise, because it is what makes us human. It is a majestic tree with an impressive stature that casts cooling shadows especially during the dry season: e.g., the shea tree, cailcedrat (commonly known as African mahogany), mango trees, etc. These are trees whose leaves do not shed annually and which provide shade in all seasons.

Village life is regulated under the Palaver Tree: weddings, land disputes, a young man or woman’s good or bad behavior, good or bad harvests, news from the parents of neighboring villages, how to protect the village from witchcraft, etc. Are the prohibitions that protect the village from various scourges (e.g., drought, epidemics) respected? How does the village face a bad harvest collectively? That is why the village is thoroughly scrutinized.

It is really the collective management of the village that happens under the Palaver Tree. This is how cohesion of the village community is assured. It is the same way that peace and harmony between inhabitants of the same village and neighboring villages is also assured. (Source: The Imagination for People Project. L’Abre @ Palabre)

And it this framework we will use to conduct our conversations during the Congress in a semi-structured manner.