Church We Want: Foundations, Theology and Mission of the Church in Africa -- Conversations
Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, S.J.
of publication: 2015
of Pages: 342
Kenya Shillings 900 or USA $9
Paulines Publications Africa
the Catholic faith in Africa fast grows, so are the needs for the theological
materials that are necessary for the spiritual nourishment of the faithful. In
some aspects of the Catholic Church, it is noted that the theological needs of
the church are growing faster than the availability of the theological
materials that in a normal situation should match the notable faith growth.
to this in the book under review the editor, Nigerian Jesuit priest, Agbonkhianmeghe
Orobator, and current Principal of Hekima University College (Jesuit School of Theology and
Institute of Peace Studies and International Relations), says the output of
research and scholarship on the theology of the church in Africa has not matched
the mandate of the First African Synod to “work out the theology of the Church-as-Family with all
the riches contained in this concept” (Ecclesia
in Africa, No. 63).
says the new book comes in to fill this gap by presenting incisive analyses,
models, and portraits of the church in Africa from diverse historical, theological,
ecumenical, cultural, and contemporary perspectives and contexts.
new book builds on the previous volume by gathering many past contributors in a
community of theological scholarship that engages in conversation as an ongoing
process of maturation of thought, broadening of vision and deepening of
reflection” (page 9), he says, while stressing that the essays in the book open
up new paths for understanding the theology, identity, and mission of the
church in Africa and the world.
an easy reading and comprehension of the materials therein, the new book is
broken into four parts, namely: “The
African Church in the Vision of Pope Francis;” “Scriptural, Theological,
Spiritual, and Cultural Foundations of the Church;” “Ecclesia of Women and the Church in Africa;” and “The Church in
Contemporary Social and Ecumenical Contexts.”
Part One, for example, the new book has an essay on the Small Christian
Communities (SCCs) written by Father Joseph Healey, a Maryknoll missionary
priest, whose concern for this pastoral program of the church in the Eastern
African Region is widely recognized. Under the title “Small Christian
Communities (SCCs) as Domestic Church in the Context of African Ecclesiology,”
the essay explores the history, development and the impact of the SCCs in
Africa and in particular under the church’s regional body of AMECEA – the Association
of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa.
traces the SCCs history back to 1961 when the Catholic Bishops Conference in
the now Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at its Sixth Plenary Assembly, held from
20 November to 2 December approved a pastoral plan to promote “Living Base
Ecclesial Communities” (also called “Living Christian Communities” or “Communautes
Ecclesiales Vivantes de Base [CEVB] in the full French term).
to Father Healey, the SCC pastoral program, currently operative in nine African
countries, namely Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, South Sudan, Sudan,
Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia within the AMECEA Region was officially founded in 1976
at the AMECEA Plenary Meeting held in Nairobi, Kenya under the theme: “Building
Small Christian Communities in Eastern Africa.” He says, “Certainly the growth
and influence of Small Christian Communities has been one of the milestones and
highlights of the first fifty-four years of AMECEA (I961-2015)” (page 104). According
to him an estimated 180,000 SCCs are operating in the AMECEA Region, with an
estimated 45,000 in Kenya.
Healey thanks the founders and visionaries, whom he says created AMECEA SCCs as
a key pastoral priority. “We also thank the faithfulness and commitment of
millions of lay Christians in Eastern Africa who have actively participated in
SCCs over the years and said yes to the commitment to be truly African, truly
Christian in further developing this new way of becoming church” (page 104), he
Part Two the book has an essay on “Becoming the Church of the New Testament”
penned by Nigerian Catholic Sister, Teresa Okure. She stresses, among other
things, the need for African theologians to make the call to be a Eucharistic Church
anchored in the new commandment of love, the soul of their theologizing in
service to the Church we want to be. “We need to help the Church hierarchy to
evolve new practical measures for internalizing this” (page 118), says Sr
Okure, emphasizing that, “This requires courageous revision of age-old church structures
and the evolution of a New Testament ecclesiology and Christology that serve as
antidotes to those anti-gospel value systems that infiltrated the Church from
the empire” (page 118).
the book’s Part Three one of the essays is on “The Ecclesia Women We Want in Africa: Some Challenges” by Alison Munro.
The author vehemently argues that the church need to move away from clericalism
in which we often see the letter rather than the spirit of the law, the placing
of laws and regulations before the needs and pains of people, and the promotion
of ordained men into position of superiority over the non-ordained simply
because of the status. “African women themselves need to move away from internalized
sexist practices, attitudes, beliefs, and patterns” (page 212), the essay recommends.
church must denounce patriarchy and cultural practices, its own and those of society
and the negative traditions that debase women in various ways and remain untouched
and unchallenged except by those without voice, the author also recommends. According
to her the church’s voice at all levels must be heard naming and denouncing
violence and injustice in the Church.
the book’s Part Four one of the essays is on “How African Are African
Instituted Churches? The Ecclesiology of African Instituted Churches,” by a
Kenyan Catholic woman theologian, Philomena Njeri Mwaura. She has, among other
things, called on the AICs to embrace theological education to enable them
understand the origin and basis of the Christian faith and their
interconnectedness with the wider Church. “Some also need to develop viable and
effective administrative structures to help them avoid succession leadership
wrangles that can bedevil the churches when their leaders die” (page 308), she suggests.
25 essays are well researched, presented and scholarly done. The book is
recommended for the clergy, religious, ad laity -- both men and women in
seminaries and formation centers – and for those who thirst for theological
materials to enrich their live spiritually.