Applying the Eight National Priority Concerns of SCCs in America to the Catholic Church Context in Africa
By Arnold Katungo Lukombola
Small Christian Communities (SCCs) are a new way of being Church in this moment of salvation history. Their ultimate mission and prophetic vision is to strengthen and renew the community of the People of God called the Catholic Church.
Chapter Nine in the book Small Christian Communities Today: Capturing the New Moment [Orbis Books] edited by Joseph Healey and Jeanne Hinton is “Priority Concerns of SCCs in American Catholicism” by Bernard Lee and Michael Cowan. I believe that these eight national priority concerns of Small Christian Communities in the USA can contribute to the development of the Catholic Church of Africa. These priority concerns are relevant for SCCs in Africa by the fact that they meet some of the pastoral issues raised on this continent. In this paper I will show some areas where these priority concerns can be applied in Africa .
II. APPLYING THE AMERICAN CATHOLICISM NATIONAL PRIORITY CONCERNS TO THE AFRICAN CHURCH CONTEXT
The first priority concern addresses the need for better networking among Small Christian Communities and their connection with national organizations. It is particularly important for any SCC to know how the other groups organize themselves in order to learn from them. Also Small Christian Communities should intensify their relationships with national organizations that have interest in their life. This enhances the impact of Small Christian Communities upon the life of the church. This priority fits into the African context. For instance, during the post election crisis here in Kenya in 2008, some of the Small Christian Communities whose members were from various tribes/ethnic groups were divided. Some SCCs succeeded to overcome this tribal problem. Such Small Christian Communities provided good examples for the other groups in which the tribal tensions were high.
Given the fact that Small Christian Communities undergo similar realities in Africa , the spirit of collaboration should be promoted for the growth of the church on the continent. For the same purpose, the impact of national organizations should empower Small Christian Communities to face the challenge of poverty within the Church in Africa .
The second priority concern of American Catholicism is the need to forge a much better relationship and partnership of equals between Hispanic, Latin and Anglo Small Christian Communities. This priority concern addresses the significant fact of differences among people. This challenge is also common in our African Church . In the same Small Christian Community, especially in cities, we find different people. The difference may be linked to languages, tribes, ethnicity, nationalities, characters, life conditions, and so on. The SCCs find their teaching in the Gospels. They should make use of their cultural and anthropological differences to enrich and empower the church rather than using them as source of division. Thus, there must be a serious desire in Small Christian Communities to foster deeper collaborative relationships not only in American Catholicism but also on the other continents as well and more especially in Africa .
The third national priority concern is the desire for strong relationship between the Small Christian Communities and the authorities of the church. The SCCs must gain support from their pastors and bishops. They can continue to be successful and healthy more easily when bishops and pastors are supportive. Bishops and pastors should allow the voices “from the base” to be heard and their initiatives to be implemented. In this way, Small Christian Communities that are “a new way of being church” and express and connect their faith, their life, and their mission to the larger gathered and universal Church.
This concern is important for our African SCCs. It is being progressively and successfully applied in our church. For instance, in my own diocese in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), there was no closeness between lay persons and priests. This implies that parish priests could hardly be fully aware of the situation going on in their parishes or between the parishioners themselves. Today with the new model of Small Christian Communities the relations between lay Christians and priests have improved. The mission of the pastors is to go and meet the Christians and listen to them in order to assure that the church is not only healthy, but also active and progressive.
The fourth national priority concern underlines the need to learn how to organize the public life of Small Christian Communities. In other words, SCCs have the duty and power to transform the world. They should emphasize some of the important issues such as peace and justice and forge the links with existing social justice groups. By so doing SCCs will fulfill the purpose of the entire Catholic Church. They will be capable of changing not just their own lives in the church but also in the world. For example, Rwandan Small Christian Communities have seriously worked to overcome the ethnic clashes and divisions that occurred during the genocide in 1994. Thus significant cooperative relationships must be visible between the Small Christian Communities and the departments and committees of peacemakers in parishes, dioceses, and extended to the national level.
The fifth priority concern is linked to the need of welcoming the youth and young adult into Small Christian Communities. This sad reality of youth not being involved in the church in America is also an African reality. The youth and young adults are more or less absent from the church. In fact we would say that the youth and young adults are less committed in the church.
Yet the appetite for the youth and more young adults in Small Christian Communities is dearly whetted by the church. The youth are full of initiatives and talents. The church needs them for its growth and renewal. The church without youth and young adults lacks vigor. It tends to disappear and die because there are no new and fresh gifts coming up to energize and develop this church. To do away with this problem Bernard Lee and Michael Cowan suggest that theological reflection and strategic pastoral implementations are required in order to attract the youth and young adults. Their essential gifts should be identified, invited and welcomed in the church. I would add that in Africa we need to develop and multiple the number of specific Youth SCCs.
The sixth priority concern focuses on leadership needs. American Catholicism points out the idea of formation. Community leadership formation deserves serious attention. In fact the formation of leaders in SCCs is crucial, but it is also expensive. This problem is concrete in African communities. Both the material support and the formation of leaders still remain a dream and left under the responsibility of the Universal Church . Most of the African communities still rely on Rome . African church leaders still rely on financial assistance from the outside and there is not enough self reliance – local Christians covering the church leaders’ basic needs such as food, clothing, and house maintenance. In Africa this focus on the basic material needs of the leadership is important, but leaves their formation needs such as training of SCC leaders largely unmet.
The seventh priority concern deals with the need to communicate the rich tradition of the church. Research on Small Christian Communities indicates that the major energizing religious practice is about knowing how to correlate the Scriptures and our lived experience. SCCs are a special way to recover the Scriptures in our ordinary Catholic life.
In our African context the most dominant topics during the gatherings of the Small Christian Communities are grounded in the day-to-day life of the people. In the SCCs, the Gospel is expressed through the lived experience of the members such as family issues, financial problems, sickness and the like. In such a context it is rare to refer to the doctrinal tradition of the church. Even most of the members of Small Christian Communities know little about the Church Doctrine. They hardly know what the Vatican Council documents and encyclicals are, less so the documents of the First African Synod. Yet both the Scriptures and the teaching of the church should be their sources of inspiration whenever they gather and tackle some of their daily issues.
The eighth priority concern makes a kind of summary to the seven concerns above. It is an invitation to the Small Christian Communities to remain in dialogue with the larger international experience. I expressed in my reflections above the idea that SCCs have to be loosely connected with both the national and the international communities. They must be on move and open to the modern technology in order to facilitate their connection to the larger international community. This will take time in Africa given that the rate of our poor population is high. A good starting point for all of us is to use our new Small Christian Communities Global Collaborative Website and to learn from, and to share, the SCC experience on all six continents.
These eight national priority concerns in American Catholicism proposed by Bernard Lee and Michael Cowan can be adapted to the African Small Christian Communities in this time of the renewal of the Catholic Church. These priority concerns are very relevant to Africa where the dialogue between the church and national organizations, the church and culture, the church and ethnic groups, and the church and social differences is strongly evident. These priority concerns are relevant to Africa where justice and peace must be enhanced, where the absence of the youth in Small Christian Communities is noticed and must be addressed, where the doctrinal tradition of the church is not taken seriously enough and where access to modern technology needs to be increased.
Arnold Katungo Lukombola, AA is an Assumptionist Fathers Seminarian from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He is studying in the Second Year of Theology at Hekima College , the Jesuit School of Theology in Nairobi , Kenya . This paper was written in March, 2008 in the course on “Small Christian Communities as a New Model of Church in Africa Today.”
Arnold Katungo Lukombola, AA
P.O. Box 58488
Nairobi , Kenya