By Mariaelena Finessi
VATICAN CITY, 26 FEB. 2010 (ZENIT)
Four months after the
Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, a
Rwandan Salesian who participated as an expert is reflecting on
the results and the response.
Father Aimable Musoni spoke to ZENIT about his continent and the
social successes over the past 15 years thanks to Catholicism.
The priest, who is a consultor for the Congregation for the
Saints' Causes as well as the Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith, also explained the next steps to by which Africa will
concretely implement the conclusions arrived at during last
ZENIT: Let's begin by talking about the theme of the Synod held
in Rome last October: "The Church in Africa at the Service of
Reconciliation, Justice and Peace."
Father Musoni: It's a very timely topic that affects everyone,
from the pastors to the last of the faithful.
In particular, for this cause, the Synodal Fathers called on the
members in consecrated life
because much is expected from their witness and prophetic
so that in all those circumstances of extreme pressure that
shake the continent such as wars, poverty, sicknesses and
hunger, people would not give up or lose Christian values.
The conviction is that only by being reconciled with God can we
be reconciled among ourselves and be witness-ministers of
reconciliation in society.
Consequently, the need of a convinced and convincing personal
witness on the part of all the members of the Church was
From this point of view, the proclamation of the Gospel in
Africa can only go hand in hand with the process of
The latter is an aspect on which the attention of Catholic
politicians was also to be drawn so that they act in society and
for society, guided by consistency with the Christian dictate,
which also facilitates good coexistence.
ZENIT: Despite the successes in the sociopolitical, economic and
cultural realms, it is still difficult to know how the results
of the Synod find or have found a real application in Africa.
Father Musoni: Yes, it's difficult to calculate the results
exactly. In any case, compared to 1994, the year of the first
Synod, there has been a notable growth of Catholicism on the
continent; the Church's members have increased from 102 million
(or 14.6% of the African population) to 164 million (17.5%).
Likewise, there has been an increase, for example, in the
numbers of consecrated lay missionaries, catechists and
seminarians, as well as of ecclesiastical structures for
evangelization, hospitals, schools, seminaries and Catholic
radio stations (the latter have increased from 15 to 163).
There has also been a deepening of theological reflection,
though problems remain
related to inculturation
to the degree that not everywhere can one find liturgical books
and catechisms in the various local languages.
That is why it's necessary to continue the work of translation,
as well as to increase the repertoire of liturgical songs
following, indeed, the canons of the tradition consolidated in
Europe but also encouraging the creativity of the African
ZENIT: The Instrumentum laboris expressly requested compensating
for the lack of a follow-up system, especially in areas related
to the family, women's dignity and the mission of the Church.
Can you say more about this?
Father Musoni: To prepare a systematic method of evaluation, the
Synod first consulted the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of
Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), so that it could serve as the
center of coordination of organic pastoral solidarity, thus
synthesizing the different experiences in the continental,
regional and national realms, as well as of the dioceses and of
the parishes themselves.
In other words, the goal is to conceive, in all ambits, a
mechanism of continual evaluation, to see if there is a
practical and concrete reception of what has been said in the
The implementation will, in the first place, be affected by
SECAM, which will determine the calendar, a precise agenda and
an order of the day. Hence, the regional and national episcopal
conferences, and the dioceses
which are invited to hold synods with the objective not just of
having the bishops speak among themselves, or with the clergy
must involve and inform the whole of the people of God.
Therefore, it is the diocesan synods that offer the best
occasion to devise an appropriate program.
Given that, as I already explained, the topic is that of
"reconciliation, justice and peace," it has also been requested
that "Commissions of Justice and Peace" be established at all
And this beginning with the parishes, because only by starting
from a real awareness of the reality of a community can mature
decisions be made in the social and ecclesial sectors, on the
family, the dignity of women, the mission of the Church, social
communication and self-sufficiency.
ZENIT: Although the data speaks of a growth of Catholics, the
ecumenical and interreligious dialogue still continues to be a
delicate challenge given the proliferation of sects, which
continue to attract.
Father Musoni: The Gospel has not arrived everywhere and where
there are no Catholics, the "traditional African religions,"
with the modernity and actual presence, very often, of
for whom as is known, the principle of free examination of the
Sacred Scriptures is valid
have given way to indigenous ecclesial communities with the
physiognomy of sects, no longer Christians in the proper sense,
but not pagans either.
Syncretistic experiences give life to "independent African
Churches," which really don't have great consistency from the
doctrinal and disciplinary point of view, but whose existence
demonstrates two meanings.
In the first place, it shows how an African is incurably
religious; the second highlights the reason why they leave the
official Churches, where one runs the risk of anonymity because
of their large dimensions, which do not foster personal contact.
However, the Catholic response already exists, thanks to the
birth of youth movements and grass-roots ecclesial communities,
considered "small Christian communities," organized by small
towns and villages where they meet to pray or to exchange
information on the situation of the group, as well as to
consider joint initiatives to help those in difficulties.
ZENIT: It seems, therefore, that there is an initial distance
between the Church and Africans.
Father Musoni: I would say that it is a problem that can appear
anywhere. On the other hand, the Gospel was not born in Europe,
but in the Semitic culture; therefore, to arrive in the West it
had to undergo a process of inculturation.
In fact, now that the culture is increasingly secularized and is
no longer only Christian, there must be dialogue with
In any case, yes, there has been at times a lack of attention to
Africa by missionaries, in majority Western, who at the
beginning had quite weighty suspicions about African culture,
sometimes stating, in fact, that a culture did not exist.
This made possible the making of a sort of tabula rasa in an
attempt to "wrest these poor ones who grew up in darkness from
the devil," as the missionaries of the years 1500-1800 said.
From evangelization and contemporaneous colonization there has
been a move to the theology of adaptation, seeking the "stones
of union," that is, the link with African culture.
Inculturation was the next step to meet the African cultural
heritage, so that the latter would offer its own interpretative
channel of Catholicism and thus, for example, dance was
introduced in the liturgy.
Today an African can express his being in the Church also
through his corporeal nature. In this sense, inculturation has
helped to purify African values to take them on as a vehicle of
ZENIT: In some African cultures, chastity and poverty aren't
values, but wealth is, a sign of the blessing of the gods;
attributed only to woman
legitimizes divorce, while to die without leaving offspring is a
sign of a curse. What consequences are there for a society that
stresses this type of family?
Father Musoni: Christians, and in particular African religious,
live a certain tension in regard to the values and cultural
traditions of their country.
For example, our concept of life has a more ample
anthropological value: From the most remote ancestors to the
present grandchildren, life is understood as "continuity."
For the African
as someone has written
there is no life that is not concrete also today; hence the
transmission of life through children also means the
continuation of the life of the one who no longer is.
And not to be able to obtain it is like remaining on the margin
of society. In Rwanda, for example, one of the worst curses is
to wish that someone die without being married or having
children, that is, without leaving offspring. It means,
practically, to disappear.
However, in this African conception of life there is a religious
meaning because the ancestor received life from God and in turn
has transmitted it.
Then, also, there are the negatives appendices because, to
reinforce one's own life, for example in the Congo, one can take
that of others (sometimes there has been talk of "eaters of
And the same for polygamy, which is regarded as a reinforcement
of the family: To have many children means to have a work force,
but also a defense force in tribal wars and, in that sense,
marriage is an alliance with the wives' families.
It is a complex vision, in other words, which often puts at risk
knowledge of the excellence and value of Christian and
ZENIT: Specifically in regard to religious, the Synod
recommended a careful discernment of candidates for consecrated
life, whereas for international institutes present in Africa,
the Synodal Fathers hoped that the initial formation
postulancy and novitiate
could be done in Africa. Why was this request made?
Father Musoni: Personally I think that men and women religious
must learn to manage the natural emotional dimension of
chastity, understood as celibacy and virginity, directing the
sentiment of maternity and paternity, which for Africans is
particularly strong, on another path.
Thus, for example, one can feel oneself a "mother" or "father"
in the task of educating in the faith one's "children," that is,
the men and women of the people of God.
This is an aspect that needs further reflection; without
generalizing, sometimes one almost feels the "infidelity to the
vow of chastity" as part of the priests and sisters.
The reason, one can surmise, finds among its roots this cultural
vision of life in Africa, which does not always go in the same
direction as the Christian vision. It also serves for a real
existential maturity between Christian life and African
And, to avoid a clash, one must really be converted, but on
African soil, where the conviction of religious life can really
be tested and hence the responsibilities derived from the
vocational choice can be freely assumed.
To have to adapt to a new culture, which is European, and at the
same time to have to mature one's own vocational choice does not
help to make within oneself an harmonious synthesis.
ZENIT: The Instrumentum laboris states that consecrated women
should contribute more by revealing a certain dimension of God
through their feminine genius of gentleness, tenderness and
willingness. In what ways do women fulfill these privileged
tasks? And how can she contribute better to the evangelizing
Father Musoni: It is women who run the family in Africa, as well
as education. Theirs is an important role, which the Church
should also recognize.
They are already present in the parishes and in grass-roots
ecclesial communities: it is an attempt to recognize this
function officially and to appreciate it.
And, going further, in this way one will be able to contribute
to having the dignity of woman in African culture in general
recognized and protected.
For example, polygamy certainly does not honor women, at least
in the Christian vision.
In regard to exploitation, the subordinate function of wives in
the organization of the family is well known; this can be
revised, instead, by a collaboration that, if it isn't that of
peers, at least respects personal capacities of each.
The Church, in keeping with the desire of the Synodal Fathers by
giving women responsibilities, some in decision-making bodies,
could offer the best example.
[Translation by ZENIT]