The Church We Want

African Catholics Look to Vatican III

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A. E. Orobator
  • Maryknoll, NY: 
    Orbis Books
    , August
     304 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


This is an excellent piece of work. The twenty contributors, mostly African, have well-articulated arguments with regards to the idea expressed in the title, The Church We Want: African Catholics look to Vatican III. The contributors observe that African Catholics desire to have an African pope, despite the fact that the Catholic church in Africa has few reforming and transforming local priests, nuns, bishops, or cardinals, and such lacking could be interpreted by an African pope as the result of a spiritual or moral crisis.

The primary focus of The Church We Want: African Catholics Look to Vatican III are the views of Pope Francis I, who argues for the idea of a hurting, bruised, and dirty church that is not opposed to sharing the hardships of history. Francis is seen as a reforming Pope for his courage to call for the church to be redefined, as it embodies a form of leprosy and spiritual worldliness. As a reformer, for he is asking that local churches do more to be creative, faithful, and transformative in meeting local pastoral challenges and opportunities as they arise. He is a leader that wishes to know the needs of the local church, as well as how to support it for, in his mind, the true church lies in the local congregation, not the offices in Rome.

Edited by Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, The Church We Want deals with an “ecclesiology of accountability,” a “pastoral theology of accompaniment,” and a “spirituality of action” (19-30). This is the church that Francis, African Catholics, and the contributors desire. The main foci of the contributions are on the burning issues of the church in the 21st century. These include celibacy, the place of women in the church, the joys and hopes for women, social exclusion, and human degradation. Added to these questions is the use of condoms in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This is where culture and scholars do not agree.

The contributors contend that, in the Pope heart, the church is of the poor and for the poor. For this reason, Francis’s theology focuses on helping to revive a church of the poor and for the poor, with the aim that love, mercy, and faith will be made visible, and the church credible. The church for the poor desires—and promotes—social justice. 

Additionally, the contributors discuss African identity and how the Christian faith becomes comprehensively the culture of African Christians. By focusing on Christian self-identity, the process of enculturation towards an authentic African Christianity is enhanced. This identity is the mystery of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, who was God but, for our sake, became human. Through Jesus Christ, the church of God—though divided—is one in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. The contributors believe that the African church should learn from the koinonia of the sub-apostolic church, which was culturally and geographically divided but experienced unity through diversity. 

This brings us to the contributors’s discussions on the gospel of the family—a rich gift from the African culture which, through its nature, structure, and function, can significantly add to the worldwide church. The church in Africa also needs to understand the African family in order to enable it to do the missionary work of God in a suitable way. Families in rural and urban areas—extended and nuclear—care for each other. In the family, people find personal and corporate identity, as well as religious connections. Furthermore, Africans are united by Ubuntu, which emphasizes that you are because we are, and because you are, we are. However, the family in Africa has its own challenges. These include polygamy, the crisis of absent fathers, trafficking in children, and domestic violence, which especially affects women and children. This is why, if the family is to become a model for the church—as well as the basis for the gospel of the family and theology of the family—gender-based violence, in all its multifaceted forms, must be acknowledged and removed.

The contributors argue for an ecclesiastical transformation within the structure of the church to enhance a proper evangelization of the world. Ideally, Rome cannot continue to be the focus of the church. Instead, the church should follow where the people live by forming Small Christian Communities (196-97). The spiritual hunger (Eucharist famine) experienced by the people is caused by a lack of priests. This could be addressed by ordaining married community elders and women to the priesthood. The majority of the church members are women, they serve as effective evangelists, and they should enjoy equal access to all ministries on the basis of vocation rather than gender. The church needs to focus on and redefine theology that is integrative and inclusive in the African context (210). The contributors contend that this can be done, as it fits with Francis’s vision and is a way of walking together toward an agenda for Vatican III. 

The writers argue for helping the marginalized and violated—women and sexual minorities in Sub-Saharan Africa. The church must fight against the inequality reflected in social relations, which subordinate women to men. However, in the mind of this reviewer, such discussion should not place the blame solely on men—the church must confess their sins for not showing solidarity for those violated, whether male or female. 

Finally, the church needs a multidisciplinary approach to the ecological challenge if humanity is to be saved from its current crisis. The church needs to end its silence. We should remember that, in the African context, there is unity between the living, the dead, and the earth where we inhabit. Nature itself is sacred.

What should Vatican III look like? The contributors offer a variety of African forward-looking points of view. We can hope that the Catholic church will consider and receive some of this book’s perspectives for the academic world.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Victor Chilenje is Lecturer in Church History, Polity, and Missiology at Justo Mwale University in Lusaka, Zambia.

Date of Review: 
May 15, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

A. E. Orobator, SJ, is the University College Principal at Hekima University College Jesuit School of Theology in Nairobi, Kenya. He is the author of four books, including Theology Brewed in an African Pot (Orbis).




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