Book review: African Catholic

  • Fr John Buckley

African Catholic - (Decolonization and the Transformation of the Church) by Elizabeth A Foster, Harvard University Press.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations." Matthew Ch28 v.19.

It was in 1958 that I began my missionary training. We students were somewhat bemused when one of our formation team reminded us that ' our job was to get ourselves out of a job'. What he meant was that we were to hand over to native clergy as soon as possible. Now looking back over sixty years I can say ' job done ' but still a work in progress. Elizabeth Foster's excellent work confines itself to French Africa. I worked in Nigeria a former British Protectorate but from a Catholic point of view much the same process.

Foster's brilliant analysis is well informed and enlightened and always fair. She recognises the hurt felt by loyal, long serving, long suffering missionaries male and female in having to hand over. She also points out that a young vibrant African Church needed fresh air to find it's freedom to be itself.

Her riveting and accurate description of the episode between Archbishop Raymond Marie Tchidimbo and President Sekou Toure of Guinea is worth special attention. Archbishop Tchidimbo with his strong faith and a capacity to suffer and love as well as great vision, epitomised the ' Young African Church '.

As Catholic Europe became more spiritually anaemic - no vocations- massive lapsation from prayer and Eucharistic practise as well as breakdown in family life- the African Catholic Church was moving in the opposite direction. It looked for a Soulmate and it's prayers were answered by Saint Pope John XXIII and his Vatican Council. Pope John opened the windows and let The Holy Spirit in to Evangelise The Whole World..which was his diocese.

Catholic Africa's hour had arrived. What the burgeoning African Catholic had to offer was crucial to Pope John's vision. It had a deep faith, a magnificent laity, a harvest of vocations, and above all an awesome ' Emotional Intelligence ' which is essential to holiness and which opens the heart to God's Love revealed in Christ.

What it will have to guard against is a suffocating 'Clericalism' that would inhibit it's superb laity. No flags no banners except that of Christ's Cross. " We preach Christ and Him Crucified " ( 1 Cor Ch1 v23). We are blessed to have Pope Francis at this time who by example is leading us in this 'Evangelism the World.' A work that is still in progress.

Elizabeth Foster has given us a superb work. It should be on every ' bestsellers list' in Africa -in Europe- and beyond.

Tags: Father John Buckley, African Catholic, Elizabeth A Foster, Harvard University Press

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