By Rev Fr Angelo Chidi Unegbu
The current debates, agitations and controversies in the Roman Catholic Church today that have given rise to the Amazonian Synod is a signal that a General Council that would address these tensions is around the corner.
Such a Council would not be like the Vatican Council II, which came as surprise to many owing to the fact that there was no known controversy as such in the Church at the time when John XXIII announced it. No one was expecting a council. The general feeling at the time was that with the definition of the papal infallibility in 1870, that a council was no longer needed. Consequently, many bishops saw themselves rushing to Rome unprepared.
The continent that was however mostly taken unawares was Africa due to several factors. Prominent among them was that most African Churches were still in their missionary era. This means therefore that majority of their bishops were foreigners (mainly Europeans) who queued in to the European and American debates to the utter neglect of the African concerns.
At the end of the day the Council turned out to be a European and North American Council. For instance, the Council Fathers were busy debating on the dwindling interest in priestly and religious vocations, when the same vocation was booming in Africa. They were arguing on the dwindling of births, when African population was on the increase and so on.
The result was that the promulgations and decisions of the Council were poorly received and implemented in Africa because Africans felt that the Council did not address their own problems.
In Nigeria, the implementation was worse because of the military coups, counter coups (1966) and the 3-year Civil War (1967-1970) that followed the Vatican Council II (1962-1965).
Anyone who has been following the Church debates these days will agree with me that the agitations are coming again from the European and American quarters. As usual, Africa seems to have other problems to worry about.
Supposing a Council is convoked tomorrow, how prepared are we as Africans? What shall we bring to the table? Do we even know our problems?
If we would go into such a Council unprepared there will certainly be a repeat of what happened during the Vatican II, where the few African bishops that were present became spectators and vote casters. I assure you that in such a Council the African bishops will be used by the European and American bishops to win votes.
This is the time to identify our own problems. This is the time to ask ourselves what we want. This is the time to prepare ourselves so as to speak with one voice. This is the time to save the future of Catholicism especially in our continent. This is the time to save our cherished moral values. This is the time to fortify our own positions.
It is not enough to say that we are behind the Pope because in such a Council the Pope will be neutral and no one may even know his position.
This is the time for African dioceses, congregations, provinces and so on to begin to organize interviews, seminars, researches (including empirical studies) and workshops to determine and articulate exactly what our problems are, and notify the views of our people on the current debates in order to fortify our own positions.
This is the time to examine the numerous theological researches that have been carried out hitherto in various universities and institutions on Africa.
This is the time to make our peculiar theological positions known to the global audience through publications and conversations.
This is the time to invoke the power of the Holy Spirit to direct us in the path of in truth the Church that we love so much, and to collaborate with the same Spirit through an active participation in discerning the future of the Church in the African continent.
If we do not prepare ourselves now, then we must be prepared to accept hook, line and sinker the decisions of such a Council.
By Rev Fr Angelo ChidiUnegbu
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