Today is the ninth anniversary of my priestly ordination.
Chị dị ebere, I made a covenant with you on the night of my priestly ordination and you promised to fulfil yours if I kept mine. Nine years have now gone and you have never failed irrespective of my shortcomings. In fact, you have gone ahead to season me in ways I never imagined. I am awe-struck. Receive all the glory and adoration🙏🏾. Amen.
Last week’s post discussed reasons for religious distance among blacks in the UK and Nigeria. Closely related to religious distance among African Christians is the renaissance of the status of traditional religion and pre-Christian culture in our collective identity. Today’s post focuses on this.
First and foremost, Christianity was never a western institution at birth. Christianity began in Jerusalem within the Jewish culture and only became westernised when it went to Rome. There, it was inculturated into western society, which had Rome at its headquarters then. From then, western inculturated Christianity was exported around the world through evangelisation, which was aided, in many instances, by colonialism.
While we appreciate the immense sacrifices of the missionaries and the benefits of their coming, we must, in redemptive honesty, also identify their fatal strategic mistake of imposing western inculturated Christianity on indigenous tribes and trying to force them to adopt western culture to the detriment of their unique culture. One recalls that Pope Francis recently apologised to the indigenous people of Canada for this.
Consequently, while embracing Christianity, many of our first converts quickly jettisoned our culture. Traditional culture and artefacts were destroyed and are still destroyed today because they are considered incompatible with the Christian faith. Interestingly, those supposed fetish artefacts condemned by the missionaries and looted by the colonial masters are now in museums in the west making money for the host countries. Perhaps the evil in them did not cross the Atlantic Ocean or couldn’t survive the height of a flying aeroplane.
The colonial masters aided this imposition to the extent and, perhaps to the ignorance of the missionaries, that it served the purpose of perpetuating the identity crisis among the colonised so that they are not able to resist colonialism. It is interesting to note that it was when Africans went to study in Europe and America that they discovered that Christianity practiced in Africa was European and that the education system introduced by the colonialists and managed by the missionaries was designed to prevent the black man from thinking out of the box. Thinking outside the box would lead to revolutions against the status quo. Hence, many of these Africans dropped their Christian/European names and began fighting for the independence of their nations. Their push led to the independence of African nations beginning in Ghana in 1957.
As African nations got their independence in the 1960s, the Church began reminding Africans to take up the evangelisation task. Pope Paul VI in his homily at Kampala, Uganda in 1969 said: “you Africans are missionaries to yourselves…in other words, you Africans must now continue, upon this Continent, the building up of the Church”. Pope John Paul II in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Africa, repeated this. He emphasised that inculturation is the “insertion of the Gospel message into cultures” . Regarding areas for inculturation, he continued:
“In practice, and without any prejudice to the traditions proper to either the Latin or Eastern Church, ‘inculturation of the liturgy, provided it does not change the essential elements, should be carried out so that the faithful can better understand and live liturgical celebrations’. The Synod also reaffirmed that, when doctrine is hard to assimilate even after a long period of evangelization, or when its practice poses serious pastoral problems, especially in the sacramental life, fidelity to the Church’s teaching must be maintained. At the same time, people must be treated with justice and true pastoral charity. Bearing this in mind, the Synod expressed the hope that the Episcopal Conferences, in cooperation with Universities and Catholic Institutes, would set up study commissions, especially for matters concerning marriage, the veneration of ancestors, and the spirit world, in order to examine in depth all the cultural aspects of problems from the theological, sacramental, liturgical and canonical points of view” .
Irrespective of the above direction for inculturation, we are yet to fully scratch these areas.
Hence, in the absence of an official inculturation practice, template, or road map, there is the conscious ditching of Christianity in favour of traditional religion and a conscious and arbitrary attempt at religious syncretism, that is, blending Christianity with traditional religion. The danger of this arbitrariness is the lack of control and absence of sound theological and canonical foundations on why we do certain things and on why certain things need to be introduced.
This religion-induced identity crisis now makes it difficult to seek to promote our culture and remain true Catholic Christians. Sadly, the trend is deepening. Hence, the earlier we act as an institution, the better for us all.
Ka Chineke mezie okwu🙏🏾