While African Catholics have been viewed as the future of the church by their sheer numbers, there are also signs that the African church is in a position to become a moral voice on its continent as well as in global Catholicism, writes John L. Allen on the Catholic website Crux (March 24). Allen notes that the African bishops announced the appointment of a liaison to the African Union to promote development on the continent.
Last month, heads of the church’s national peace and justice commissions in Africa announced the creation of a “Continental Reconciliation Committee” to address the causes of conflict and also to dispatch skilled mediators when new conflicts break out. African Catholic activists are also planning to launch an “African Church Network” to deal with climate change and rain forest despoliation. Combined, these initiatives signal that Africans “want to replicate on their continent the role the Vatican plays on the global stage as a voice of conscience,” Allen writes. Beyond Africa, throughout the rest of global Catholicism, African church leaders are seeking to extend their influence.
In last fall’s Synod of Bishops on the Family, African bishops played a starring role in debates over outreach to gays and lesbians and the controversy over admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to communion. “There’s every reason to believe that Africans intend to be at the heart of things again this fall for the second synod. While the church in Africa is not wealthy, it is rich in human resources and can supply priests around the world, with bishops controlling where each priest is sent. Allen writes that “one might actually argue that Africans today are the new Germans, in that German Catholics for many years have been able to influence which pastoral projects in the developing world flourish and which don’t through their sizeable overseas assistance funds…”
Meanwhile, an analysis in the National Catholic Reporter (March 13) argues that the pope’s home country of Argentina and much of Latin America is the “new source church for global Catholicism.” Just as France and Germany were the source for Vatican II, “Latin America is now the wellspring of a new era of church reform,” writes Austen Ivereigh. The pope’s Catholicism comes from outside of the conservative-liberal framework, espousing an approach characterized as “missionary, evangelizing, pastoral and poor.” Implementing such a program was delayed because of the “influence of the political left and then neoliberalism” on theology. Pope Francis’ church agenda is influenced by an Argentine “theology of the people” that is geared to mercy and evangelization rather than maintaining institutional structures.
(Crux, http://www.cruxnow.com; National Catholic Reporter, http://www.ncronline.org)