Bishop Albert Kanene OBIEFUNA 
(Bishop of Awka, Nigeria)

The Instrumentum Laboris in paragraph 25 thus summarises the many references to the African Family in these words: "it is felt that Africans can be more easily enabled to experience and to live the mystery of the Church as communion by utilising to good advantage the African understanding of the family, especially as regards the values of family unity and solidarity.

What the Instrumentum Laboris says is quite in order but must not be over estimated. The truth remains that the typical African lives the family life and also his Christian life in the context of his or her tribal life. Beyond his or her tribe and ethnic group the same values rarely work. They are usually caught up in the clan and tribal interests.

Similarly, the Church, whether we look at it from the inter-diocesan, diocesan, parish or station level is seen and valued from the point of view of its relationship to and benefit to the clan, tribe, town or village. Where the Church is built, where the parish centre is cited, where the Bishop comes from, where he lives, are all more important than what they are and stand for.

Even during political elections what counts is not whether you are a Catholic or not but to what clan, tribe or town does the candidate seeking election belongs. The nearer is his or her home to the African the more qualified he or she is for election.

The Church is indeed a family. Its boundaries extend beyond the clan and the tribe. The typical African even if he or she be a Catholic does not consider that. Indeed the African Christian with his exaggerated ethnicism find it difficult to accept the truth that the man or woman in India who is a Christian is much more a brother or sister than the non Christian brother or sister in the natural family (Gal. 5,10).

This mentality is so pervading that the saying goes among the Africans that when it comes to the crunch, it is not the Christian concept of the Church as a family which prevails but rather the adage that "blood is thicker than water". And by water here one can presumably include the waters of baptism through which one is born into the family of the Church. Blood relationship is more important even for the African who has become a Christian.

The Church of God in Africa or elsewhere is being asked to grow to see herself as a family. The Church can do so if we intensify our catechesis on the meaning of the Church. The Scripture, the teaching of the Fathers and the documents and Post Conciliar documents of the second Vatican Council contain a wealth of material for such a Catechesis. We only need to launch out in the depths of them.

The African Christians expect from this Synod and the Post Synodal Exhortation a more profound presentation of the truth that the Church is a family. But doctrine is not all the African Christian wants. The African Christian wants the life witness of the evangelisers. The African Christian wants to feel at home with the evangelisers.

Once the ideals of the Church as family given to us in Acts 2,42-47 becomes a reality in Africa, the Lord will surely day by day add to our Christian communities those destined to be saved, and Africa in this way will be eventually totally evangelised.

The technique of evangelisation is clear. The Lord gave it to us. It is love. What the African wants is presence, presence, for presence brings intimacy and intimacy is love. This is the technique that Pope John Paul II uses. This technique has worked and is working for him. Let us use it.

Original text: English



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