A bit of a background of Pope Francis. He was born in Latin America (developing continent), Buenos Aires, Argentina. Through his life he has been a champion of humility and actively involved in the concern for the poor. His humility as a way of life has stood out for him. Notably, his choice to live in a guesthouse instead of the Apostolic Palace used by his predecessors.
His refusal to wear heavily ornamented vestments and traditional papal mozzetta cape upon his election, as well as choice of silver over gold for his Piscatory ring and the list goes on. There is a lot of privileges that comes with the position of being a Pope that he has refused to partake and that is why I think we should listen and act when he addresses the subject of the poor.
His predecessor was Pope Benedict XVI previously known as Cardinal Ratzinger, a Bavarian and the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. He found strong theological oppositions coming from Latin America, homeland to Pope Francis. One them was an interesting controversy that took place between Cardinal Ratzinger, the guardian of faith and Leornado Boff.
Boff had criticized the Catholic Church on the issue of hierarchy and power. He argued that Jesus started by establishing a community of disciples whom were all poor. Drawing from that understanding he criticized the hierarchical nature of the Catholic Church by saying that hierarchy did not come first before Church as purported, but was a consequence.
This he argued should form the basis of what the church should be like today, a continuity of this community created by Christ while He was still on earth. According to him leaders do not create communities but in fact they should be part of it. (Cox 1989, 144) That did not go well with Ratzinger who accused him of “ecclesiological relativism” and gave him total condemnation from Rome.
It would appear to me that Pope Francis holds the same view with Leornado Boff of breaking down the strong hierarchical powers and allowing the church to be involved in the daily struggles of its people.
Like Ratzinger, Pope Francis would also appear to reject Boff’s Marxist language of “hegemony” in his theology. However, they both agree with 1965 Vatican II view towards progressive politics of
“Continuing dialogue between the Church and the world” and its total rejection of “economic equality and disparity between the rich and the poor nations.”
This is what Pope seem to have been telling the people and the church of Kenya. Please get involved with the issues of the poor among you, stop land grabbing, exploitations, reject corruption, help the weak in your midst, create safe areas for the vulnerable among you and the list goes on.
The conversation that need to take place between theology and the issues affecting Africa today are well encapsulated by Jean-Marc Ela.
He argues that the challenge of Christianity in Africa has remained enormous. With the history of slavery and colonialism Africa fought them off to gain her independence. With political freedom came along an ‘ardent quest’ to contextualise Christianity in a way that expresses the context. After Vatican II there has been evidence of ‘indegenity’ in areas of ‘theology, catechetics, liturgy, and religious life.’ (Ela, 1994, p136) However, this process has not been satisfactory, as the process of contextualisation has to go further than that to include Africa realities.
He points out that the church has presently failed in addressing various issues affecting the continent today a process he calls “obligatory”. (Ela, 1994, p136) Using the Levite, a Christian principle in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-32) he shows the church’s failure to participate in the pain and suffering of her people. He states, ‘we cannot become the inheritors of administrators of a Christianity that simply continues on its way, passing the victim lying in the ditch.’ (Ela, 1994, p137) He challenges the church to re-evaluate four areas which he finds lacking:
a) An active role by African Church is addressing the problem of poverty.
He argues that, the church cannot afford to remain silent, passive and indifferent in the issues concerning poverty in Africa. He condemns the church for her disconnect with her constituents who continue to wallow in a state of desperation. (Ela, 1994, p137)
In spite of her independence from European colonial powers, the mention of the word Africa elicits a myriad of problems hunger, extreme poverty, civil wars, poor leadership, droughts HIV and Aids just to mention a few. Therefore, the urgent call for the church to fight ‘against forces that assault peoples’ dignity’ (Ela, 1994, p138) is both timely and relevant. This is a call for a church that is concerned with the changing societies by restoring justice and human dignity to people who are oppressed.
Africa theology Ela (1994, p140) argues, must include liberation as well. It must go beyond the issue of culture into addressing ‘mechanisms and structures of oppression at work.’ Refusal to heed this call is a ‘refusal based on a new perception of the requirement of the Gospel.’ Africans, he argues, must deal with the problem of oppression and injustices if the faith is to be incarnate in the continent. (Ela, 1994, p141)
b) A call toward an Evangelisation of liberation
Ela (1994,p141) paints a picture where Africa is in a situation worse than during the independence and the church remains disengaged in African’s struggle against exploitation. He calls for ‘renunciation of evangelization of Africa in dependency.’
He attacks viciously the west church slogan of “compassion for the Negroes” (Ela, 1994, p141) which he argues has not been helpful in solving the plight of Africans. This means therefore that our theology, which should be based on the Bible, must identify with the poor, those living on the margins as well as the victims of evil machinations.
Africans are known to be religious. This sets them on a constant search for a religion that touches every aspect of their lives. The absence of a dichotomy between the secular and religious should be an eye-opener to the church.
Any presentation of a Christianity that is devoid of these basic truths will not appeal to them. We must therefore behave the gospel; bear the gospel in a holistic sense to every area of life to touch politics, education, social life and not just preaching. Jesus must be allowed to penetrate and be Lord. Ela (1994,142)
c) Bible and Africa.
Ela (1994, p144) calls for a ‘new articulation of the Bible with the African situation,’ whose when given ‘an African reading, is capable of liberating, of giving a message of life that has not always been understood in the churches.’ (Ela, 1994, p145) This means therefore that the Bible should offer the central point in which our theological reflection finds locus.
He makes the point that ‘God is not neutral’ when we read His word in relation to the poor. If that be the case, he ask ‘how can we leave a people in a state of poverty and marginalization?’(Ela, 1994, p145)
It is in searching for the ‘dangerous, subversive memory’ of Jesus Christ that we ‘discover the prophetic character of the poor and other marginalized groups.’ (Ela, 1994, p146)Like Jesus the Servant we must “battle for the liberation of the human being and the coming of the Reing of God.” (Ela, 1994, p146) This servant Christ must be seen not only the ‘Lord of Worship’ but ‘Lord of the world in all dimensions’ as well. (Ela, 1994, p147)
The Church must take the leading role in offering a Eucharist which “calls for justice and transformation of the current structures of our societies.” (Ela, 1994, p148)
d) Toward a Credible Christianity
The call of genuine Christianity cannot be ignored by the writer: a kind of Christianity that takes into account the poverty and exploitation prevailing on the continent of Africa. (Ela, 1994, p150) As an African Christian I resonate with this call.
The initial church of Africa was powerful as it routed and chased away darkness and paganism but re-emergence of fetishism and worldliness, which set the agenda of some of the churches today, is worrying. The first Christians were defiant in their lifestyles, had values that made them stand against the evil cultures and traditions of the day and whose point of reference was the Bible.
This is a challenge to African Christianity, which calls us to return to the source and be reconciled with God. We must stand “in solidarity with these men and women around us who have been left “half-dead,” Ela, 1994, p151) get ourselves ‘dirty hands’ if our faith is to be of any relevance. (Ela, 1994, p152)
Though heavily influenced by Liberation Theology, which he uses to call for a rejection of theology constructed only on academic and abstract terms, I agree with Ela that our Christianity ought to engage with our communities. We must daily strive to bring transformation that frees people from the snares of afflictions and oppression.
Pope was spot on