ACI Africa: So, what impact does this award have on you as an African theologian?
Fr. Béré: The Award strengthens my self-esteem because as an African in some spheres we are “voiceless,” even when we speak. It confirms me on the way I have traveled so far in my research. You know, when one speaks of “Rhetorical Criticism” as a new way of approaching the biblical text, it refers to one single article that came out James Muilenburg 1969 speech. He urged the scholarly guild to go beyond form criticism. His voice was heard. How many African Bible scholars spoke on alternative ways of reading the Bible, but were not heard? The Award becomes the voice of the voiceless.
ACI Africa: This is the 9th award of Ratzinger price since 2011. You are going to be the first African to receive it. What might have previously hindered Africans from receiving it?
Fr. Béré: I really do not know. I think any other African theologian could have been picked. Irrespective of whom they picked, I guess we have no visibility on the world stage for various reasons. One of the reasons why I was surprised by this award is precisely that. I did not expect that my own research would attract the attention of the world outside Africa.
We still need a better exposure of our contributions. Here we run into a dilemma: if we are interested in talking to our own local audience, the world might not be interested in us; if we are interested in being recognized by the world outside, we might not be relevant to our communities.
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The move of the Ratzinger Foundation tells another story, namely that the Church serves the interests of all the communities. My own consolation comes from the messages I received from other African theologians, such as Professor Benezet Bujo, who expressed their joy for the recognition of African theology, and for having been honored by the Foundation through me. This is where one experiences our Ubuntu life philosophy.
ACI Africa: What advice would you give African scholars in your field following your accomplishments?
Fr. Béré: Well, I really do not have a piece of advice to give. I think we have to continue doing what we have been doing. As I said, I focused on serving the Church both local, regional, and global through my intellectual work. I would not advise any theologian to be looking for awards, but to genuinely work for the good of the faithful, for the communities. It should come as an unexpected gift of God to encourage us in our endeavour.
ACI Africa: Any other information in reference to this award?
Fr. Béré: Professor Joseph Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI epitomizes for us, African theologians, the kind of intellectual apostolate we should be dedicated to. He never ceased to reflect on various issues that are relevant to the life and mission of the Church. Africa is deeply in need of more intellectual light on its life and mission. May this Award be a stimulus for all of us, my colleagues and myself, and for all those who would like to engage in this type of apostolate in Africa.