, 17 November, 2019 / 8:33 PM
As the Church in Africa continues to be missionary to itself by having clergy and religious men and women crossing diocesan and national ecclesiastical borders to evangelize following the 1969 encouragement of Pope Saint Paul VI to the people of God in Africa, a missionary serving on the continent has cautioned that the tendency of pastoral agents to enjoy a system of administration that obliges the laity to find them in offices rather than mutual interactions seems to hinder effective evangelization.
During the very first Papal visit to Africa in July 1969, Pope Paul VI acknowledged the initiatives of African-born pastoral agents in the evangelization ministry on the continent and stated, “By now, you Africans are missionaries to yourselves.”
By being “Missionaries to yourselves”, the Pope explained, “you Africans must now continue, upon this Continent, the building up of the Church” and that “There must now be associated to and following upon the impulse given to the Faith by the missionary action of foreign countries, an impulse arising from the heart of Africa itself.”
Reflecting on the situation of missionary actions in Africa, religious missionary priest, Fr. Donald Zagore cautioned against the tendency on the part of clergy and religious men and women to avoid reaching out to the laity.
“The bureaucratic style that characterizes more and more the pastoral dynamics of many of our Churches in Africa is slowly killing the prophetic and missionary nature of this Church in Africa, since the mission is not done in the offices, but in the encounter with people,” Fr. Zagore reflected.
“Our pastors, unfortunately in our Churches in Africa find themselves caught in the traps of the pastoral office,” the Ivorian missionary in Togo emphasized and added referencing the clergy who have restricted their missionary actions to office structures, “They become prisoners of the offices, which makes them unable to go out to meet people.”
According to the Society of African Missions (SMA) cleric, the bureaucracy in the Church structure makes the Churches “closed” and pastors “more invisible” thereby denying them opportunities to interact with those who need their Church services.
“Today, it must be said loud and clear, this bureaucratic Church with invisible pastors, we do not want it any more in Africa,” Fr. Zagore stated in a reflection shared with ACI Africa.
In his considered view, time is ripe in Africa “to close all these offices, which have become giant walls that separate and put far away pastors from the faithful, and replace them with tents in the vast courtyards of our parishes to have pastors permanently in touch with the faithful.”
Echoing the words of Pope Paul VI to the people of God in Africa some 50 years ago that “the Church, by her very nature, is always a missionary Church,” Fr. Zagore implored clergy and religious men and women ministering in Africa to be engaged in the Church’s mission by being authentic missionaries close to the people of God.
“We must never forget that the Church is missionary by nature; to undermine mission is to undermine the very nature of the Church.” Fr. Zagore emphasized.
Fr. Zagore’s reflection seems to speak to Pope Francis’ vision of the priesthood, which he expressed in 2013 at St. Peter’s Basilica during the Chrism Mass when he challenged priests to be shepherds who share the smell of the sheep.
“This I ask you,” Pope Francis told the well over 1,600 priests, bishops and cardinals who surrounded him during his first Chrism Mass as Pope on March 28, 2013 and continued, “Be shepherds, with the ‘odour of the sheep’, make it real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men.”
“Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, manager,” the Holy Father explained in his homily on Holy Thursday 2013 and further clarified, “We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, ‘has already received his reward’, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa