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Share “richness of our theology”: African Award-winning Priest at Inaugural Lecture

Fr. Paul Béré, delivering the inaugural lecture of the Sarpong Theological Lecture (STL) organized by the Arrupe Jesuit Institute (AJI) on 1 October 2021. Credit: Courtesy Photo

Catholics in Africa and beyond need to share the richness of African theology for a better understanding of this type of Christian theology, an African award-winning Priest has said. 

Speaking at the Sarpong Theological Lecture (STL) organized by the Arrupe Jesuit Institute (AJI), a Ghana-based social justice centre of the Jesuit North-West Africa Province, Fr. Paul Béré said, “Africa needs scholars who understand Christian theology and African culture well enough to be able to give us a completely African theology.”

“I believe that because we are Catholics, we should be ready to share within the Catholic community and beyond the richness of our theology,” Fr. Béré, the recipient of the 2019 Ratzinger Prize said during the Friday, October 1 virtual event livestreamed from St. Louis College of Education in Ghana’s Kumasi Archdiocese.

If the richness of African theology is not shared among Catholics in Africa, the Burkinabe Jesuit Priest cautioned, “something will be lacking in what we call the Catholic teaching.”

“So yes, our theology should join the other voices because Catholicity is a Symphony,” the first ever African to win the Ratzinger Prize, which rewards the work of theologians and specialists from related disciplines, further said.

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STL is a biennial forum that honors the intellectual legacy of the Catholic Archbishop emeritus of Ghana’s Kumasi Archdiocese, Peter Kwasi Sarpong.

The October 1 virtual event was organized under the theme, “Exploring issues and trends in African Christianity with boldness, originality, depth, understanding and acuity.”

In his inaugural lecture, Fr. Béré expressed “deep gratitude” to Archbishop Sarpong for “his theological contribution to the growth of African theology, to his love for us, the people of God rooted in this African soil.”

Making reference to the Archbishop’s theological reflections in his book, “Peoples differ: An approach to inculturation in Evangelization,” Fr. Béré posed, “If indeed, people differ, what are we Catholics making of that difference? Are we allowing it to inform our way of thinking, feeling, and acting, or are we simply ignoring it, pretending that it doesn't matter?”

The Rome-based Jesuit Priest noted that the enterprise of “inculturation in evangelization is not an option; it is allowing the gospel to take root in our African culture, in each human culture.”

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“While the policy of Africanization of Christianity is relentlessly pursued as the only path leading to the universalism, which authentic Christianity claims to be, it must be admitted that an Africanization, which does not go beyond the emotional expression of certain aspirations, or of certain transitory needs will not have a lasting effectiveness,” Fr. Béré said.

“Christianity as a universal reality should find a visible form in a concrete human reality,” he further said, and added, “Each people in the process of joining the community of the disciples of Jesus should become fully themselves, not assimilated to any other people, not alienated; that's the condition for Christianity to be authentically; what it claims to be and for that to happen, people must know themselves in depth.”

Inculturation in Africa, that is, the adaptation of Christian teachings and practices to African cultures, the Jesuit Priest said, “cannot go against the stream of Catholic teaching.”

“Particular traditions, together with the peculiar patrimony of each family of nations illumined by the light of the gospel, can then be taken up into Catholic unity. The younger, particular churches, adorned with their own traditions, will have their own place in the ecclesiastical Communion,” Fr. Béré further said, making reference to Vatican II.

Reflecting on Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Fr. Béré said the document “is the theology of the Latin American Church to the whole Church.”

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“You can't understand Evangelii Gaudium if you don't understand the inculturation process of Latin America for more than half a century,” he added.

The Jesuit scholar expressed the hope that “one day African theologians will be strong enough to propose new ideas to the Bishops because Dei Verbum says that theologians have to work toward a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of the sacred Scripture and sacred theology so that through preparatory study, the judgment of the Church may mature.”

 “So our task is to help the judgments of the Church mature,” Fr. Béré said, calling for a culture of listening to the Word of God for a better interpretation and application of the message within African cultures.

“We should learn to listen to the Word of God and from there know how to listen to each other,” the award-winning Catholic Priest said, and underscored, “If we can't listen to the word of God, we won't be able to listen to each other.”