Pan-African Congress on Theology Proposes New Ways of Doing Theology in Africa

Participants in the Pan-African Catholic Congress on Theology, Society and Pastoral Life, Enugu Nigeria, from December 5-8, 2019
Credit: Fr. Benjamin Achi

Participants in the four-day  Pan-African Congress on Theology that sought to reflect on the faith of the people of God in Africa, evaluate the variety of pastoral and theological approaches and develop, through a joint forum, best practices for evangelization have proposed new ways of doing theology on the African continent, a region of the world continues to record the highest growth rate of Catholicism globally.

“We propose a dialogical approach to doing theology in Africa. This way of doing theology demands that we become aware of ourselves as a Church only through our immersion in the "smell of the sheep," reads part of a statement issued at the end of the four-day congress availed to ACI Africa.

“Dialogical approach includes doing theology through the experiences of women, and other marginalised groups; inculturation; and being in dialogue with other religions present in Africa, social sciences, and other disciplines,” the participants said in their final consensus document.

“Dialogical approach demands reading, understanding, interpreting, and responding to the signs of the times,” the 80 delegates from Africa and other continents stated and declared their commitment “to be with God's people in their places of fear and pain, joy and hope.”

While acknowledging that often African theologies “have been far removed from our contexts” thus being unable to contribute to deepening of faith and transformation of society, the participants collectively proposed a “new way of pastoral praxis in Africa,” which “entails a vision of shared leadership, participatory ministries, pastoral solidarity, and mutual sharing in each other's talents and gifts beyond the present clerical, hierarchical, and patriarchal structures and systems.”

“We propose a dialogical praxis between Church and Society,” the participants proposed in the three-page document and explained the way of way of implementing this proposal saying, “We must develop among other things, greater historical consciousness and deepen our understanding of the contemporary cultural, religious, socio-political, and economic realities of our people as well as deepening our understanding of the traditions of our Church.”

“It is in these traditions we see the traces of divine footprints. We are committed to a transformative theological praxis of encounter, humility, and hope that shatters the boundaries of class, race, gender, nationality, creeds, and all exclusionary categories,” the delegates who met at Bigard Memorial Seminary in Enugu, Nigeria expressed in their collective statement.

They warned that despite Africa recording the highest growth rate in Catholicism globally, if there is no sensitivity to the needs of the people of God who are suffering as “things continue to fall apart in the quality of life in Africa,” then there will be no reason to celebrate the place of Africa in the global Catholicism.

“Indeed, unless our theologies, institutional structures, and pastoral practices translate into tools of liberation and the flourishing of life for Africans, the growth of the Church will only be in number only,” the delegates to the December 5-8 Congress said and explained, “The kingdom of God does not grow simply in number. Rather, it grows in love, faith, and hope. This growth transforms communities, cultures and traditions.”

While acknowledging that African theology has often been detached from the continent’s context, the delegates underscored the need for the inclusion of all voices in the formulation, presentation, and application of African theology going forward.

“Embracing the principle of subsidiarity, the practice of theology demands a shared authority with those who have experience of the issues being discussed,” they said and illustrated, “Neither can there be a discussion on the role of women in the Church without their presence at the table nor can we speak for the poor who themselves have the lived experiences of poverty and violence.”

“Subsidiarity equally applies to the diversity of human experiences today, particularly the forgotten and those at the margins whose lives have been framed by narratives of exclusion - sexual minorities, persons with disabilities, divorced and remarried, migrants, and refugees,” the delegates documented.

Uniting themselves with the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) on their golden jubilee, the delegates committed themselves to working with Church leaders on the continent in “the search for concrete and transformative proposals for the renewal and reform of the Churches and their institutions, following the teaching of Vatican II.”

In accordance with the 1959 Second Congress of Black Writers and Artists held in Rome and SECAM’s message in its 1974 Synodal Response, the Congress delegates accepted that the “Church needs a diversity of theologies and pastoral approaches to meet the changing and challenging contexts of faith and life in Africa and other parts of the world.”

“We, therefore, affirm at this Congress unfailing desire to accompany the Church-Family of God in Africa by seeking together the ways and means through which African theology, pastoral plans and projects in our dioceses, parishes, religious communities, Catholic social agencies and all channels of evangelization in the continent,” the delegates said referencing the theme that guided the yearlong Golden Jubilee of SECAM that concluded July 2019.

“We believe the pursuit of this desire could lead our people and society in Africa to a new level of hope,” the delegates added.  

Convened under the theme, “What must we do to perform the works of God,” the delegates also resolved to form a Pan-African Catholic Theology and Pastoral Network that will meet biennially.


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
[email protected]