Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, delivered the Martin Royakers Lecture on September 26 at the Regis College chapel in Toronto. While in Canada, he gave an exclusive interview to The Catholic Register.
Describing the growth of the Catholic Church in Africa, Turkson noted that the old evangelization worked. But, this doesn’t mean that Africa does not need a new evangelization.
The Catholic Church in Africa was experiencing great growth around the time of the Second Vatican Council, a time when many African countries were also gaining independence from colonialism. “The educated elite, the educated class that emerged in the emerging states, mostly was educated in mission schools,” explained Turkson. Sadly, this also included corrupt politicians like President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. “That has caused several Church leaders in Africa to sit back and think, ‘What did we do wrong?’ ”
Today, the Catholic Church in Africa is also competing with the more personal, emotive form of faith found in Pentecostal communities.
Cardinal Turkson believes that teaching the catechism and baptizing people is not enough.
What’s missing in the merely intellectual and notional religion of Africa’s leaders and the purely personal religion of the poor is the social doctrine of the Church, Turkson said.
“But their social consciousness, what we now call the social doctrine of the Church, wasn’t taught much. That was missing. People became Christians but the transition — the fact they were Christian — did not impact much on their social lives. That is something we are now discovering.”
He proposes some simple solutions,
“We need to find a way of bringing it down to basically these needs — to people’s life situations,” he said. “All of that serves as vehicles of God’s grace.”
He believes Catholic parish life has to afford people more opportunities to bear witness and testify to their faith.
“The world is now looking for witnesses,” he said. “We don’t make it alive. We don’t make it come alive in such a way that it encourages them, motivates them, touches their lives in faith. It would be great if we fashioned a little space in our worship for moments like that.”