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The Second Vatican Council : Half a century of African Catholicism


At the opening of the Second Vatican Council, on 11th October 1962, Christianity was not something new to Africa. However, the historical context in which the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) took place was characterized by the bipolarity that emerged from Second World War and by the processes of the decolonization of African countries. The Church, therefore, found itself faced with the challenges of the new world order, but at the same time with the duty of remaining faithful to her mission of proclaiming the good news of Christ.
With the opening of the Second Vatican Council there developed a great debate in the church on contemporary man and his way of relating to other human beings, to the society in which he was living, and to God. In the context of this big debate, the African, who was already in search of his political autonomy after achieving independence, was also aspiring to a religious assertion which meant distancing himself from a Church that still had missionary and western appearances. Catholics, priests and laity, felt the need to play a more active role in the spreading of the gospel message in their respective societies.
The Second Vatican Council became the starting point for rethinking and redefining evangelization in Africa, opening the way towards a vision of African Christianity within the Catholic Church, and trying to reconcile the Gospel and African culture.
With the Second Vatican Council, the church underwent a deep transformation in order to adapt itself to an evolving world, focusing on notions such as human rights, social justice and solidarity, but also on liturgical renewal, the central role of the word of God, the active participation of the lay faithful, the people of God and the life of the Church.
With regard to the young churches, the true renewal was represented by the Decree Ad Gentes, that exhorted to: "..adapt to the Customs and traditions of their peoples, their wisdom, their arts, their disciplines, everything that could be useful to the spreading of the glory of the creator, to emphasize the grace of our Savior and to live as they should the Christian life”; thus, paving the way for the inculturation of the Gospel in Africa.
At the same time the Church in Africa had as a challenge to assert "its African character” in the catholic Church. This was accomplished harmoniously under the guidance and support of the universal Church.
With the dogmatic Constitution, Lumen Gentium, that reversed the pyramidal structure of the Church to transform it into that of the church the people of God, the Church in Africa strengthened its identity of the church, Family of God.
With the message, Africae Terrarum, addressed to all the peoples of Africa, Pope Paul VI, on his visit to Uganda in 1969, reinforced the dynamism of the African Church. His visit, the first by a Roman pontiff to Africa, may well be considered as an important milestone in the life of the Church on the continent.
On the very day of his arrival in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, he inaugurated the work of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, SECAM, and gave a memorable speech to the African bishops, in which he stated: "Now, you Africans are missionaries to yourselves.”
In 1994 the convening of the first Synod of Bishops for Africa by Pope John Paul II developed and reinforced the themes of inculturation and the church, Family of God, which had already emerged from the second Vatican council. But it was mainly through the post-synodal exhortation Ecclesia in Africa, that the African Church was called to promote a true brotherhood in Jesus Christ.
The Calling by Benedict XVI of the Second Synod of Bishops of Africa in 2009 and the publication of the Post-Synodal exhortation, Africae Munus, marked the achievement of a certain maturity on the part of the Church on the continent. In fact, after the assertion of its Africanness in the Catholicism of the Church, it had to invest its energy in solving the problems in society which counteracted the Gospel message in the fields of justice, peace and reconciliation.

In conclusion, we can say that one of the visible fruits of the Second Vatican Council in Africa was this growth of dynamism and vitality of the local Churches on the continent, so much so that Pope Benedict XVI called them (despite the many problems linked to reconciliation, justice and peace), "the spiritual lung for a humanity that appears in a crisis of faith and hope."
At this time, when the whole world has its eyes focused on Rome awaiting the election the new successor of Peter, the maturity of the Church in Africa is felt and makes it known that it has a lot to offer in comparison with the challenges, old and new, which the Church has to face, especially during this year dedicated to the Faith and in the framework of the New Evangelization.

Marie Jose Muando Buabualo
French Africa Service of Vatican Radio.