Monday, October 4, 2021
Readers of a newly launched book are expected to gain deeper insight into the future of African Theology through “a baraza”, one of the editors of the book that is a tribute to an African scholar said at the book launch. [Picture: A poster of the book titled “African Theology in 21st Century: A Call to Baraza”. Credit: Pauline Publications Africa]
“African Theology in 21st Century: A Call to Baraza” is a 448-page edited book with contributions from more than 15 authors calling for a coming together in “a baraza”. “The articles in this book explore the diverse trajectories, debates and discussions on African Theology, with a focus on methodology, theological reflection on life issues of concern, the place of the Bible in the African society, and spirituality in the African Church,” Fr. Elias Omondi Opongo said during the launch. The new book, Fr. Opongo said, “investigates the role of the Church in contemporary society, pastoral challenges, and propositions on how the Church could respond to them.”
“The book is therefore an African Theology reader, introducing both Africans and international scholars to the diverse perspectives of African theology,” the Jesuit Priest said during the September 29 virtual event that was livestreamed on Facebook from the Nairobi-based Jesuits’ Hekima University College. The new edited book is a tribute to Fr. Prof. Laurenti Magesa “who has immensely contributed to development of African Theology” for over four decades, the editors of the 15-chapter book have indicated on the book cover.
“African Theology in the 21st Century calls for a baraza, a Swahili word for a gathering meant to address important issues facing the society,” Fr. Opongo said during the launch, adding, “This baraza convocation raises a number of issues through the voices of African theologians who have ‘gathered’ to pay tribute to Prof. Laurenti Magesa.”
By so doing, the Kenyan-born Jesuit Priest says in reference to Fr. Magesa, “Theologians would like to tell him that they have heard what he has been saying in his theological work.”
“African theology within the Church Family of God unfolds as a baraza, a constant quest to converse, analyze, question, explore and articulate everyday concerns,” Fr. Opongo said. He explained, “The choice of this Swahili word to designate the theological task in Africa should be understood as an invitation to do theology the way our communities deal with important issues.”
“The Church, in her commitment to evangelization, appreciates and encourages the charism of theologians and their scholarly efforts to advance dialogue with the world of cultures and sciences,” Fr. Opongo said, making reference to Pope Francis’ call to theological dialogue in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. He added, “It is this spirit of consistent dialogue that the baraza approach to theology is calling for. Thus, baraza becomes not only a place or a public meeting, but more a methodological concept grounded on life-informed theology.”
In a baraza, the Jesuit Priest noted, “all voices count; all must be listened to. All the issues should be addressed with the aim of fostering greater harmony that brings life - abundant life – to each and everyone in the community.”
“African Theology in the 21st Century, as we dream of it, should help center on the ‘Word’: the human word within the bosom of the divine Word. Ours is an oral/aural society,” Fr. Opongo further said. He went on to emphasize the value of “baraza” in Africa saying, “Theology in Africa should not depart from that fundamental value of ‘speaking’ and ‘listening’, always reminding ourselves that the ‘I’ should never stand-alone (ubuntu), and that our lives and humanity are connected.”
“The ethos of that theology would then integrate the values promoted by our traditional baraza, where the community gathers to address and solve issues affecting individuals or groups, but with impact on the larger community,” the Jesuit Priest said. As such, he said “individual or group issues become communitarian issues. In other words, the theological baraza topples the top-down approach to doing theology and roots itself in a much more grounded and relevant approach to articulating, understanding and teaching theology.”
Edited by Fr. Opongo and Fr. Paul Béré, the book targets all Christians and scholars with a deep interest in African theology. In the various chapters, “authors articulate complex issues, some of which they may not have immediate comprehensive answers to, but yet find it necessary to make them part of the agenda for the baraza,” Fr. Opongo said during the September 29 event.
Also speaking during the event, Fr. Magesa said, “The task of African theology is how to change these aberrations against African humanity and to pledge the authentic message of the preaching gospel on the continent,”
“All the contributions in the book are really showing us how to do African theology in the 21st Century,” the Tanzanian-born Professor further said of the edited book that was published by the Nairobi-based Pauline Publications Africa. On her part, Sr. Olga Massango of Paulines Publications Africa said, “Publishing this book underlines the irreplaceable role of African intellectuals and gifted theologians in the development of new cultural identity and language for mission, as well as to form an African Christian Culture.”
Addressing herself to those who contributed to the edited book, the member of the Daughters of St. Paul (FSP) said, “You have counteracted the saying: ‘When an elder die in Africa, a library is buried!’ through your shared wisdom, you are opinion leaders.”
Sr. Massango continued, “Let the Gospel always find a place in the heart of intellectuals; the Gospel is something divine: after all, it speaks to the minds of everyone; it is able to satisfy all demands [giving an answer] to the peoples of every age. If you win over intellectuals, you are fishing not with a fish-hook, but with a net.”
The Mozambican-born Sister congratulated Fr. Magesa “for honoring the church in Africa” following his many years of scholarship on African Theology. “We also thank Hekima University College and Fr. Elias Omondi, for the beautiful partnership in the field of publishing apostolate and for the effort to document the Theological legacy of Professor Laurent Magesa,” the Nairobi-based FSP member added.