Monday, February 25, 2013

An African Pope? Reflections on the Ugandan Martyrs and 80 proof African Catholicism

Last Sunday's New York Times contained an article on the Roman Catholic Church in Africa.  "Rapid Growth Leads to Talk of an African Cardinal as the new Pope," the headline read, and the article speculated that an African cardinal might become the next Pope.

An African Pope would no doubt suit the New York Times.  The Times is all about the Postmodern narrative, with its obsession on race, gender, and sexual orientation.   In the minds of the Times writers, a black African Pope might seem to be a rebuke to traditional Catholicism--long dominated by white European men.  In fact, Times op ed writers have relentlessly criticized the Catholic Church's doctrines on family, birth control, and a celibate and all-male priesthood, doctrines which they no doubt associate with the Church's elderly, white male leadership.  Perhaps an African Pope would shake things up.

But  if postmodernists believe an African Pope would advance the postmodern agenda, they should think again.  Speaking as one who has spent some time among the Catholics of East Africa, I can say with absolute confidence that the Africans are very serious Catholics.

Photo credit:
Nothing illustrates this truth more than the Ugandan martyrs, young Catholics who were murdered during the years 1885-1887 by King  Mwanga of the kingdom of Buganda (now part of Uganda). Almost all these martyrs were young African men who were recent converts to Catholicism.  When King Mwanga ordered them to renounce their faith, these young men refused. More than 20 died horrible deaths. Some were beheaded, at least one was castrated, and several were burned alive.

Today, the Ugandan Martyrs are honored all over Africa--not just in Uganda, but in Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, and every African country with a significant Catholic community.   To this day, the faith of the Uganda Martyrs is the faith of African Catholicism, which is a simple, courageous, and confident faith.

Of course, it is the poverty of African Catholics that makes their faith so impressive.  These poor people are the people whom Christ sought out in the present day, and these are the people who responded to His call. I have seen the little mud huts that are the Catholic churches of the Tanzanian highlands, with stations of the cross that are nothing more than paper illustrations. Tanzanian Catholics will walk many miles to receive the Eucharist, which sustains them in ways affluent American Catholics may not be able to understand. 

Rev. Thomas Reese:
What if African Catholics
  get television sets?
Rev. Thomas Reese, an American Catholic priest quoted in the Times, seemed to downplay the power of the great turn toward Catholicism in Africa--where people are converting at the rate of 1 million people a year.

"When people say Africa is the future, I say, 'Oh, isn't it the past?" said Rev. Reese, who is a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. "I see it as a repeat of the past, what happened in Europe centuries ago. What's going to happen in Africa when everybody gets a television set, when modernity comes?"

Well, Rev. Reese, that's something for you and the other eggheads at the Woodstock Theological Center to worry about--the day when every African Catholic has a television set and becomes less religious.

In any event, as Christ Himself reminded us, the poor will always be with us.As long as there are poor people in the world, there will be people with the openness of heart to respond to the Catholic faith.

Of course, it was probably no accident that  Rev. Reese was the priest sought out by the New York  Times for comment in its article about African Catholicism.  Rev. Reese ran into conflict with  the Vatican several years ago while editor of America, a Catholic magazine, because the magazine's editorial policy sometimes ran afoul of Catholic doctrine.   Exactly the kind of guy the Times wants to hear from.

For my part, I would welcome a Pope from Africa, particularly a Pope who comes from an African country that is experiencing persecution.  Catholics in those countries take their faith straight and undiluted. 

Catholics would probably see some changes if they got an African Pope, although perhaps not the changes the New York Times might envision.  For one thing,  A Pope from Africa might censor a Catholic who repeatedly undermines Catholic doctrine in a public forum.  And that, in my opinion, would not be a bad thing.


Adam Nossiter. "Catholic Church Fills a Void in Africa: Rapid Growth Leads to Talk of an African Cardinal as the New Pope.  New York Times, February 24, 2013, p. 6.

1 comment:

  1. Rev. Thomas Reese probably knew that the first three popes were African. St. Victor, Pope Militiades and Pope Gelasius WERE ALL AFRICAN. and St. Benedict was the African Pope of the First Nicaean Council