Sunday, October 19, 2014

"Blessed are the poor":The Synod on the Family Should Listen to the Voices of Catholic Africa

Cardinal emeritus Walter Kasper raised a ruckus a few days ago when he said in an interview that African Catholics should not tell the Vatican's synod on the family what to do and admitted that African Catholics are not being listened to at the synod. Basically, Cardinal Kasper implied, the Africans are just a bunch of dummkopfs when it comes to doctrinal matters.

Cardinal Walter Kasper discounts the voices of the African bishops.
The Cardinal denied his dismissive remarks about African Catholics, which some commentators interpreted as being arrogant and xenophobic. But Edward Pentin, the reporter who interviewed the Cardinal for Zenit, stuck by his story; and the interview was recorded.

What's this about? Some cardinals at the synod on the family want to liberalize Church doctrine on family issues and sexual morality, but the African Catholics are far more conservative than the Europeans and North Americans--especially on the issue of sexuality.  And Cardinal Kasper basically said the synod wasn't listening to the African Catholic point of view.

I am not an expert on African Catholicism, but I have visited East Africa on five occasions over the last decade. I have attended Mass at the cathedrals in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi and a downtown Catholic church in Kampala. And I have shared communion in Catholic churches in the Tanzanian highlands that were nothing more than mud-brick huts.  I will never forget seeing stations of the cross made from construction paper and pinned to a a mud-brick church wall of a little chapel in the Mbeya Diocese near the Zambian border.

I am not worthy to comment on Catholic doctrine, but I have seen the power of Catholicism in one of the most impoverished regions of the earth. In East Africa, the Catholic population is exploding and there is an abundance of priests and nuns. People who survive on little more than corn mush find their strength and joy in the Eucharist, often walking many miles to participate in the Mass.  And they have remained true to their faith even though it is sometimes dangerous to do so, especially in Africa's Muslim areas, where Catholic priests have been attacked.

"Blessed are the poor," Christ reminded us; and the Catholic Church has always been the church of the poor. So surely it is fitting that the Catholic Church is strong and vibrant in Africa while it shrivels away in the most prosperous and cynical districts of postmodern Europe and North America.

God has blessed the poor and exploited Africans with an abundance of faith. Surely we should listen to the African Catholic voice as the Catholic Church gropes its way forward in a hostile world. Cardinal Kasper apparently wants harmony at the synod--harmony on his terms. But Cardinal Kasper may be leading the Church astray. If the African cardinals, who minister to the poorest Catholics on earth, bring disharmony to the synod, then perhaps disharmony is needed.

We know God is listening to the debates at the Vatican's synod on the family. Whose voices will be most pleasing to the ears of God--the voices of the rich, who often want nothing more than an easy life, or the voices of the poor? We know the answer to that question. So let us listen to the voices of the poor.  Let us listen to the voices of African Catholics at the Vatican's synod on the family.

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