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Encounters between Catholics and Protestants in Africa

The July 2017 conference will bring together over twenty scholars from various places and academic fields—history, theology, art, etc—all reflecting on various encounters between Catholics and Protestants in Africa and on the ecumenical import of those encounters. Below are abstracts of some of the papers that will be presented.

Crossing Boundaries: Encounters Between Pentecostals and Catholics in Kangemi, Nairobi, From 1985 To 2016

Laurenti Magesa
(Hekima College, Nairobi)

Through empirical inquiry, this paper proposes to study the religious-spiritual and institutional-structural consequences resulting from the encounters between Catholics and Pentecostals in the Kangemi area of Nairobi from 1985 (when St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church was established there) up to the present. Situated on the outskirts of Nairobi City, Kangemi is a relatively poor area, a slum, whose inhabitants are estimated to be between 100,000 and 600,000. Though predominantly of the Luhya ethnic group, Kangemi's population is a rich mixture of ethnic and religious communities from all parts of Kenya, making it an ideal locus to study not only inter-ethnic and inter-cultural, but also inter-religious and ecumenical relations, which is the focus of this paper. The questions which will concern us here include: What, if any, changes have occurred in the doctrine or teaching of the two religious communities under review and also in the actual expression of their religious beliefs as a result of their encounters during the last three decades? Are there any visible modifications of spiritual and social behaviors concerning relations among individual members of these communities and between the institutional communities themselves? How has each community influenced the other in terms of worship styles (a) on the official level, and (b) in popular attitudes, and why? Based on the analysis of responses received in the research, the paper will end by addressing the question whether there are lessons to be learned for the future of ecumenism in Africa from this case study.

Pentecostalism as a Locus of Encounters between Christians in Africa

Jacques M. Ngimbous, SJ.
(Centre Sèvres, Paris)

At the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in 1517, nobody could have imagined that one day Catholics and Protestants would be collaborating. They fought one another and at times waged bloody wars. But now, those who once were enemies are discovering that they can learn a lot  about faith in Jesus if they take the time to listen to each other. Catholics and Protestants today agree that what they have in common is stronger than what divides them.  And Pentecostalism has immensely contributed to building among Christians that sense of shared belonging in Christ in spite of their differences. In Africa, and indeed all over the world, there are now fascinating occasions of encounter between people coming from various Christian denominations. This paper begins with a short account of the circumstances that led to the birth of Pentecostalism. It then outlines how Pentecostalism extended to more traditional Christian churches, including the Catholic Church, giving rise to what is known there as the Charismatic Renewal. The paper will show that charismatic groups in the Catholic Church are one of the remarkable outcomes of sharing and dialoguing between Catholics and Protestants. The second major section of the paper will discuss the different levels at which encounters took place in the context of Pentecostalism. The theological level is certainly the most important. Both Catholics and Protestants have come to reflect more on the place of the Holy Spirit and of the gifts of the Spirit in the life of Christians. At the practical level, Pentecostal intuitions have generated healing ministries and creative ways of preaching the Word of God in the Catholic Church. Moreover, within Christian life of prayer, there are new forms of worship arising from the Pentecostal influence, which have radically transformed the relation that many Christians now have with prayer, whether Catholics or Protestants.

“Catholic-Protestant Encounters in Africa through the Eyes of Church Music”

William O. Obaga
(The University of Applied Sciences for Intercultural Theology Hermannsburg—FIH)

This paper discusses, through the lens of church music, the nature of interactions between Roman Catholic and Protestant churches in Africa since the advent of the colonial missions of the 19th century. 19th century Catholicism diffused the Vatican I form of Catholicism in Africa while Protestant missions were divided along the entrenched European colonial territories, the vestiges of which still linger. In their belief that theirs was “the universal church,” Catholic missions endeavoured to create provincialized Catholicism; but they ultimately spread their influences across already Protestantized boundaries. This implies that the European religious rivalries of the previous centuries were exported to Africa. This prevented any possibilities of ecumenical interaction even though rudimentary forms of ecumenical cooperation had been evolving among Pietistic Protestant groups after 1700. At their maturity in the late 1700s, interdenominational cooperation between the Pietistic Protestant societies arrived in Africa alongside the conservative groups that supported the colonial endeavours of the 1800s. The different liturgical traditions that came under various Western missions were products of post-Reformation Christendom. While the Catholic Mass and Protestant hymnody were diffused throughout Africa, the influences of Vatican II, discourses in the African academy, and the domestication of Christianity as an African religion have by far been the most effective avenues of Catholic-Protestant- encounters. The resultant evolution of theology from below is noticeable in the shared life of Christian communities in their communal singing and composing folk-like pambios. This is a form of grassroots ecumenism lived within familiar social networks and from the margins of ecclesiastical officialdom outside the organized worship platforms. I call this the embodied gospel, the culmination of a truly inculturated Christian faith.   

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