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Mvuanda, Jean de Dieu


Inculturer pour évangéliser en profondeur. Des initiations traditionnelles africaines à une initiation chrétienne engageante.


Bern-Berlin-Frankfurt/M.-New York-Paris-Wien: Lang 1998. 451 S. 8 = Studien zur interkulturellen Geschichten des Christentums, 101. Kart. DM 109,-. ISBN 3-906757-31-5.


Laurent Ramambason

The author wrestles with the typical issues inherent to the implantation of Christianity in Africa. The transplantation of western models of Church, done from the background of political, economic and cultural colonisation, has run into difficulties. Christianity is seen as a foreign religion because the faith is not sufficiently expressed in local languages and structures. There is a gap between the traditional way of life and the Church. Urban society develops in a way that is neither traditional nor Christian. Sects flourish and anti-clericalism is rampant even among those who have been educated in the best Church schools.

To address the issues, interculturation, or more widely referred to as ’inculturation’, is considered to be a risk worth taking. Inculturation is defined as an effort deployed to "inject the gospel in a social and cultural context so that the receivers could retain their existing values insofar as these do not contradict the gospel". It is a difficult enterprise, the author recognises, as the risks of acculturation, uniformisation and the perils and possibilities of intercultural communication are ever present. Inculturation then requires specialists, technicians and theologians to be carried out properly. The thesis, arguments and illustrations are developed in two parts. The first one, of 220 pages, traces the thrusts to the equivalencies of inculturation and inculturation proper in Africa, particularly within the Roman Catholic Church, where Vatican II has played a key role. The second part, of 176 pages, focuses on African traditional initiation rites, subdivided into eight chapters. It covers the whole area of initiation in the African World and the Roman Catholic Church. The conclusion includes observation and reflection on inculturation and initiation in the perspective of meaningful evangelisation.

The author admits that he was slightly prolix and repeated himself at some points. The reader would agree. What can be argued is his advocacy for inculturation at this stage. The majority of observers are already convinced about its usefulness. The issue is rather how to carry it out. The author relies on initiation to enforce inculturation. However, it is now well contended that it is a trap for an exercise in inculturation to isolate some elements instead of taking into consideration the fabrics of the whole which, only, can converge or diverge with the Gospel. There is little in the perspective of the book where "sorcery, for instance, could be a privileged locus for inculturating the mystery of Christ because it constitutes an unavoidable point from which a human being asks questions about him/herself and others" as Father Jean-Paul Eschlimann of Ivory Coast put it. A diachronic approach is adopted in the first part; but change is happening so swiftly that one wonders whether the arguments drawn from Mobutu’s Zaire are strengthened or weakened now that we are in Kabila’s Democratic Republic of Congo.

I see the strength and value of the book in the acknowledgment that "God himself is the main architect of inculturation", that it is the "work of the Holy Spirit" and that it realises itself according to the law of the incarnation. Inculturation (or contextualisation) is difficult indeed. However, it can be done when the necessary theological and anthropological factors are present. This thesis was not developed as such; but the author illustrates it by presenting to us a relatively new paradigm of the pastorate and, at a lesser degree, of mission. In the early seventies Bishop Matondo kwa Nzambi took up the challenge of working among young people in a new way. He wanted to see them not only receiving the Holy Spirit through baptism but also experiencing the signs of His active presence. Facing the criticisms of his colleagues and other difficulties, he got his power and insights from retreats and prayers in the forest. These made him the founding leader of the "Bilenge ya Mwinda" (Youth of Light) movement, which is a live illustration of successful inculturation in the areas of the pastorate, catechism and liturgy. The movement has triggered similar movements among children (KA - Kizito et Anuarite) and elderly people ("Bakulutu ya Mwinda" - Elders of light).

Bishop Matondo himself wrote about the history of the movement in his "A l’assault de l’Himalaya" (Kinshasa, 1976) and Luyeye wrote a doctorate on it in the late eighties. Father Mvuanda’s contribution, in the form of this book, is to insert it in the larger loci of inculturation and initiation. In this way, he asserts its presence in the world platform of pastoral and missiological paradigms.