Church Life Africa (CLA) in collaboration with Gaudium et Spes Institute, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, Nigeria, trained young Catholics in Theology to enable them live-out their faith in the modern world, and stay open to inter-religious dialogue.
Following an intensive 3 days conference titled CLA: Lay Theological Engagement and the Future of Church Life in Africa held August 4 – 6, the initiative trained over 100 Catholic youths on what it means to be a Church, in this present and dynamic world, and to reimagine what that means for youths via theology (the study).
The youths were grounded on Catholic culture, the state of catechesis in the Church, how to sustain their Catholic Identity in a pluralistic society, traditional Catholic morals, to help them discern the objective good from intrinsic evil in all circumstances, and the need for the church to evolve with the world under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to avoid redundance.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP Newspaper, one of CLA’s founding priests, Fr Ken Amadi said CLA was inspired in response to the West’s hope that Africa is the future of the Catholic Church.
A 2020 Annual Statistical Report of the Vatican indicates that Africa has the fastest growing Catholic population in the world, with about 3.4 per cent growth in 2019, and a 2.1 per cent growth in 2020, which accounts for 18.9 per cent of world Catholics. Of that population Nigeria has 28 million Catholics as of 2021, with an estimated increase of 47 million Catholics by 2050, which places her, alongside three other African countries, among the top ten Catholic religion countries in the world.
Population solely, however, does not make for a devout Catholic faithful. Thus, the initiation of CLA as an “intentional way of investing in the large numbers of Catholics in Nigeria, and Africa, to become quality Catholics, Catholics in intentionality of faith,” said Fr Amadi.
CLA, he said aims to saturate the African space and Africa’s lay faithful with theological education and knowledge long thought by African Catholics as the exclusive preserve of priests. As priests of the Abuja Archdiocese, they kickstarted the initiative in Abuja, but hope to stretch it to other parts of Nigeria and Africa post the success of its pilot run in the FCT.
“These three days of intensive engagement will help us get a feel of where these young people are. It will help us to get them to begin to think that theology is possible for them, not just for priests, and also begin to onboard people who are deeply interested, and to send them out as missionaries for Church Life Africa.
“Hopefully, as we are beginning to think of things that will characterize CLA programme, we hope to position people for permanent and intentional long-term studies of theology, including acquiring Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Theology through the structures we have put in place, in time,” thrilled Amadi.
Beyond theological study to deepen Catholics faith, Catholic Theology opens its faithful to inter-religious dialogue which is a precursor to addressing religious conflicts, particularly those witnessed in present Nigerian society.
Through ecumenical dialogue, “people are more informed, and through this intentional engagement, we can begin to get to the heart of some of our problems including politics, leadership, globalization, economics etc. All of these things can come into theological discussions,” Fr Amadi said.
On how theology can speak to persecuted Catholics and Christians in remote areas of the country, that years of ecumenical engagement by the Church seems unable to address, Fr Joachim Ozonze stressed that dialogue though the first step towards ending violence does not preclude its occurrence.
The conflict expert specialized in Theology and Peace Studies said it is a matter of continuous dialogue which creates opportunities and spaces that consume violence.
“The more we are able to come together to dialogue, the more we create the space that consumes violence. And the more we create possibilities. So, what can we learn from the dialogue of yesterday even while the violence persists? And how can we make it better today? What might be the cause of violence today, might not be the cause of violence tomorrow. It may be that the cause has taken a new form, and so, we should talk about it today, and not simply rely on what was said yesterday. What if the situation was different today?”
CLA Initiative is founded by Frs. Ken Amadi, Joachim Ozonze and Williams Orbih, students of Theology at the Notre Dame University, Indiana, Ohio, USA. The summer conference is supported by the University of Notre Dame, and the De Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.