First African meeting may offer model for other parts of World
By Rosemary Goldie
From Entebbe, political capital of the Protectorate of Uganda, where Government buildings, attractive dwellings and the White Fathers’ church and mission are dotted over wide parklands, the red clay road leads up between Indian shops, African mud-huts and banana plantations towards Cisubi. Just before the village, a new road has been opened up to the Minor Seminary, a fine modern building, newly completed, which looks out from its eminence over the broad expanse of Lake Victoria.
It was here, a few miles from the Equator, that some 60 delegates from 15 territories of Africa, with experts from 14 Catholic International Organisations came to gather between December 8 to 13, 1953, for the first leaders’ meeting for the Apostolate of the Laity in Africa.
The meeting was organised in collaboration with the Uganda National Council of Catholic Action, by the Permanent Committee for International Congresses of the Lay Apostolate created in Rome by the Holy Father in January, 1952; it was the General secretary of this committee, Mr. Vittorino Veronese, who – as president of Italian Catholic Action -brought to Rome in October, 1951, for the first world congress of the Lay Apostolate, the militant Catholic laymen and laywomen of 74 countries and 38 Catholic international organisations.
The meeting in Uganda was in a sense the sequel to those unforgettable days in Rome, for it was clearly evident at the first world congress that regional meetings would be necessary to give more adequate study to the problems facing lay Catholics in the different parts of the world.
The tasks of the apostolate in Latin America and in Asia are one in their spiritual essence, but the external conditions of their fulfilment are widely differing.
That Africa should have been chosen for the first of such regional meetings was due in part to the express desire of African Catholics, but also to the dramatic acuity of the problems raised in Africa to-day by the rapidity of present social transformations, and to the obvious urgency of preparing Catholic lay people to bring to this evolving society to the guilding light of Christian principles.
This significance of the meeting was stressed in a magnificent letter addressed to His Grace Archbishop Cabana, of Rubaga (Uganda), by His Excellency Monsignor Montini calling upon the African laity – in the Holy Father’s name – to respond to “their God-given vocation with a fidelity springing from genuine spiritual life, with the clear-sightedness necessary for taking their full responsibilities in all spheres of social and civic activity and with that same resolution which has made glorious the martyrs of Uganda.”
It was stressed also, in dramatic fashion, when, a few days before the meeting, Uganda came into the limelight of the world press through the events which led to the banishment by the British authorities of the Buganda King, the Kabaka Mutesa II. Despite the announcement of a ‘state of emergency’ in Kampala, preparations proceeded normally; and, while the whole Catholic world was preparing for the opening of the Marian Year, delegates from all parts of Africa, and beyond it, were making their way – by bicycle, car, train and Comet – to Kisubi.
From Mozambique came His Eminence Cardinal de Gouveia, Archbishop of Lorenzo Marques; the new Apostolic Delegate, His Excellency Monsignor James Knox – first Australian to assume such functions in any part of the world – made Kisubi his initial goal in his jurisdiction of East and West Africa; no less than 18 Archbishops, Bishops, Vicars and Prefects Apostolic personally responded to the invitation extended to their territories; with them came missionaries – priests, brothers and nuns – but also, lay leaders, those who had answered the call of the Encyclical, Evangelii Praecones: “It is absolutely essential that in the missions there should be many lay people to enter into the ranks of Catholic Action…”
Even in the fullest sense this was an international meeting: ‘Experts’ were sent from Europe by the Catholic international organisations – by the International Y.C.W., Pax Romana, the women’s and girls’ organisations, etc.; Monsignor Ligutti, director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference of the United States was there; Mr. Douglas Hyde, former communist leader and now active apostle of the writ ten and spoken word for the cause of Christ; the Prince zu Lowenstoin, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics; Dr. Aujoulat, president of the International Secretariate for Lay Missionary Activity; and lay missionaries at present working in Africa, from the Grail and from the International Feminine Auxiliaries (among them Miss Frances Scott, former Grail president in Australia).
This was, however, an international meeting of an unprecedented kind. From the outset, the organisers, whether in Rome or in Uganda, had no illusions as to the complexity of the problems to be treated and the difficulties which could arise in a continent of such social and political fermentation and of such diversity in the state of development of its various regions.
The lectures were consciously adapted to meet this situation, and did not slur over the real problems of the African scene. It was no mere theoretical interest which held African listeners strained in attention while His Excellency Bishop Lanctôt, Bukoba, Tanganyiku, spoke of ‘Africa To-day and the Mission of the Laity,’ or while His Grace Archbishop Maranta, of Dar Es Salaam, outlined with masterly touch the Church’s teaching on nation and State and its implications for Catholic lay people. And, for the Kikuyu students from Kenya who formed part of the fine delegation from Makerere University College the Church’s attitude to racism could hardly have appeared a purely academic question.
Nature Of Apostolate
The nature of the Apostolate of the Laity was treated by Monsignor Cleire, Vicar Apostolic of Kosongo; its basis in the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ; its various forms; individual and organised; organised in official Catholic Action for tasks specifically relating to the work of the Church; organised in an action of Christian inspiration, emanating directly from the lay people, for the ‘temporal’ tasks of the social and civic order.
It was a layman, Mr. Paul Ssemakula, of Uganda, who dealt from his experience as a leader in Catholic Action, with the formation that is indispensable for the apostolate: formation of intellect and will; spiritual, dogmatic, moral and liturgical formation; technical formation, enriched by experience and adapted to the milieux where the layman is called upon to exercise his activity. Two other African laymen prepared the paper on concrete social problems in Africa to-day: Mr. A. Lawrence, from French Guinea, member of the French Economic Council, and Dr. Conombo, member of the French National Assembly.
Frank discussion was the order of the day, as African delegates, missionaries and experts succeeded one another at the microphone to comment on various themes. And the same frankness – tempered by the same spirit of fraternal charity – reigned in the ‘forums’ or discussion groups to which two full days were devoted for concrete study of four essential fields.
The Education forum was led by Dr. H. Jowitt, C.M.G., Professor at the Pius XII Catholic University for Africans (Basutoland) and former Director of Education in Uganda; the presence among the delegates of many African lay teachers gave special importance to this study of educational problems.
Discussion on Woman and the Family was under the guidance of Soeur Marie Andre du Sacre Coeur, of the White Sisters, who has done extensive research and published much material on the difficult question of marriage customs and women’s status among the African peoples, Dr, Aujoulat was chairman of the forum on the subject of Labor and Social Betterment in the rapidly evolving industrialisation of African life.
Mr. Douglas Hyde, as chairman of the forum on the Training of Leaders, stressed the excellent material afforded by the splendid African Catholic youth with their eager generosity to serve the cause of Christ. If the apostles of atheistic materialism had similar material, they would know how to use it; we may not use all their methods, but Christianity, lived to the full, has a dynamism they cannot know.
Clearly it was not possible in the short time allotted to these forums to exhaust the vast subject matter presented for their consideration, nor was it possible to make all the concrete applications necessary for widely differing territories and for the varying possibilities of their organised laity. It was, however, already of great importance that the problems should be raised and a concrete picture given of the difficulties involved. It was important, too, that African Catholics should have this opportunity to work with lay people from Europe and America whose actions do not belie the teachings brought to Africa by the missionaries – all too often the case with white ‘Christians’ on African soil – lay people, on the contrary, whoso energies are devoted to collaboration in the Church’s redeeming apostolate.
Unity In Diversity
It was important above all that, behind the diversity of the forms of apostolic activity already operative in Africa, the unity should become apparent of their guiding principles and of their source in one same life of grace. If Uganda has a fully constituted National Council of Catholic Action while also where organised lay action is still confined to the work of the catechists; if in one diocese the Legion of Mary is officially mandated as Catholic Action and in another is working as an auxiliary body; if the personal apostolate of African Catholic leaders may be exercised as tribal chiefs or as members of the political organisms of the French Union… these external differences of form or degree are far less important than the deep unity of those laboring, in whatever sphere, to make Christ’s Kingdom a reality on African soil.
This unity – the reality of Christ’s Mystical Body, not only for Africa, but for the Universal Church – was a matter of daily experience: at the opening Mass celebrated by His Excellency Monsignor Knox at the torchlight Rosary Procession through Kisubi Parish on the evening of December 8, where over 2000 Africans took part, singing the Latin hymns of the Lourdes ‘Ave’ with the same gusto as their native Luganda; at the unforgettable pilgrimage to Numugongo, place of martyrdom of Blessed Charles Lwanga, Patron of African Catholic Action, when one African Bishop celebrated evening Mass, another preached and hundreds of Uganda Catholics approached to receive Holy Communion with delegates from all parts of Africa and of the world. It was again the great and deep reality of the Church which remained as a lasting impression from the Pontifical High Mass – offered by a Cardinal for the first time in the history of Uganda – and from the Te Deum which rocked the seminary chapel on the closing afternoon. But this reality was expressed also in other, less solemn ways: by the silent presence, for instance, at every session of one of the parish monitresses, mother of a family, who understood no word of English or French that was spoken throughout, but explained in her own tongue: “I know what you are talking about even though I do not understand. These are the things which I also believe; I want you to see that I am one with you.”
At the solemn closing section of December 13, His Excellency, Sir Andrew Cohen, Governor of Uganda, stressing the value of the work done by the missionaries for the material and spiritual development of the Protectorate, styled this meeting an ‘historic’ occasion. And historic it was in deed, not only for Uganda, but for the Church in Africa and throughout the world.
Similar conferences will no doubt follow, in Africa itself and in other continents; but this first regional lay apostolate meeting will remain a decisive step forward on the road towards a ‘full and efficacious collaboration in universal charity’ traced out inn 1951 for the congressists in Rome by the Holy Father himself. It will have been also tangible proof that the Catholicism of ‘mission lands’ can no longer be considered as falling outside the orbit of ‘normal’ ”Catholic life. In the words again of the Holy Father (to the Sacred College, Christmas, 1945), “…to-day we see appearing, as it were, an exchange of life and energy between all members of the Mystical Body of Christ on earth. Not a few regions on other continents have long outgrown the missionary form of their ecclesiastical organisation; they have their own Hierarchy and, whereas they were formerly only receivers, they give now to the Church goods, both spiritual and material.
The Apostolate of the Laity. First African meeting may offer model for other parts of World
By Rosemary Goldie
Catholic Weekly (Sydney, NSW : 1942 – 1954), Thursday 28 January 1954, page 12