The first missionaries of Africa arrived in South Africa in 1972 in view of ministering to Malawian mineworkers who needed pastoral and spiritual care. Over time, our missionary vision developed into parishes and a formation house in theology.
I consider myself working in a zone of primary evangelization. Many friends of mine think that I am sent to people who do not know Jesus yet, thus to people whose beliefs do not reflect Christian faith or in the midst of non-Christian believers. To make clear, I am sent amongst people who, in large majority, are Christian believers.
Those Christians belong to many hundreds of different churches whereby Roman Catholic Christians are a little minority. Even 80 % of our Catholics come from these other Christian Churches. Some of them belonged to one, two or three other churches before discovery the Catholic Church.
Many women become members of our Church by joining the religion of their husband. This is underpinned by cultural rule. Some who feel cheated, disappointed and confused by the leaders of their former Church also decide to join us seeking hope and newness. A good number is helped by friends to find their way to our Church.
Therefore, it is difficult to assess the knowledge or understanding of the Catholic faith of our followers. It is quite common to see young people coming to join our Church being the only member of their family to do so. I baptize many children without considering the faith and Christian life of their biological parents, but rather the faith of their grand-mothers who belong to our Church. Paradoxically, I am surprised with the pride of some catholic families. Though they may not practice their faith, they strongly affirm that they are Catholics. We also see children who were baptized in our Church going to pray elsewhere. Few old and young men are found in our Church. Finally, many of our families are made up of single mothers and children. I also see some lapsed members coming back to be reintegrated. Who is supposed to receive Holy Communion and who is not? Only God knows!
Our challenge is to find the proper way to teach the Catholic Faith to Christians who are coming from other Christian doctrines. How do you ensure that the catechesis offered to them is carried throughout the life of a single Catholic member in the midst of other church goers? How can you expect to have catechists and community leaders to remain faithful to the teaching of the Gospel as presented by our Church taking into account their very shallow and mixed knowledge from previous churches? In our parish context, the primary evangelization is foremost a process of teaching and empowering the Catholic little minority in order to be loyal to Jesus Christ through a life of faith, hope and love.
Various seminars are organized for this purpose to enable the members of our Church to deepen their relationship with Christ, gain confidence and a sound sense of belonging. These formation days are strengthened by regular visits of communities and individuals. The aim is to cultivate a pedagogy that allows dialogue through sharing and debate with previous faiths in order to guide it through the clear doctrine of the Catholic Church. We are glad to see that the local Church is following this approach.
This has less to do with going to convert non-Christian believers, but it is positively to preach Jesus by revealing and professing the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ. Primary evangelization becomes a ministry to encounter the members of many Christian churches who want to believe in Jesus Christ, to celebrate and live his Gospel in the way our Church believes, celebrates and lives it. It is an internal dialogue between a Christian with a Catholic Christian. You may better think that the one who wants to embark on a catechetical journey with you is not a full Christian, but you may not change his mind; he knows that he is a Christian.
And what if he repeats: There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all… (Eph.4:5-6)
Sébastien Ndrutsomi, M.Afr