Bishop Martin: Special Concern needed towards Catholics, the target of Neo-Pentecostal Groups

Vatican City, Oct.09, 2009 - The increasing number of Catholics in Africa who flock to the evangelical churches is a topic of concern at the second special Synod of Bishops for Africa.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told synod participants Oct. 6 that while the church in Africa is experiencing rapid growth "there is sadly also an increasingly deeper fragmentation among Christians."

Sometimes dialogue with the charismatic, Pentecostal and other evangelical communities is difficult or even impossible "because of their aggressive behavior and, to say the least, their low theological standard," he said.

But ecumenical relations must continue or be established where possible, he said, and the church must engage in some serious, self-critical reflection.

Some of the questions the church must ask itself, the cardinal said, are "What is wrong or what is deficient with our own pastoral work? Why (do) so many Christians leave our church? What they are missing with us and searching (for) elsewhere?"

Bishop Adriano Langa of Inhambane, Mozambique, told the synod Oct. 7 that one of the main reasons for the exodus of Catholics toward these movements "is the lack or insufficiency of inculturation" in the Catholic Church.

Africa's cultural roots must be taken into account, but unfortunately the church has been guilty of "marginalizing, disparaging and even fighting African cultures," he said.

Other missteps, he said, include focusing evangelization efforts more on children and less on adults, not translating the Bible into local languages, discouraging the reading of the Bible, and not giving African Catholics "a language in an appropriate style."

Bishop Langa said many African Catholics are left feeling alienated from the church or inferior to other, more zealous, believers.

Also, anyone wanting to "escape the European and Latin American style and wanting to feel himself as a truly African Christian Catholic leans toward his African brothers of other faiths and creeds and takes on their language and style," he said.

Some synod speakers have expressed the need for improved catechetical formation and the building up of small Christian communities within the parishes.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told the synod Oct. 7 that the development of sects means pastors need to "take better care in the transmission of the content of the faith in the African cultural context."

"It is necessary to know and appreciate the religious roots" of the African peoples, especially since they already recognized the existence of God before the arrival of Christianity and Islam, he said.

Bishop Alfred Adewale Martins of Abeokuta, Nigeria, told the synod Oct. 8 that it is important everyone in the parish feels noticed and at home.

"We must ensure that no one is anonymous in the parishes," especially the most vulnerable like the unemployed and young people, he said. And people with "any sort of material or spiritual needs should be supported and assisted where possible."

A special ministry should be created in each parish that addresses the needs and concerns of young professionals and business leaders who "are targets of neo-Pentecostal groups," said Bishop Martins.

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