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AFRICAN TRADITIONAL RELIGION IN CHURCH DOCUMENTS


Preliminary Considerations 

The positive recognition of religious pluralism is a distinctive mark of the post-Vatican 11 Catholic Church. And African traditional religious experience and expression, having emerged from the limbo of negation and skepticism to eventual recognition, is gradually taking its rightful place among the religions of the world, and is considered the legitimate expression of a genuine religious experience of African peoples in their encounter with the divine. The following presentation examines those official pronouncements of the Catholic Church which have a bearing on African Traditional Religion. By official Church documents, we intend papal or
conciliar documents, and documents of Sacred Roman Congregations; these, more than other magisterial pronouncements, represent formal Church directives of universal application.

The method followed is basically expository. The documents are largely left to speak for themselves, without too much hermeneutics. We are, no doubt, aware that deep theological, cultural and socio-political undercurrents, at the basis of each document, have tremendously influenced the general attitude of the Church in regard to non-Christian peoples and their religions. A detailed treatment of these, useful as it certainly would be, would however necessitate a much longer presentation which is beyond the scope of the present exercise.(1) Only brief references to these have therefore been made to enable us better situate within context a particular document.

The first thing to remark, as far as the topic under discussion is concerned, is that there is general scarcity of references to African Traditional Religion (ATR) in official Church pronouncements. Very few documents of the Church mention African Traditional Religion as such. Secondly, those Church documents which do mention ATR directly are quite recent; they are of post-Vatican 11 era. The scarcity of and the lateness of reference to ATR in church documents is indicative of a situation where African Traditional Religion hardly ever was a subject of direct magisterial concern.

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