The creation of the Jesuit Vice-Province of West Africa and the challenges of Africanization, 1946-1978
Enyegue, Jean Luc
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By investigating the foundation of the Jesuit Vice-Province of West Africa (VPAO), this dissertation analyzes how a global Roman Catholic men’s religious order adjusted to political and ecclesiastical changes in the wake of African independence movements, the Second Vatican Council, and the Generalate of Pedro Arrupe. Although the founding of the VPAO attempted to harmonize the work of the Jesuits in Africa with a renewed Jesuit global ethos, it stumbled over the meaning and application of Africanization, a stated priority for the Roman Catholic Church since the time of Pope Benedict XV. This dissertation argues that prior to the creation of the Vice-Province, in 1973, Jesuits emphasized different aspects of Africanization in their two largest missions of Chad and Cameroon. French Jesuit Frédéric de Bélinay founded the Chad Mission. In the missionary context of establishing the Catholic Church in Chad, his successors Joseph du Bouchet, Paul Dalmais, Henri Véniat, and Charles Vandame adopted a “bottom-up” Africanization or vernacularization that included building churches, educating the masses, biblical and catechetical translations, and the production of grammars and religious art. The Jesuits de-Latinized the liturgy, Christianized the yondo (Chad’s initiation rite), and raised up lay personnel able to carry out the work of evangelization. They failed, however, to build a local clergy and Chadian leadership for the church. In Cameroon, with its particular context of mission devolution and nation building, the Jesuits emphasized the “top-down” Africanization of leadership. They developed the field of African Studies, and trained a Cameroonian diocesan clergy and an elite generation of public servants. However, western Jesuit missionaries generally remained unwilling to cede leadership positions to their African colleagues. The failure of European missionaries either to build a local clergy in Chad or to promote a Cameroonian leadership demonstrated an incomplete Africanization that carried over into the creation of the VPAO. The first Cameroonian Jesuits Eboussi Boulaga, Engelbert Mveng, Meinrad Hebga and Nicolas Ossama expressed great disappointment at the creation of the VPAO. They believed that the leadership and territorial map of the VPAO were symbolic of a neocolonial organization, and a setback to Africanization. Thus, the Cameroonian reception of the VPAO represented a local resistance to Jesuit globalism as defined by western ecclesial authorities.
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