The African cardinal explained that in the Congo trained catechists are leaders in their local communities, who preach the Word of God, baptize, bury the dead, and serve as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.
“But in that case, the guys in the synod here are listening to that and they say that is fine, but they can still can't celebrate the Eucharist,” he said. “They are looking for someone who can, you know, anoint the sick, listen to confessions, celebrate the Eucharist with people, and that, of course, requires ordained ministry, for which, the examples in Africa then come short.”
Turkson’s assessment was underscored during a synodal press conference on Tuesday by Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, Archbishop of Kinshasa, Republic of Congo.
Besunguis participating in the Amazon synod as a representative for the African church, and especially the Congo River basin, which, he said, shares several ecological, political, and pastoral problems with the Amazon region.
Besungu reiterated Turkson’s assessment, saying that “the Amazon is very similar to the Congo basin.”
At a Vatican press conference Oct. 22, Cardinal Besungu said that the African church has organized REBAC, the Ecclesial Network of the Congo Basin Forest, a network similar to REPAM, the South American group that is a driving force behind the Amazon synod.
REPAM, a group backed by the bishops’ conferences in Latin America, describes itself as an advocacy organization for the rights and dignity of indigenous people in the Amazon. The network has been involved in preparations and events leading up to and during the synodal assembly. REPAM’s president, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, holds the position of relator-general of the Amazon synod.
In a meeting between REPAM and REBAC in 2017, held in Brazil, the Church representatives participated in two hour celebration of Mother Earth led by an indigenous woman in which “participants gathered around a tree with many symbols around it,” including a Mayan calendar.
“The aim of this celebration was to connect participants with nature,” according to CPAL, the conference of Jesuit provincials for Latin America and the Carribean. “Many of them believe that they now have a better understanding of the message of Pope Francis in Laudato Si.”
Cardinal Besungu said that the church in the Congo prioritized “inculturation of the Gospel” in response to a perception following the country’s independence that the Catholic Church was seen as an outside force in the immediate post-colonial era.
The most evident result of inculturation in the Congo is a “ritual of the Eucharist which is our own,” Besungu said. “In our country, the Eucharist is a real feast.”