A blog post at Whispers in the Loggia drew my attention to Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana. I had never heard of him, but I’m glad now that I have. Turkson is Ghana’s first cardinal and was the spokesman for October’s Synod of Bishops for Africa. He may soon be heading up the Vatican congregation for peace and justice. He is a rising star in the world church and is rumored to be a potential candidate for pope at the next conclave.
Why are we interested? The Cardinal says a lot of worthwhile things that relate to the mission of Christian initiation. A 2007 interview in the Times of London contains some of them. The interview shows that Cardinal Turkson is deeply concerned with evangelization. Moreover, he seems to have a grasp of the problems associated with a “notional Christianity.” Here it is, in his own words:
I think that our traditional way of making people Catholic needs to be reconsidered. The declaration that Jesus is Lord is meant to be an expression of a person’s commitment. It’s like somebody being offered knowledge of a person and consciously accepting to enter into a relationship with that person and establish personal ties. This is what holds people in these evangelical churches.
He added that some priests and bishops were products of “notional Christianity”—they had been brought up in a Catholic home, had a Catholic education, and learned their theology in seminary, but they had never experienced a personal conversion.
The danger facing the Catholic Church in Africa is that we just feed people with a few notions. Who is God? What is the Trinity? What is a sacrament? These definitions can be learnt by heart and just repeated to anybody who asks questions.
He is speaking from within an African context, but the issue exists in North America too. In fact, a lot of catechumenate leaders have been working hard to remedy exactly the problem that Cardinal Turkson identifies. We need a way of making people Catholic that fosters a relationship and forges a commitment. “Notional Christianity” will not cut it in today’s world with all its challenges. Cardinal Turkson goes on to say:
At the second synod for Africa we must look at how we are a Church in Africa. Rwanda was supposed to be 99 per cent Catholic. How could it end up with a genocide?
We need to realise that probably notional Christianity has been too strong. Instead, we need a radical conversion that will make the presence of God real and personal for each one of us.