Denis Maugenest’s speech at the UCAC colloquium in 2012

Paper at the UBCA colloquium (10-11 May 2012) :

Identity and Mission of the Catholic University in Africa: Civilization, Culture and Faith

Introduction: Why does a ‘European’ still speak?… of knowledge… or of hope?

Thank you, Mr Rector, Mr Moderator, and all of you dear Friends, for inviting me to this colloquium on the 20th anniversary of your University, of which I was no stranger, along with many others, and in particular Father Barthélemy NYOM whom I would have liked to see again these days – as we expected – if he had not left us not two months ago, and whom you accompanied to his final resting place with all the honours due to him by virtue of his experience of courage, trials and wisdom.

I spent twenty-two years in Africa at the request of the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Father Kolvenbach, to whom I had the imprudence to propose, as early as 1985, the creation of some kind of university structure in Africa – myself at the time being dean of a Faculty of Social Sciences at the Catholic University of Paris which was attended by more and more Africans. It began, therefore, with the setting up, as early as 1989, of the Catholic Institute of Yaoundé, in concert with the Bishops of ACERAC (Association of Episcopal Conferences of the Central African Region), the active complicity of the Holy See and the benevolence of the Republic of Cameroon; the Institute was able to call itself the Catholic University of Central Africa (UCAC) as soon as its third faculty, of philosophy, was created. This continued, as far as I am concerned, with the setting up, in 2002, of the Centre for Research and Action for Peace in Abidjan, in place of the former INADES (African Institute for Development) created forty years earlier (in 1962), with – beyond its economic and social competences to which it was originally reduced – their extension to the political, cultural and religious fields, within an equally new university structure – in conjunction with the UCAO, the Catholic University of West Africa, already established in Abidjan. This was finally followed by a contribution to the creation of the Jean Margeot Cardinal Institute in 2009 in Mauritius .

When I returned to Europe not nine months ago, after twenty-two years of African impregnation, I had strange feelings: the rediscovery of a world that had once been familiar to me, that had become other than the one I knew, and of which I had the experience of being in some way a stranger! Informing myself of what is becoming of research at the Catholic University of Paris and in the State universities, I notice, with the help of fellow friends who have remained in the North during my absence, a general uneasiness, that of no longer having a clear awaren