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 awareness of their mission within a civilization in great disarray. No doubt Europe has come to the point of decline, as was the case, before it, of many other civilizations: Egypt, Greece, the Roman Empire, the Aztec and Inca empires…

And it is therefore on the basis of these successive experiences that I propose to question and reflect on the mission of universities and their contribution to society and civilization in general, in Europe and Africa – and more specifically of ‘Catholic’ universities, restoring to this word its original meaning, coming from the Greek katholikos = universal (without limiting its scope to the so-called Catholic, apostolic and Roman ecclesial institution). University and catholicity indicate the same concern: that of unity in diversity, of the one and of the diverse. Indeed, is not the mission of the University to be like the crucible of the one and the diverse within each particular society and the world as a whole, to be their laboratory, capable of ordering and making habitable their original chaos?

Part 1: The University and European civilization, now in decline

A. There was a beautiful European civilization…

We civilizations know that we are mortal… It is to this confession that we have come (80 years ago!) to believe that we are mortal.) Paul Valéry, meditating on the history of the world, and writing it in 1924, in La crise de l’esprit, evoking various times of the world and of humanity: the time of Egypt and its Pharaohs, the time of the Greeks and their Hellenistic civilization all the way to India, the time of Rome and its empire around the Mediterranean Sea, the time of Christianity which succeeded it until the Middle Ages throughout the continent, and the time of European civilization in its various particular versions – Italian, French, British, German, Spanish…

In fact, Europe was undoubtedly, for a time, the privileged place where a civilization blossomed after those that preceded it in this status, and before others that will succeed it and have already taken their place in this process of succession, the laws of which are of course beyond us. And, just as those which preceded it each brought their own particular marks to the general history of the world, and in a way leave them as a legacy, Europe will have left its mark: it was, I believe, that of the Universities which blossomed from the 13th century onwards and made Europe, for the most part, what it is. In Bologna (Italy) at the end of the 12th century, in Paris in 1200, in Valencia (Spain) in 1209, in Oxford (England) in 1214, the first Universities saw the light of day. Many others will follow, in Salamanca, Cambridge, Louvain, Heidelberg, Prague… It is interesting to take a closer look at the circumstances of the birth of the University of Paris: The king (Philippe-Auguste) encouraged teachers and students to create a Universitas, which would escape the supervision of the bishop and his claims to ensure the monopoly of teaching and control of its content; this encouragement was confirmed by Pope Innocent III in 1208, then by his Legate Robert de Courçon in 1215, and even later, in 1229, by his successor, Gregory IX. In 1253 Robert de Sorbon added a college, the Sorbonne, to it. It is a question of developing a type of teaching and formation of man different from that which the religious hierarchy imposes with its good doctrine and its dogmas; starting from a dubious attitude as to the primary certainties that humans can make for themselves, is proposed the disputatio or differentiation of judgments, the art of debates, hypotheses and theses, controversies and dialogue, in short the logic proper to the critical spirit and dialectic. It was to open the doors of ‘modern’ thought which, coming out of the Middle Ages, would lead to the Renaissance, the Reformation, the so-called Age of Enlightenment, the Revolution, and Modernity.

The University will have been the crucible where European civilization was formed, through the bitter quarrel between ‘old’ and ‘modern’: from the end of the 16th century (and the discovery of new worlds) to the end of the 18th century, with the support of the people of the towns (‘bourgeois’ of the first urbanization), the movement will lead to the substitution of new democratic state regimes for the old monarchical and aristocratic regimes. The 19th century was undoubtedly the golden century of this European civilization, which the 20th century did not succeed in prolonging: the two world wars and their abominations (including the Shoah), then the emancipation of the ‘colonies’ that the European powers had set up, in a way signed the end of an era that is certainly not over yet. It is that nothing is done without time, both for growth and for decline. There are still beautiful remnants of this civilisation of Europe, which is still the envy of many nations and towards which many people still converge in their desire to migrate… But although Europe, now rich above all in its heritage, is gradually becoming a museum visited by tourists from all over the world, it is no longer the obvious home of universal civilisation, even though this world has entered into the time of its globality and other nations are also becoming qualified players in world civilisation.

B. European civilization today is showing the symptoms of its death…

It is certainly not easy for Europeans to accept the hypothesis that they have probably reached the end of their glory and supremacy, the end of their existence as the primary reference point for the world and its history. Certainly the conditions in which the Second World War ended in Europe (not to mention Asia) had already forced them to experience the humiliation of being occupied throughout their continent by foreign forces, mainly North American, who had freed them from their enslavement and raised them from their decline. The military presence of these forces is certainly no longer as necessary today (although it is still there), but the colonisation of the continent in all other possible forms – of language, culture, behaviour, economy and finance, politics, literature, arts, religion – gives Europeans a commonly shared feeling of a general unease: that of the disappearance of the landmarks of modern society conceived ‘à l’européenne’. Europe is struggling to safeguard the identity it sought and wanted to give itself at the end of the world war to compensate for the decline of its nations: but its internal quarrels are the first to weaken its place and influence in the contemporary global world! Its decline is undoubtedly definitive: the advancement of science, technical inventions, economic growth through the development of production, trade and consumption, progress in all areas of health and education as well as social services, which it can pride itself on having still achieved during the second half of the 20th century, is today certainly compromised, if only because of the decline in morals, the importance of gambling, anxiety and fear which have seized public opinion in all the countries of the European Union.

The crisis is indeed deep: although Western Europe has achieved the prosperity it still enjoys, it no longer seems objectively possible for it to maintain that level in the context of the global competition it now faces. The last election campaign in France allowed the public expression of the fears that this competition is giving rise to: the impossibility of maintaining employment in companies whose costs are now too high compared to those of competitors in China, India, Brazil, Russia and Africa already. As employees cannot easily accept the drastic reduction in their salaries, companies are and will be relocating and unemployment will rise inexorably. Governments will be confronted with the demands of one another without being able to give them the satisfaction they expect. Difficult debates are opening up: on employment and work, consumption, social benefits (which can no longer be provided as they are at present), competition between immigrant and ‘national’ workers, immigration regulations, economic and social protectionism… but also cultural protectionism….

In this context, Universities seem, unfortunately, to have lost the sense of their mission: to seek, understand and say the possible meaning of things. If any ‘Futurible’ club is interested in the future prospects of international society, few are those who attend it. Whether in France or in England, many academics confess to being disoriented by current developments, not being able to identify the causes, contenting themselves with providing knowledge and diplomas in various technical fields (especially in computer science, communication and finance), and lacking initiative in even the most basic research. Everything seems to be happening as if ‘faith’ – in the most general sense, with its presuppositions of confidence in oneself, in others and in ‘God’ – is beginning to be lacking, is being lost, or is being maintained only as an artificial defence against the risk of confronting the radical questions of the end of the world: are we not only pretending to still believe in it? Would the West be reduced to the Coué method?

C. An inheritance to be exploited, for better or worse, under inventory profit…

European civilisation still exists, if only as a survival, and, like those that preceded it, of Greece, Rome or Christianity, it will also leave traces, no doubt lasting, in the common heritage of humanity. It constitutes a legacy, a rather beautiful legacy certainly, still to be managed by its present holders who can still draw the energies of their survival from it – and what existence is not still capable of a few beautiful days in its final days? – but also to be exploited and promoted by those who would like to inherit it. Rome knew what it owed to Greece, Europe still knows what it owes to Greece and Rome and to Christianity in its own Renaissance. If civilizations themselves are mortal, their crucible of faith and culture is still there, available for others and for rediscoveries that are always possible…

The best? This was and remains the intellectual invention that, after Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in Greece, Cicero Seneca and Marcus Aurelius in Rome, Europeans made of freedom, after Dun Scotus (1266-1308), from the Italian Quatrocento onwards, as a counterpoint to all the arguments of authority they had known until then from the Roman-Germanic empire of Charlemagne. This is the work done by the school of natural law and people with Grotius and Pufendorf, Hobbes and Locke, Descartes and Spinoza. After them will come the works with scientific pretension of the Enlightenment and the encyclopaedists, of Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte. A little later, it will be the reflections of the anarchists Godwin, Stirner, Proudhon, Bakounin, Malatesta. At the same time as this research applies itself to deconstructing everything it lingers on, it applies itself to systematically but otherwise reconstructing everything it has lingered on. Kant and Hegel, Marx and Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre, but also Montesquieu and Rousseau, Tocqueville and Max Weber, Freud and Merleau-Ponty, all of them have invested themselves in grappling with the fields of philosophy, sociopolitics, psychology, history… All of them, at the same time, provoke and stimulate disorder and the reordering of societies, in Europe but also elsewhere in the vast world. Yes, Universities have been powerfully at work throughout Western civilization. Faith in the adventure of research has engendered a culture and, further on, a civilization certainly for the better: the autonomy of the human person, both individual and social; the secularization of society; the secularization of the world and its gradual emergence from ‘religion’…

But for the worst too… As early as 1949, Georges Orwell published his fiction-anticipation novel, 1984, dissuading his readers from seeing the West as the best of all possible worlds, when it would instead move towards a society of surveillance and restriction of liberties, towards a totalitarian and police state. The mathematisation and digitisation of all the ingredients that make up society – things and living things -, their traceability, the progress of automatisms and robots, the evaluation of all things according to statistics and access to their virtual knowledge by simple computer access, the ‘technical’ regulation of all the behaviours that make up the external life of the individual and society and their management at ‘zero risk’, the reduction of people to their anonymity within public opinion, are gradually substituting conditioned reflexes of external life alone for the reflection of which people are normally free and capable subjects by inner life. It remains for the social machinery to ensure that what it can still produce of all kinds is ‘consumed’…

It is not certain that the ‘exit from religion’ analysed by Marcel Gauchet did not also lead to a void of expectations, desire and hope that, for the better, Western civilization had been able to encourage, if not create with its Universities. It was at the Sorbonne that the cultural revolution broke out which, in 1968, was to shake up the whole edifice that this civilization was still but no longer managed to really be, … ‘prey to the absent body and speechless before the other world‘ (Claude Lefort).

Part 2: The time has come for new civilizations in Africa and for universities.

Allow me to mention my first contact with Africa: it was in April 1960, in Dakar, on the occasion of the launch of the University whose rector at the time was Lucien Paye, a Frenchman. The Federation of Mali was taking steps that would not be enough to maintain it for more than six months. Our group of Parisian students was received there by the president of its federal assembly, Léopold Cedar Senghor. And here we are at a university where the Frenchman that I am took a certain part in its creation. But we are here to reflect on its cultural mission as a University for the integral development of society in Africa today, beyond the origins of its creation and its share of the heritage of Western, European and French civilization. For what development? For what culture?

A. What development? An African analysis that is becoming more and more commonplace

A month ago, CESAG in Dakar organized a conference on Africa, geopolitical stakes and perspectives. Adama Gaye[1] said that the major obstacle to Africa’s development is the problem of “leadership”: “The greatest challenge facing the continent is the question of African leadership… one of the main evils that plague the continent’s development.” Reassuring his students that the continent is well on the path to development, he also told them that it remains handicapped by the quality of its leaders, especially political leaders, he added, most of whom “are corrupt and not up to the challenges of today”. The development of the continent is not impossible: remarkable growth rates have been recorded: ‘In the last 10 years, six African countries have been among the best growth rates’, and its take-off is expected in this century, identical to those of China 30 years ago and India 20 years ago. Gaye adds: ‘What will save Africa is not public development aid! But because the continent has become a market, and because technologies are widely used there, it will be Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) that will be the lever of development: Africa is a sought-after place for this type of investment, the profit is certain’. Other assets of the continent, according to Mr. Gaye: the drop in inflation, the decline in debt, the development of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the development of South-South cooperation, the rush of powers such as India, China and Brazil towards this continent. And also the democratic victories recorded in recent years, the potential in natural resources (including 10% of the world’s oil reserves), Africa’s participation in the major meetings of the G20 and G8, the vitality of its youth… But, without forgetting of course the food deficit and many other deficiencies, it is mainly the flawed African leadership that would constitute the major obstacle to meeting the challenges of the continent. Gaye invites Africans to focus on levers such as training, technology, productivity, rational use of resources and the fight against brain drain. He added: ‘Development is not an immediate phenomenon. It may take years to achieve it, but African countries have the opportunity to achieve it by adopting good practices‘. In short, it is necessary to move away from Afro-pessimism, towards Afro-optimism and access to Afro-realism. Let us note, as far as the University is concerned, the recommendations to train the students: 1/ to the various techniques, 2/ to leadership (i.e. in French, according to the dictionary: to command, to direction, to hegemony,), 3/ to good practices (by discerning what is good and what is less good, by appreciating what is good or not).

B. What training? What values? To what culture?

In Dakar, Adama Gaye echoed the concerns of all development experts, especially those of the economic type, whose importance is well known, but in the best sense of the word, i.e. by going so far as to include, beyond the techniques to be appropriated through specific knowledge giving access to professional occupations, the learning of good practices, including political ones. This legitimate concern to train people in the ethical responsibility of their own behaviour is obviously a major preoccupation for a University which cannot content itself with being a simple temple of knowledge as it is too often presented, at the risk of being confused with what are called ‘Grandes écoles’ for professional purposes. The primary purposes of the ‘University’ are not primarily the acquisition of simple scientific and technological knowledge, but the training of the human mind in ways of thinking and judging, as well as in values and their intelligence.

Is there any reason to believe that UCAC (Catholic University of Central Africa) has already reached this stage of being able to meet the expectations that society would or could have on this subject in Central Africa? Certainly the objective results of its students obtaining various diplomas and qualified jobs in professional life are very encouraging, suggesting that technical training is very well provided in all the disciplines offered: from nursing to industrial engineering; from accounting and financial techniques to the various management arts; from good intellectual procedures in the social and philosophical sciences to good ways of presenting Christian and, more especially, Catholic doctrine. Nevertheless, the performance of a University which aims first and foremost at the development of Africa by Africans, on the spot, and with the desire for a genuine implementation of the dynamics that this implies, should be evaluated on another level, more moral than technical: Faith in oneself, taking initiative as actors, the will to serve society in sometimes difficult conditions, integrity in the behavior of students, already at the University and later in professional life… Absent for ten years from the native cradle of UCAC, I am not in a position to judge, but we know the great difficulties of resisting seductions and social constraints, from those of the ‘family circle’ to those of the political clientele…

Marcel Zadi Kessy, who became, after important responsibilities as an entrepreneur, President of the Economic and Social Council of Côte d’Ivoire, addresses these various problems in his book in the form of an interview: Renaissances Africaines (with Jean-Luc Mouton, published by Des îlots de Résistance, 21 October 2010). In it, he invites Africans to ‘reinvent their future’, in their own way, without worrying about copying others (e.g. ‘Westerners’) and their behaviour. He intends to lead them to reinvent their future by carrying out a real psychological and cultural revolution, and proposes an implementation by a ‘development of proximity‘ taking into account the deep aspirations of the people. For Zadi Kessy, Africans need to learn from others, and to free themselves from the bonds of an inferiority complex in order to reach out to others from whom they must draw their strength and success. On every page of his work he reiterates his invitation to training and education: ‘An economic, political, democratic, moral and spiritual revolution is possible, as it is necessary, since the future of Africa lies in the culture of the universal’. While vigorously adding: “Above all, don’t let us be corrupted! Meeting other peoples and appropriating their new techniques and ways of life will be all the easier if we are secure in our own culture and proud of its values” (page 202). I must confess here my perplexity: is it precisely possible to avoid the ‘cultural question’ so often at the centre of our debates? How can we avoid the confrontation and work of adaptation between particular cultures and the culture of the universal? How can we take the necessary decisions to sort out the old and appropriate the modern in order to bring out the best in each other in a living cultural Tradition, always renewed in some way? There are indeed many adaptations to be made, at the cultural level, between ancient traditions and modern innovations in order to consolidate the dynamism of a living Tradition which, in the words of Zadi Kessy, has faith in itself and invents the future! Here are three of them, for example, no doubt primordial.

In the first place, it is the problem of the Person and his identity that demands to be studied and reflected upon with obstinacy: is he a mere element of the community group to which he is somehow subject, without any particular autonomy?… can he be recognized in his originality and singular independence?… For Jean-Paul Ngoupandé, this is the main question that he sets out in Racines historiques et culturelles de la crise africaine (Historical and Cultural Roots of the African Crisis). There are two ways of conceiving man. The first consists in positing the human individual as a person, that is to say as an absolute value, irreducible to a thing, let alone a commodity… Beyond the physical appearance of the individual, there is the person, who is inviolable. Humanism, that conception which elevates man to the rank of absolute value, has been a difficult and long conquest of humanity… The other way of conceiving man consists in reducing him to the rank of a simple subdivision or numerical component of the social group; it is the clan, the ethnic group, the kingdom that prevails. The individual has no value of his own. He is worth only by his membership of the social group. He can therefore be sacrificed for the interest of the social group, or of the one who claims to embody it’. The issue is far from being heard in Africa, as the controversies between individualists and communitarians at the 2006 colloquium in Abidjan on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights made clear.

Secondly, there is the problem of the Social Responsibility of any person, individual or corporate (e.g. a company). Every person lives in a social fabric of which he or she is part and for which he or she is ‘responsible’ for his or her part. It is worth reflecting on what we mean by this word: to respond is to make one’s feelings known, by thought, word and deed, and thus to make known the extent to which each person acknowledges and feels solidarity with his or her environment: that of his family, of his village, of his company, of his ethnic group… Solidarity is not the too easy alibi that would allow us to always be able to count on the other, on his assistance, on his help, the first form of solidarity being of course with oneself: help yourself and heaven will help you! Here again, African society certainly needs to reflect – like all other societies – on what solidarity consists of, and the Universities should be the most appropriate places to do so because these are questions to be debated! This is true of solidarity within our natural families, it is true of companies that have responsibilities with all the stakeholders in their environment.

The third issue is the problem of Living together in spite of everything within the larger society. Beyond micro-societies where it is still relatively easy to evolve in a simple way between partners having many immediately identifiable common features (lineage, language, customs and usages…), it is more difficult to live in a national macro-society the thousand and one othernesses that divide us, make us adversaries of each other, and live usually and in an ordinary way in quasi-permanent conflicts. Otherness is normally prolonged in altercation! The political question of living together as partners-adversaries at the same time within the same nation, as citizens of the same city, is an ever more urgent issue in Africa as elsewhere – and Europe is not necessarily finished either!

Part 3: The specifically ‘Catholic’ mission of the University

A. What is meant by the ‘Catholic’ proposal of a University?

Perhaps, by some sort of unreflected reflex, we immediately understand the word Catholic as a reference to the specific and well-known organization of the Christian constellation: the Catholic, Roman and Apostolic Church. This is certainly not false, as regards your Catholic University of Central Africa, which is well listed within the International Federation of Catholic Universities, in organic relationship with the Holy See and its administrations. But it would be forgetting that the meaning of this word is not limited to the space-time of this Church which, if it is already defined as such, is aiming at a space-time that is not as important as that to which it is currently assimilated and which is more and more contested – I am referring, of course, to the crisis that this Church is experiencing today – more especially in Europe, and about which we shall have to say a few words a little further on. Unless we confuse substance and form, it is neither right nor possible to immediately define the Catholic character, in the sense of universality, by the formal attachment to an organization bearing that name.

To think of universality (or ‘catholicity’) is the primordial task, the fundamental mission of every University whose objectives are, let us recall, the search for truth by the privileged means of disputatio, of the confrontation of the judgments (putatio) of the one and the other, of the confrontation of their theses, therefore of the contradiction (saying something against another), of the debate, of the dialogue which, far from being always peaceful, can of course take on a certain harshness (as between Jesus and many of his interlocutors). Is one easily disposed to enter into the arena of these exchanges that normally turn into discussions, disputes? Words are frightening, frightening. But don’t we forget their meaning: they may be in the context of altercation and conflict between adversaries, but they are means to an end: to seek and find the truth, and thus to establish a society of trust – where the interlocutors are invited to be true ‘partners’. The situation of ‘academics’ is that of eminent partners-adversaries in debate, to establish a society of trust in truth!

And, more particularly in this century of globality, of planetary society, of globality, what is at stake is to seek and make the universal truth of Man, of his identity as a personal being, both individual and social, responsible for himself and for others for what he may think, say and do. This Man is at the same time global and local, fundamentally the same and different at the same time, across all nations, their cultures, their religions, each legitimate and respectable a priori, all invited to a conviviality however difficult to establish in truth! We know the thesis of Samuel Huntington, an American and former member of the National Security Council, in his work The Clash of Civilizations, for whom the centre of gravity of international relations is in the interaction between Western civilization and all the others – seven of which are more important: Confucian (Chinese), Japanese, Hindu, Islamic, Slovak-Orthodox, Latin American and African: they constitute like tectonic plates of the current global cultural and civilizational space, with lines of confrontation, like those in the earth’s crust that cause earthquakes and other tremors. International society today is certainly going through a convulsive period. But this is probably neither the first nor the last in its history, and it is certainly important to understand that this is a true “History” that the human species is making. Humanity is making a history, its history, apparently groping its way through various successive phases; it is certainly difficult to decipher its meaning, but it seems risky to deny that it has one. A simple glance at the past suffices to perceive that in all fields – scientific, technological, economic, social, political, cultural, religious… – the human species is at least “evolving”. The word and the concept are relatively recent: we owe them essentially to the English naturalist Charles Darwin in the order of the evolution of living species. After him, the word and the concept entered the whole of human and social sciences under different names (for example “development”, “progress”, “promotion” etc.). However helpless man may be today before the course that the evolution of international society seems to be taking, with all the seeds of conflict and violence that it carries within it, it is probably wiser to question the enigma that this evolution proposes than to pretend to solve the apparent data rather quickly – too quickly… Evolution has meaning, at the crossroads of the free initiative of men and the ‘divine’ inspiration – of which Qohélet tells us: “I have carefully considered the task that God imposes on humans to humble them. Every work of God comes in its own time, but he has put eternity in their hearts, and yet man cannot find the meaning of the divine work from the beginning to the end… For every man in general, the whole of creation is awaiting its liberation, its fulfilment, its completion; for the Christian in particular, the figure of Christ is its axial vector, at once alpha and omega, at the centre of the cosmos and of history, Son of Man and Son of God. The convulsions of international society are undoubtedly not without some anthropo-theological meaning…

It is in the attentive study of inter-cultural and inter-religious relations that the University has the mission of seeking and gradually coming to say, by successive approximations, in what way the universality that makes the hoped-for bond and possible communion between human beings, and their equal common dignity, is revealed. Allow me to evoke in this connection the dream I had – and continue to have – when I participated, in the modest island of Mauritius, in the creation of the Cardinal Jean Margeot Institute: is not this small island in the Indian Ocean destined to be like the centre of the world, with its populations, languages, cultures and religions of all kinds living side by side there? Does it not have the vocation to become the headquarters of the United Nations?

What will be the contribution of African civilization to the world? The Roman civilization, before collapsing into bread and games (panem and circenses), was able to transmit to the world the activities that otherwise made its dignity: the construction of roads of all kinds in Europe, Africa and on the seas, and the law with which they colonized the continent that made some profit after them. And Africa too knows how to enrich the world with what, from today, makes the originality of its civilization and does not fail to leave its mark on others, in the Americas and already in Europe: African colonization has already begun in music and the arts [2], in neighbourhoods and businesses, in business and literature, in intellectual and religious expression… The essential work remains to be done in Africa itself, of course, and it will be the work of all those who, increasingly refusing to be assisted as they have been since the end of the colonial era, are claiming the dignity of taking their destinies into their own hands and learning to decide for themselves what to do. Much remains to be done, says the Fiftieth Anniversary Manifesto adopted by a symposium in Cotonou and then by the African Union: Boldness, the only challenge for a new Africa. There is no lack of initiatives, from the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF, of which a former UCAC teacher is a dynamic player) to Meroe Africa, a popular university devoted to education for all and due to open very soon in Yaoundé. It is a question of taking up the challenge set out already in 1956 by the 1st Congress of Black Writers and Artists in a University, in Paris/Sorbonne, on the theme of Independence and Africa’s responsibility in the management of the world.

C. Catholicity and Catholicism: Evidence of a Crisis in the Institutional Church

An important problem remains to be posed at least, if not already solved: is the Catholicity of the Catholic Church authentically Catholic? Already in 1956, at the Sorbonne in Paris, the First Congress of Black Writers and Artists dared to move forward: ‘The voice of the new cultures must be heard in the cultural or spiritual bodies from which the values are expressed and the reflections that enjoy the greatest authority are disseminated. We think, for example, of Christian life in the world. We are not without having noticed that the Fathers of the Church, the doctors, the saints are all inserted in the only Western culture. The recommendations and decisions which, from Rome, extend to the Christian world are formulated under the inspiration of experiences and resources of expression proper to Europe, and are more readily explained against a historical background proper to Western culture’. And we know that right here in Cameroon, some religious will advocate the opening of the so-called Catholic Church to a greater catholicity than that to which they had been initiated. This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult problems that the official Catholic Church has to face at present: developed in the Roman catacombs, the Christian communities also gave birth later on to ‘Christianity’, with an institutional Church linked to the political organisation of the whole of Europe. In the course of evolution, it certainly had to reduce the ambitions it might have had to maintain perhaps its predominance: accepting as best it could the fragmentation of its empire and the presence of separated brothers, it could still console itself with the audience of Christianity (especially Thomistic) and the Christian civilization that claimed it – and it was in this spirit that the missions outside Europe developed, compensating in some way for the decline of its influence in Europe. This decline was accentuated by the development of various ideological schools of thought which no longer had much to do with it and contributed to the secularisation of the so-called Western civilisation; the Catholic Church then restricted itself more and more to the instituted organisation of this name, which was less ‘Catholic’ than ever. It is to an aggiornamento (opening of the windows) that his pope, John XXIII wanted to proceed: nuncio among the Muslim Turks, among the Bulgarian Orthodox Christians, and finally among the French laity, he had, as traditionalist as he was, a sense of the limits of credibility of the dogma ‘outside the Church, no salvation’. Striving to work for a greater catholicity (at the risk of conflict with the smallest), he convoked an extraordinary meeting of the Church as soon as he was elected in 1958: The Second Vatican Council worked for seven years to revise the scope of the Catholicity of the Church by opening itself to ecumenicality (with separated brothers), to inter-religious dialogue (with Muslims and Jews), to the foundations of peace with other schools of wisdom, especially Eastern (Hinduism, Buddhism…), to welcoming witnesses of contemporary agnosticism (with the present Pope).

The Catholic University of Central Africa has a vocation to be Catholic. Over the years, it will no doubt have to become ever more clearly aware of how it can itself contribute to the catholicity of the Church to which it intends to lay claim. This may not be without a certain courage, even though tensions are high in this Church which will also celebrate, at the end of this year, a fiftieth anniversary: that of the official opening of its work in 1962: three years of difficult debates, disputes, conflicts between adversaries which sometimes still remain so today. What is at stake is to say and to live in truth the catholicity of a God whom no one has ever seen but is the universal God, of all in their diversity, a God who indicates, signifies, shows and manifests and to whom a man who calls himself the Son bears witness, but worries his own people and does not hesitate to welcome the Roman centurion, the Syro-Phoenician woman, the heathen of Gedara, the Samaritan woman, to evoke the salvation of the people of Nineveh and Sodom, in the name of a greater God!

Conclusion: Passing by doing good… Christian message of wisdom…

The University in the 21st century, in Africa as elsewhere and everywhere in the world, is required to contribute more particularly to the search for that which makes its unity despite everything, can help it in its reconciliation and ensure its peace. Beyond the consensus that is always possible at the various technical, political and ethical levels, it is, however, from struggles and struggles of a spiritual nature that it is very likely that perspectives of controversy and dialogue will have to be opened up. There is no doubt that this requires faith. And I have three wishes for your University.

My first wish for UCAC is to acquire this Faith. What FAITH?…rather than in God…or in Jesus…or in all the articles that speak of one and the other, …or even in the Church in their place…would it not be more simply the Faith of which Jesus himself speaks and evokes the fruits when he says: ‘you have little faith’? Truly I say to you, if you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you would say to this mountain: Move from here and go there! And it would move. Nothing would be impossible for you. My first wish for the UCAC is to acquire this Faith, the one Jesus himself testified to: he learned to have faith!

My second wish for the UCAC is that it be perceived above all as a place of Faith in the great family of universities: beyond the transmission of much knowledge, it has even more the mission to say what it is appropriate to feel of the movements that more truly make life, evolution, the history of Mankind – the important thing is not to know much, but to feel and taste things internally’ – and then to act according to what intelligence, memory and imagination can inspire to the will. To act and therefore to fight: life is a fight for truth and freedom …

My third wish would then be that, from the University in Africa, a more universal culture be born for today than all those that preceded it, at the crossroads of inter-culturality (and not of virtual inculturations), in the name of a greater ‘God’ and a greater Man than those to which we are too often accustomed and of which we are so quickly tired! Christianity has undoubtedly arrived in its winter season – in the West in particular, if only with beautiful remains! – but it is also the time when its burial prepares a new spring. Africa, like other nations, is

[1] China-Africa: The Dragon and the Ostrich, L’Harmattan, 2006. China, the roaring dragon, astonishes the world of the 21st century, and Africa, the ostrich powerless to face its challenges, desolves it. What could have happened to make their respective fates so different? The book establishes the causes of this asymmetry of the two destinies, reviews their experiences over the past 60 years, and analyses their current political, economic and social mainsprings.

[2] Cf. the report of the CERDOTOLA (International Centre for Research and Documentation on African Traditions and Languages) for 2009: African Culture in the Globalized World of the 21st Century, Yaoundé 2011.

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