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.
2 thoughts on “Notional Christianity vs. radical conversion”
I had no idea that Rwanda was mostly catholic. I always thought it was one form of islam vs another form of islam.
Where did all this intolerance come from? Jesus was very tolerant of people’s differences, at least as I read the bible. I keep hearing that catholics hold grudges. Maybe we are not teaching forgiveness, tolerance, and mercy enough in our faith. Is this something we should be taught more of in our faith? Rose
Rose, you are right. Jesus taught us to love everyone, even our enemies. There is no place for hatred in our lives if we are faithful to him.
I am saddened to hear you say that Catholics have a reputation for holding grudges. We have to change that. If we don’t learn how to forgive, if we don’t learn how to love, we are not following Christ. Period.
It’s hard to forgive. We all know that. It’s hard to give up rivalries and social patterns that contribute to fear and hatred, some of which were in place long before we were born. Yet that’s what conversion is all about. CHANGE.
The Spirit gives us the power to change. And the community must embrace that change, or else — you guessed it — we slide right back into our old ways.
Thank you for writing. Keep teaching mercy and love, as Jesus did. It really does matter.