"Hekima College is not only a place of consummation of knowledge but also a place of production of knowledge," said Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, SJ, the President of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) during his speech at the opening of the 2018/2019 Academic Year this Saturday, August 18, 2018, at Hekima College in Nairobi, Kenya.
The opening of the new academic year took place in the Auditorium in the presence of the new Rector of the Jesuit Community, Fr Deogratias Rwezaura, SJ, the Principal of Hekima College, Fr. John Okoria, SJ, and the invited guest for the inauguration lecture, Dr. Chichi Amangbo, doctor in Business Management, Learning and Organization Design. Two main activities were held during the opening of the academic year: the inaugural lecture on Human Development and Spirituality, and the Mass of the Holy Spirit presided over by Fr. Orobator, SJ.
A Church in Dire Need for Real Committed Laity
During the inaugural lecture on Human Development and Spirituality, Dr. Amangbo invited the audience to reflect on the kind of Church that pastors and priests are developing. Reading from her own experience of the Catholic Church, she observed that "committed Catholics think that their faith is connected to all the areas of their lives. However, they fail to express the truth in front of their pastors". According to Dr. Chichi, "parishioners shied away from taking unpopular stands to defend the truth even if their pastors are doing wrong". For her, it is a "blind obedience to the priest, a confusion between the word of God and the word of the priest". This kind of behavior is the fruit of a lack of spiritual growth because our faith calls us not only to respect the authority of the priest but also to speak up the truth whenever there is a need.
She presented various theories to support her claim of how the inability to express the truth before a priest demonstrates an incomplete development of the human person that needs to be looked at. She cited examples from Erik Erikson's stages of human development, where the neonate displays a behavior of Trust vs Fear toward hope. This corresponds to Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development, where at the stage of good boy/good girl, people seek approval of others, have no critical judgment of a group or authority.
For Dr. Amangbo, priests and pastors should be aware that the problem of incoherence between Christians' faith and the expression of truth has been created by them. There is "a need of humility by the priests, a need to empower lay Christians to take unpopular stands in their churches and societies in order to defend faith and truth". As committed Catholics, we should be prophets in our churches, avoid to consider priests as persons with limitless knowledge and say the truth wherever we are in order to defend justice for the oppressed and the marginalized".
The Mystery of the Coconut
After the inaugural lecture, students, professors and invited guests were nourished by the Word of God in the Eucharistic celebration presided over by Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, SJ, president of JCAM. In his homily, Fr Orobator raised a coconut and asked what is inside the coconut and how it is possible that there is water inside. For him, "we often use the word mystery frequently to designate things we don't understand like the water in the coconut. We call it God's mystery. However, that God mystery is simple like water in the coconut. The mystery of God invites us to celebrate the greatness of God". According to him, his "pre-Christian ancestors will also recognize the mystery of God in the milk inside the coconut, not the outcome of an imperceptible biological process. His ancestors "will not only recognize the work of God and wondrous act in the milk inside the coconut, but they will also rejoice and praise God for that mystery."
In fact, if our ancestors, through the mystery of the simple milk in the coconut, can recognize the greatness of God in ordinary things, then we are called to celebrate and praise God in the simple and ordinary things. He reminded us of the importance of being mindful of the work of God in ourselves and in the world: "Inspired by the water in the coconut, let us open our hearts to see, celebrate and collaborate with the presence of God in our lives and our communities. Whether as theologians or peace practitioners, it is possible to imitate God's action in the coconut". At the new academic year begins, Fr, Orobator invited the students and professors to also be "the light that irradiates people from their ignorance by liberating wisdom and truth, by working for justice, peace and reconciliation". It is important for him that "we too become like God".
The Eucharistic celebration ended in thanksgiving and praise to the Mystery-working God who poured milk into the coconut without opening its shell. All guests were invited to share the meal and cocktail with the Jesuit Community. Hekima College had the privilege this year to welcome more than one hundred students from various countries in Africa, Asia and South America.
By: Jean AMEGBLE, SJ