Those who are not from Africa can generally be divided into two groups: those who have never been there and those who have lived there, at least for a while. The former can only have prejudices, and in principle, this is inevitable, for we can only build partial representations of that with which we have no direct experience. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as they are temporary and do not act as a filter, or worse as a wall, to the experiencing of the other. Regarding Africa, stereotypes abound and oscillate on one hand between fascination with the body and places there, while on the other, repulsion of the other whose otherness, which occurs upon first sight, is experienced as threatening. This otherness makes it clear to us that our “universality” is often nothing more than a masked ethnocentrism.
Those who have lived for a while Africa -and I have had this privilege-, know that stereotypes veil a richer and much more complex reality. First and foremost, Africa is plural. As the important reporter, Ryszard Kapuściński, puts it “apart from its geographical name, Africa does not really exist”. Throughout this immense territory, there are many different ethnic groups, cultures and influences linked to colonization and the decolonization processes. Therefore, we have to try to understand what Africa, in its plurality, transmits to us of the singular, of the unmissable, which from my experience, is the sense of the bond of everything with everything, be it its peoples, the natural world, the spirit that animates everything, and God. In a hyper-fragmented world, which is paying the cost of an unwise approach, this lesson should be listened to because it is good for us all. In territories characterized by contrasts, contradictions, violence, and accelerations that leave too many people behind, it is women, exploited on the one hand, but who keep daily life going on the other. Africa is feminine, and if it can face the enormous challenges of a difficult present, it is mainly thanks to women. And, this applies to the Church too.
There have been two Synods for Africa, the first in 1992, the second in 2009, but many of the expectations held by women are still disappointed. The first Catholic bishop in Central Africa, Daniele Comboni, maintained that many of the failings that occurred at the beginning of the missionary work in the 19th century were due to a lack of consideration of the role of women. However, what do African women ask of the Church? Analyses and stories in this issue of Women Church World testify to a journey underway. These are concrete steps so as to look at Africa with the eyes of Africa, and this way of seeing may help us to better understand this time, and of that which is to come.