WEBINAR CELEBRATING 70 YEARS OF RADIO VATICAN BROADCAST TO AFRICA JULY 17, 2020
Sub theme: Master Weavers of African Stories-Promoting everyday heroes as solutions to African Challenges
Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo of Oyo Diocese, Nigeria.
It is a privilege for me to participate in this Webinar to celebrate the Vatican Radio, a true gift to humanity and to Christianity in this year of 70th anniversary of its broadcast to Africa. This same year 2020, the Holy Father, Pope Francis in his message for the 54th World Communications Day entitled: “That you may tell your children and grandchildren” (Ex 10:2)
Life becomes history”
struck a huge note of endorsement for authentic narratives of every land, culture and people that harbour the capacity to positively change and unite the world. The Holy Father rightly affirmed that human beings are story tellers irrespective of the means and the age we are not only stay storytellers but “stories on the move” The message of the pope gave renewed energy and weight to legitimate stories about everyday, ordinary people and persons which today’s pervasive “pop-culture hero” environment would wish to ignore or minimize/downplay. Perhaps this is where we should place more emphasis in the future.
That the Holy Father focused his reflection/message on storytelling in this 70th year of the Vatican Radio’s broadcast to Africa is in my view pure inspiration. It is meet indeed that authentic story telling be re-energized just in the same year we celebrate the Vatican’s oldest and prime, electronic storyteller, the Vatican Radio. Great credit goes to the moderators of this Webinar for recognizing this important confluence and for grabbing the opportunity to stage this discussion on this worldwide platform.
As President of the Pan African Episcopal Committee for Social Communication CEPACS working for the Symposium for Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, (SECAM) we thank the Radio Vatican for its labor of love over the years. We recognize the treasure in Pope Francis’ message that we need to sanitize today’s world through the rediscovery of real stories about real people and about real issues in very land. When God bequeathed the care of creation to humanity according to the Scriptures, he showed that man is the prime treasure and apex of his creation, a primacy that was not to be altered by consideration for economic, political or other lesser considerations. Man was given dominion over creation, not to DAMAGE but to CARE for it. The concern is therefore understandable that generation to generation be kept well informed of this mandate through authentic storytelling. Every land and people therefore have that same responsibility sd must discharge it with the idioms and metaphors best known to them.
Africa, perhaps more than other continents is a continent of people composed of contemporary stories inspired and energized by past ones. The continent’s cult and reverence of ancestors already provided fertile soil for the acceptance of Communion of Saints which is an important tenet of Christianity. Weaving authentic stories about Africa therefore requires of course that the “weaver” be well-acquainted with the fables, riddles, tales, songs, proverbs of Africa. Stories worked in the past to build the African Society and its values and traditions. They certainly have not stopped working today.
I make bold to say that after God, humanity is the element that is common to Christian and African traditions. Human beings have remained the same over the ages and have been at the heart of the ideals of Christianity and the values of African tradition. Stories help human beings to establish meaning in life and to search for the Sublime Reality to themselves. Storytelling helps to express complex and difficult truths in a manner that makes them easy to appropriate but does not make them any less effective. They have been used in that manner in Africa over the ages. The Bible has examples of this fact. For example, The encounter between King David and the prophet Nathan is perhaps the most representative of this (2Sam 12: 1-25), but so is the parable of the Samaritan (Lk 10: 25-37). It is important to note that both were focused on events that happened around real persons. While heroism is not immediately detected in the story about King David and prophet Nathan it is surely present. The Samaritan, on the other hand, is clearly seen as a hero who put the cowardice of the priest and Levite who passed the injured man by on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho to shame with minimal abrasion.
It would seem to me that this is the challenge to which Weavers of African Stories are called today in the face of Crass materialism, Bad Governance, Terrorism, Ethnic Conflict, Corruption, Discrimination, Ethnic Bias, and Sexual immorality which assail the continent. It is necessary to identify the real heroes of everyday as the message of the Holy Father calls us to do, and to expose their experience as a catalyst for change just as we do for our fathers in the faith, Saint John , James Agatha Cecilia and so on. It is imperative to deploy the stories and the local means of storytelling today that could bring the hearer or audience of any class or status to the point where King David after his encounter with Nathan, said: “I have sinned against Yahweh” (verse 13) and to the point where Jesus said to the lawyer in the parable of the Samaritan, “Go and do the same yourself” (V 37).
There would be no reason for the weaver of African stories to feel shy doing this through myths and riddles and proverbs because to regard African myths as untrue or simply a distraction is merely a betrayal of ignorance about their role and power. Archbishop Peter Sarpong, the emeritus Bishop of Kumasi Diocese in Ghana has established that the myths of a society give information about the world of thoughts of that society and help in the absorption of values , truths and ideals of a people. Sarpong said that in Africa all myths are true in a sense. Their truthfulness depends on their relevance to human experiences of life where they are found.
Therefore we have a considerable task to identify and never give up on projecting the positive stories of such African icons of selfless service, love, tolerance, fidelity forgiveness and reconciliation. Such icons as the Martyrs of Uganda, the much acclaimed late President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Blessed Fr Iwene Tansi and even the teeanger Leah Sharibu of Nigeria who refused to renounce her Christian faith to regain her freedom under the threat of death. These and similar stories offer us positive content around which we must weave our experiences
For extra advantage, storytelling in the African context has always been democratic as all are invited to engage in it through the means of riddles, drama, songs and mimes. That extra advantage of this is that the subjects of storytelling can then extend to even the next door neighbour, the parent, the brother uncle aunt or even friend. Anyone who, driven by a force that makes them courageous enough to confront difficult situations and to combat evil, and exhibits a sign of heroism can and should be celebrated in our stories. The pope in the same WDC message emphasizes that no human story is insignificant or paltry. No one is an extra on the world stage. He wrote that: “Since God became story every human story is in a certain sense a divine story….every human story has an irrepressible dignity”
Strengthened, therefore by these perspectives Master Weavers of African Stories as my topic evokes, must invoke the stories of the past when we had much less in Africa but were much more, when we found more joy in whom we were than in what we had, more peace in being together than in being separated. Without pretending, we must help our people to always see the larger story that with God, pain is not the end of any story. We must deploy the cultural and literary resources of Africa to ensure that when writing the story of our life and continent we do not allow anyone else to hold the pen. We must weave a fabric that at the end of the day ensures that our authentic life become authentic history that can match the history of any other people all over the world.