By Gordon Nary
Gordon: To introduce you to our readers, you are Associate Professor of Church History and Mission Studies Kogi State University, Anyigb, a Nigeria , Associate Fellow, Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology, DePaul University, Chicago, Editor, Anyigba Journal of Arts and Humanities, Kogi State University, Anyigba, Nigeria, and Deputy Editor, Nigerian Journal of Christian Studies. As a Church Historian with focus on Africa, Europe and North America, what initially interested you in Christian history in Africa?
Felix: The African continent is a vast one with diversity of tribes and ethnic/tribal groups. My interest in African Church History is largely due to my desire to know more about the history of Christianity in Africa as well as to enlighten many Africans and non – Africans about the rich history of Christianity in Africa. Also, I believe that many erroneous views of the history of Christianity in the African continent such as the fact that Africans had no idea of Christianity before the advent of the missionaries from the Western nations and others need to be corrected. While we appreciate the efforts of foreign missionaries to Africa, the collaboration between the foreign missionaries and African indigenous evangelizers is also worthy of mention. The beautiful legacies of the early North African Christianity from the early times until the invasion and Islamization of the sub-region was a great attraction to me as an African scholar.
Gordon: Who brought Christianity to Nigeria?
Felix: The first attempt at bringing Christianity to the geographical entity now called Nigeria was the initiative of the Portuguese during the period of exploration. This was as far back as the fifteenth century when the Portuguese King was interested in converting to Christianity the people of West Africa assigned to him through the Papal Bull of Demarcation
Gordon: What African nation has the highest percentage of Catholics?
Felix: Democratic Republic of the Congo has the highest percentage of Roman Catholics in Africa with Roman Catholic population of 29,210,050 which is 36.8 % out of the country’s total population of 79, 375,136. Share of global Catholics is 2.33%
Gordon: What are some of the primary challenges in evangelizing new Catholics in Nigeria?
Felix: The major challenges in evangelizing new Catholics in Nigeria are namely: 1. The proliferation of non – Catholic Churches scattered all over Nigeria which seem to be more aggressive in evangelism than the Catholic Church. Many Roman Catholics feel that those who wish to become Catholics must come to the church rather than the church going out to search for lost souls. 2. Many of the Roman Catholics patronize several of the new Churches in search for miracles and others. Many Catholics find it difficult to evangelize because they are sometimes made to believe that other Churches are better than the Catholic Church, thereby lacking the motivation to reach out to others to become part of the Catholic family.
Gordon: You also have a strong interest in Charismatic Renewal in the Roman Catholic Church Please provide an overview of Charismatic Renewal and why there are sometimes criticism of the Charismatic Renewal?
Felix: In 1960, in Van Nuys, California, the modern Charismatic movement began in an Episcopalian Church (St. Mark’s with Dennis Bennett as Rector). There was an outburst of tongues speaking in this church.
This event was so significant that both Time and Newsweek covered the story. After that, the movement spread like wildfire in the Episcopalian Church and then among Lutherans and the Presbyterians as well. The movement soon entered the universities. This started in New England. In October, 1962, the glossolalia phenomenon broke out at Yale University, among members of the Evangelical Inter-VarsityChristian Fellowship. Included in this new Pentecostal revival were Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and even one Roman Catholic. (They were soon called “GLOSSO YALIES”. Thereafter, the movement spread to Dartmouth College, Stanford University, and Princeton Theological Seminary.
Even more significant than the above events is what happened in 1967. All roads led to Rome. At the time of spring vacation in 1967, there were in the Notre Dame area about 30 zealous Catholics who had received the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”. In 1968, about 100 to 150 met for a Catholic Pentecostal Conference. In 1969, there were about 450 Catholic Charismatics who met including 25 or 30 priests. In 1970,the increase was more spectacular. Almost 1,300 attended the conference, including Catholics from Canada. In 1973, 22,000 Catholic Charismatics met together at Notre Dame, including Catholic participants from at least 10 foreign countries. The history of the emergence of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is such an intriguing one.
The Charismatic movement refers to the surge of religious experience attributed to an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which emerged in the United States of America’s Protestantism in the nineteenth century and had appeared in mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches in the second half of the Twentieth century. The focus is on the charismatic gifts, meaning the gifts of the Holy Spirit which have appeared in the mainline Protestant denominations, as well as the Roman Catholic Church since 1960s. First known as “neo-Pentecostal,” the more common term today is “Charismatic,” in the Catholic Church. The movement is referred to as the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. The shift from “Pentecostal” to “Charismatic” is a reflection that baptism in the spirit and glossolalia are understood within the framework of the sacramental life of the church, rather than as forces which serve to separate Catholic Charismatics from other church members. This Charismatic activity was present also in the views of such notable nineteenth century theologians Adam Moehler and Matthias Sheeben, who extensively wrote about the Charismatic nature of the entire Catholic Church, as did Karl Rahner in the twentieth century.
There are sometimes criticisms of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal by many non members who are not comfortable about the Pentecostal dimension of the group. Many of such priests who are highly Clerical with strong belief in clericalism are intimidated by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit evident in many of the lay members of the emerging Charismatic Renewal within Catholicism Many are of the view that the Charismatics are not authentic Catholics and that their presence within Catholicism is out to distort the liturgical orientation and mentality of many devout Catholics. The group also receives criticisms from several Roman Catholic priests whose mindset falls within the confines of Vatican 1. Many of such priests who are highly Clerical with strong belief in clericalism are intimidated by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit evident n many of the lay members of the emerging Charismatic Renewal within Catholicism. The Charismatic Renewal members receive criticisms when some of the over zealous members tend to display high sense of arrogance in their prayers and evangelism by means of their knowledge of the Scriptures; thereby stepping on the toes of some powerful members of the Catholic Church who feel despised and relegated in the scheme of affairs in the Church.
Gordon: Thank you for a great interview and your leadership.