When I read that Pope Francis had named Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan to the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship, I thought back to the Synod on the Eucharist in 2005.

Cardinal Onaiyaken was then President of the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, and so was speaking for more than his own diocese of Abuja, Nigeria, when he made this inspiring comment:

My intervention is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God for the great blessings that the church in Africa has enjoyed in the Post Vatican II era through the “active, conscious, fruitful” and indeed joyous participation in the Eucharist celebrated in the richness of our cultural expressions. . . .

All over Africa, in the last forty years, beautiful eucharistic celebrations have emerged which have deepened the faith of the people, improved the quality of their participation, increased the love of the priesthood, given joy and hope in the midst of distress and despair, fostered ecumenical rapport, and generally promoted evangelization. The Eucharist deserves — and is receiving — the best of our cultures. We may not have much to offer in terms of the glorious architecture of European cathedrals, or the fabulous paintings of Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci. But what we have, we are happy to give: our songs and lyrics, our drumming and rhythmic body movements, all to the glory of God. We do well to acknowledge and extol the valuable heritage of the eucharistic traditions of the different ancient rites of both the East and the West. I believe these are themselves products of inculturation that took place many centuries ago under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That same Spirit has not gone to sleep.

I think it is valuable for those of us who live in places far from Africa to notice that not all African bishops share Cardinal Robert Sarah’s rather pessimistic view of the trajectory of the postconciliar liturgical reform. Indeed, Cardinal Onaiyekan seems to be speaking out of a whole different perspective on the reality on the ground. (You can read more about him in this profile here at Pray Tell.)

He will now be in a position to bring that perspective on liturgy and inculturation to the future deliberations of the CDWDS.

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