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On Promoting Liturgy in Africa

Interview With Archbishop Patabendige, of Congregation for Divine Worship

VATICAN CITY, JULY 25, 2006 (Zenit) - A recent congress for the promotion of the liturgy in Africa and Madagascar marked a milestone: For the first time the event was held in the African continent.

The July 5-9 event was held in Ghana. To underline the importance of the event, there was a special message sent by Benedict XVI, who sees signs of hope in the liturgical awakening of the continent and the profound spirituality of the African peoples.

The Holy See agency Fides interviewed Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, about the congress and its significance.

The 58-year-old Sri Lankan prelate explained that one of principal goals of the congress was to identify together with the African bishops ever more effective ways to help the faithful live liturgical celebrations as a source of faith and courage to witness.

The congress brought together 100 members of bishops' commissions for liturgy, from all over the sub-Saharan area and Madagascar.

Q: Was the decision to make [the congress] regional, rather than to convoke it here [in Rome], a clear sign of ever greater attention for the Church's liturgy?

Archbishop Patabendige: Yes, this was the first regional meeting. In the past these meetings were held in Rome and the representatives of local Churches came here to take part. This time we decided to make it a local congress, to set it in the continent chosen as subject, like the meeting in Kumasi which has just ended.

It was an opportunity to hear the voice of Africa there on the spot, to dialogue with them and take part in their local liturgies. The latter would have been impractical for a meeting here in Rome.

Those liturgical celebrations were an opportunity for us to realize the variety of practices introduced through processes of inculturation.

In this way we were able very gently to tell the bishops what we found to be well done and what was not so well done. We did this very simply and respectfully and found great willingness on the part of the bishops to tackle the questions and deepen certain aspects of the liturgy.

Rather than create difficulties, it was an opportunity for the participants to enter into dialogue with the different people responsible. Some of the bishops were amazed when we explained certain aspects of the liturgy which they had hitherto not considered.

Q: So from your encounter, meeting locally to discuss sensitive issues, there emerged the questions of formation

Archbishop Patabendige: Before coming to the question of formation, and therefore moving toward a fuller understanding of the liturgy not only as a collection of rubrics but as the bearer of rich pastoral fruits for the Church, I would underline how important the congress proved for stimulating a desire for more complete knowledge of all the profoundly spiritual aspects of the liturgy: transcendence, sense of the sacred and of mystery, profound interior participation, etc.

We listened as bishops and representatives of bishops' commissions in this field spoke on a theme so central for the Church as the liturgy. We heard about the joys and successes but also concerns and difficulties. It was truly a time of fruitful dialogue between the universal Church and the continental Church, an exchange of ideas, dialogue inspired by the themes presented, proposed by experts in Rome and in Africa.

This opened a general debate also with the input from the work of study groups -- an authentic fraternal exchange of knowledge.

We exposed the theological significance of the Mass and they shared with us their concerns and expectations. They are convinced that authentic inculturation cannot fail to enrich their people in spiritual and moral values. It was an opportunity to understand their thoughts and needs. A central theme was naturally inculturation and possible deriving difficulties. And the African bishops stressed the importance for inculturation to be correctly oriented.

Q: Are you referring to the congress's final report?

Archbishop Patabendige: Yes! Yes, this is all contained in the report we are about to issue in English and other widely spoken languages. A report which, besides containing various suggestions made at the congress with regard to the liturgical life, is of special value because it is the fruit of an encounter, of reciprocal exchange between the bishops and our Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Q: Can we return to the subject of inculturation and therefore also the translation of liturgical texts?

Archbishop Patabendige: The question of the translation of liturgical books into the local languages certainly ...

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