Maryknoll Institute of African Studies
by Romane St. Vil
I came to the Maryknoll Institute of African Studies which is affiliated to St. Mary's University of Minnesota and Tangaza College, Nairobi, Kenya at the end of May 2000. The program, for that term, lasted three months. During those three months, I had three courses. One was an overview of African cultures, another one dealt with marriage and family and the third one was on African traditional religion.
In the program, there were people from different countries and many Africans from different ethnic backgrounds. I think this program is a gift for missionaries and anyone who would like to involve themselves in a respectful dialogue with African religion and African traditional values. It is also a gift to Africans who are so much disconnected from their own traditional culture. I remember talking to one of the first time African students in the program. She told me she could not even begin to describe how she feels about the program. She was overwhelmed with the joy of discovering who she is, a real person rooted in a real sacred tradition. This course, she said had changed her life, by giving her a sense of identity and self-worth. She was also overwhelmed with sadness knowing that most Africans don't know who they are and have a very negative attitude towards African culture. I believe that the Institute is doing a great pastoral work, by bringing to life a people who were buried under the oppressive and destructive soil of western colonialist enterprise.
As a foreigner to African culture, the Institute taught me the sacredness of African culture. It helped me open myself to a new reality, which is necessary to grow as a human being aware and respectful of other realities other than my own. The institute enabled me, not just to know about African culture, but also to develop an appreciation for it and to celebrate with the African people this divine and sacred gift. This offered me the opportunity to experience to a greater degree the universality of God. I would say, like the young African student, I am overwhelmed with joy having the chance to meet God once more. I am also overwhelmed with pain and sadness seeing how such a beautiful and sacred tradition, the life of a people is still being oppressed and marginalized by outsiders and more so by Africans themselves. I could see the joy which seized those old people whom I met in the course of my interviews. They also are overwhelmed with happiness because some one, an outsider, is interested in their tradition. Even their own children have not shown such an interest in learning their tradition. They feel that they are being looked upon by present society as hopeless and meaningless, and having nothing to offer to society.
The Maryknoll Institute of African Studies is, I am convinced, the most effective and efficacious way of integrating an outsider in African culture, and of helping Africans discover themselves. It is a real missionary school which is rooted in the missionary life of the Lord, opening the eyes of the blind, releasing the prisoners, and announcing a year of favor of the Lord.