The Journey of Reconciliation: Book Review

Pamela Couture from the University of Toronto recently reviewed The Journey of Reconciliation for the American Academy of Religion.

Here is the Review:
In The Journey of Reconciliation, Emmanuel Katongole invites the reader not only to understand with their mind but to open wide their soul—to bare that place of heartfelt vulnerability where the deepest wounds of violence fester—and to receive the gift of reconciliation that heals and bears “the new creation.” For Katongole, a native of Uganda and Associate Professor of World Religions and World Church at Notre Dame University, only this invitation and gift, not the secular skills and programs of transitional justice, can heal the deepest wounds of Africa and replace its culture of violence with a culture of peace.

Katongole elaborates this thesis in three parts. In “Reconciling All Things,” reconciliation is not an event but a journey that recognizes African trauma, violence, disease, war, poverty, and greed in memory and lament. But, where much of the world completes its image of Africa at this point, Katongole continues the journey of God and God’s people toward reconciliation through hope, advocacy, and intimacy. Some wounds, such as those in Rwanda after 1994, provoke a widespread silence: God remains present to this sacred memory until wounds begin to heal and silence can be broken. God’s presence as communicated through sacraments of baptism, eucharist, and penance makes deep and throughgoing reconciliation possible.

In “For the Life of the World: The Church as Sacrament of God’s Reconciliation in the World,” Katongole explores the eccesial ramifications of this theology of reconcilation. Christian identity dissolves ethnicity, tribe, and culture. People whose ecclesial identity overtakes these so-called “natural” contingencies are willing to lay down their lives for their friends—in martyrdom. As an example, Katongole cites Rwandans who refused to cooperate with soldiers’ who separated Tutsi and Hutu. They stood as one, claimed their Christian identity, and were murdered. By their deaths, they testify to the principle that political and military powers cannot define the enemy for the Christian.

In “Improvising New Creation: On Being Ambassadors of New Creation in a Divided World,” Katongole describes two Roman Catholic bishops and one Baptist medical couple who provided theological witness to the power of religious faith to motivate leadership for peace in the Great Lakes region of Africa. In this section, he describes the African “tribe” as a political, rather than linguistic, ethnic or cultural unit. He profoundly writes that “modern political space (the nation-state) in Africa is ‘imagined’ and thus configured as a space, within which African individuals can be recognized and thus access political rights and privileges only as a member of a tribe or ethnic group, which group is set up in an imaginary competition with other tribes, whose members must be excluded from accessing what seem to be limited political rights and privileges. Thus, rather than being the savior from tribal chaos, the modern nation-state in Africa imagines and thus reproduces tribalism as an enduring feature of modern politics in Africa” (161).

This political reality thrives in the newest manifestation of violent colonial realities, such as those inherited in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from King Leopold, Belgium, and Mobutu. The theology of reconciliation, in word and deed, must confront this reality.

As an American scholar who teaches African students in Canada and who has written on religious peacebuilding in partnership with a Methodist Congolese community, I, and I believe my African colleagues and students, would concur with Katongole’s fundamental premises. Those who wish to contribute to a culture of peace in Africa must connect with the depth of African spirituality, which Africans inhale and exhale with every breath. African culture is one of invitation and gift, qualities that Katongole defines as love of God and love of neighbor. In the DRC, the most successful peacebuilders are motivated by their theological concern for reconciliation and peace in their country and have risked their lives. I would diverge from Katongole by noting that those Africans who are not Christians still recognize the authority of spiritual leaders, a fact that many secular nongovernmental organizations miss. Many Africans I know assume that many faiths can live together by recognizing spiritual leadership. As a theologian, and since Katongole includes a Baptist case study, I would ask whether he can explicitly reconceive the categories of catholicity and eccesiology to include those Christians who are Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, or of African indigenous Christian traditions. Furthermore, he includes an interfaith example, so could he reimagine the theological basis of reconcilation to explicitly include Islam?

We would all appreciate hearing additional stories of Africans who have embodied a culture of peace. Such examples counter the image that no such Africans exist—that only the international community can save Africa. Indeed, the redemption of the people and nations of Africa is first and foremost in the hands of such villagers and leaders, through whom, my African colleagues and I would say, God is working.

Katongole makes the case that Christian identity, at least in theory, supercedes political identity and that the theology of reconciliation must confront the reality that “tribe” demands loyalty because it forms political identity. I would ask Katongole to consider whether in some regions, ecclesial leaders generally align with tribal leaders, even though many Christian groups may be represented among the people. What penance must the churches in Africa perform so that the church catholic can herald the new creation?

Deeply theological and yet aimed toward practice, this profound book will be well received by scholars and teachers of religious peacebuilding or theologies of reconciliation or ecclesiology.

This review was originally posted on the American Academy of Religion website:

Bethany Land Institute Advent 2017


Advent 2017
Letter from the President

Dear Friends,

During the season of Advent, my mind often turns toward dreams, vision, and story. This is especially true this year as I have seen a personal dream turn into a real vision that is leading me to invite others into the story. Here’s an update and an invitation.

First the update: Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si’ has had a profound impact on me. Noting the deep connection between the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, Pope Francis calls for integrated approaches that are able to fight poverty, restore human dignity to the excluded and at the same time protect nature. (L.S. 139). These integrated approaches are needed particularly in Africa, where the effects of the ecological crisis are felt acutely by poor and marginalized communities. Accordingly, for the last three years, I, together with other friends, have been working on an initiative, the Bethany Land Institute, to respond to the urgent problems of deforestation, food insecurity and poverty that affect millions in Africa.

Based in Uganda, on 85 acres of land, the goal of the Bethany Land Institute is to form leaders for rural transformation through an education program that equips young people with the skills of sustainable agriculture, economic empowerment and a spirituality of creation care. Through this program we hope not only to undertake a major reforestation effort (a million trees by 2050), but form the BLI students into leaders who, upon graduation will set up and run model farms in their community, where they will mentor others in skills of sustain agriculture, a life-style of service and a spirituality of care for creation. To learn more about BLI visit our website:

Since the purchase of the land in 2015, much progress has been made. BLI has been incorporated as a nonprofit organization in Uganda and in the USA, staff has been hired, and living quarters for the staff have been constructed. Also, in partnership with Engineers Ministry International, a facilities plan has been developed. We are developing the curriculum, and will soon begin the construction of two dormitories to house our students. Thanks to a generous donor, we have received $75,000 as a matching grant towards this end. Donations can be made on our website or sent to the BLI mailing address: PO Box 6391, South Bend, IN 46660

This is my invitation for you to join the Bethany Land Institute story. Would you prayerfully consider a year end gift to help us secure this grant? Your gift will help us to build the dormitories, and to launch the institute in January 2019. I am grateful for your prayers, well wishes and partnership towards this initiative to realize integral ecology and sustainable development in Uganda. I am reminded of the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, walk alone, but if you want to go far, walk with others.” Obviously, we want to go far.

With best wishes for a blessed Advent season and a joyous Christmas,


Fr. Emmanuel Katongole
Co-founder & BLI President

David Tonghou Ngong’s Review of Born From Lament

David Tonghou Ngong, an Associate Professor of Religion and Theology at Stillman College, reviews Born From Lament for the American Academy of Religion. He writes, “Katongole’s portrayal of an alternative vision of peace which the Christian faith provides in the context of the violent politics of the nation-state continues to be one of his significant contributions to African theology.” Here’s the full Review:

To properly understand Born from Lament, one must place it within the context of Emmanuel Katongole’s previous work. From his pathbreaking A Future for Africa (University of Scranton Press, 2005) to his recent The Sacrifice of Africa (Eerdmans, 2011), the goal of Katongole’s theological work has been to seek an alternative to the violent politics that characterize the contemporary African nation-state. His arguments have centered around the difference the Christian faith can make in bringing about this alternative. In A Future for Africa, he argued that Christian social ethics in Africa is often focused on making recommendations about how Christians may transform the nation-state without realizing that nation-states in Africa are operating under a different narrative than that of the Christian faith. To bring about fruitful changes in Africa, he opined, Christian social ethics must be rooted in a Christian vision of peace rather than the violent narrative that grounds the nation-state in Africa. He intensified this argument in The Sacrifice of Africa when he insisted that the colonial background of the nation-state in Africa constructed nation-states to operate only through violence. Thus, the wars, corruption, tribalism, and all other forms of what we see as “dysfunctions” in the operation of African nation-states are simply following the violent script and narrative colonialism laid down for Africa. He however went further to provide vignettes of how Christian social ethics may provide an alternative to this violent script by telling the stories of some African Christians who are working for change. These vignettes include the work of Bishop Paride Taban, who challenges “tribal” politics in Sudan (now South Sudan) through the foundation of a peace village in which people from different tribal backgrounds find a place, and that of Maggy Barankitse in Burundi, who created Maison Shalom to fight tribal politics and encourage forgiveness in the wake of the genocides in Rwanda and Burundi. These are concrete Christian examples of how the toxic politics of violence in the nation-state may be counteracted and a promising future for Africa envisioned.

Born from Lament may be seen as an updated version of The Sacrifice of Africa because in it Katongole continues to give further vignettes of Christian actions that interrupt the violent politics of the nation-state, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Uganda. An updated version of the story of Maggy Barankitse appears here (228-42). However, Katongole grounds these narratives in the theological frameworks of lament and hope and the theoretical base of portraiture. According to Katongole, the Christians he profiles have been led to develop an alternative vision of life through the experience of lament, a biblical and theological category that describes the life of a people in the depths of pain and sorrow, out of which hope is born. Engaging biblical texts that emphasize lament, such as Lamentations, the Psalms of Lament, Jeremiah, some New Testament texts, and indigenous expressions of lament, Katongole argues that lament makes possible new epistemological and theological visions. He repeatedly quotes from one of those he profiles, Bishop Christopher Munzihirwa: “There are things that can be seen only with the eyes that have cried” (164). The eyes that have cried see God and creation differently from the eyes that have not. The God of lament is the God of the cross, the God whose power is made manifest in weakness, who suffers alongside those who are in the “valley of the shadow of death,” as the Psalmist puts it (Ps. 23:4, KJV). This leads Katongole to a christology that focuses on the cross and an ecclesiology that sees martyrdom as the locus for the interpretation of the resurrection. Katongole therefore faults African Christian theology for not taking lament seriously, thus leading to the “loss of lament” and a diminished possibility of developing a Christian political theology in which hope issues from lament (179-86). He uses the method of portraiture to capture the blend of his ethnography of lament in East Africa and the narrative theology that describes lament as the foundation of Christian hope (33-38). Katongole links the hope that is born of lament to the work of peacebuilding, which he sees as an activity that takes place not only when crisis is over but rather during crisis. All those he profiles develop new, peaceful visions of life during profound pain.

Katongole’s portrayal of an alternative vision of peace which the Christian faith provides in the context of the violent politics of the nation-state continues to be one of his significant contributions to African theology. Perhaps he is right that African theology has been too reticent in pointing out the salutary alternative visions of peaceful life that some Christians in the continent are cultivating. However, his claim that there has been a loss of lament in African theology is not an adequate description of the African Christian theological scene. Lament is at the heart of the theologies of inculturation, Black liberation theology in South Africa, the theology of reconstruction, and African women’s theology: the lament of the various forms of loss many have suffered and continue to suffer on the continent. Lament is also central to Coptic theology, which is suffering bloody persecution today. Even neo-Pentecostal and Charismatic theology, which is often linked to a health and wealth gospel, is also rooted in lament. The prayer vigils held in many churches throughout the continent can only be understood within this context. However, the God many have come to embrace in this context is not only a suffering or crucified God but a God who has the power to bring about transformation in individual and societal life. This God is not only the God of African indigenous religions, as Katongole suggests (120-21), but also the God of the Bible who is known to have done deeds of power, including raising his Son, Jesus Christ, from the dead. This notwithstanding, Born from Lament provides significant ethnographic, biblical, and theological material that may enhance peacebuilding around the world.

About the Reviewer(s):
David Tonghou Ngong is Associate Professor of Religion and Theology at Stillman College, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Ngong is originally from Cameroon.

Date of Review:
January 15, 2018

This review was taken from the American Academy of Religion Website:


  • Educational Trip To Uganda: The Common Good Initiative


    Over fall break I had the opportunity to lead students on a trip through Uganda as part of the Common Good Initiative. The Common Good Initiative brings graduate students together from a wide range of disciplines to reflect on the intersection between their academic studies and social justice. Our trip to Uganda was titled, “Women, The Church, and the Ecology of the Common Good.”

    Students spent time in Entebbe, Jinja, Kampala, Namugongo, Luweero, and Masaka and had the opportunity to meet with female leaders, visit the shrines of Ugandan martyrs, and spend time at the Bethany Land Institute. Through participating in this journey through Uganda, centred on the themes of women, the church, and ecology, I had the opportunity to engage deeply with students about what it means to live out the common good in our world.

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    Book Launch: Born from Lament & The Journey of Reconciliation


    On October 3rd, Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute and the department of theology co-sponsored a book launch in celebration of my two most recent books Born from Lament: The Theology and Politics of Hope in Africa and The Journey of Reconciliation: Groaning for a New Creation in Africa.

    The day began with a workshop on Born From Lament which I co-facilitated with William Cavanaugh from De Paul University. Seventeen graduate students attended the workshop and together we explored central themes from the book including the narrative dimension of the work, insights illuminated by lament, and the kind of action that the faith activists described in the book call us to.

    In the evening we gathered for the official launch. Scott Appleby, the director of the Keough School of Global Affairs, Tim Matovina, the theology department chair, and William Cavanaugh, director of the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology at De Paul University, each presented their personal reflections on the books. I concluded the conversation by sharing my personal journey from Malube, Uganda to my work and research at Notre Dame University.

    After the launch guests were invited to stay and enjoy appetizers and conversation.

    For more details visit:

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