Declaration of Catholic Students of Black Africa in France (April 1956)

(Meeting at Pau, April 6 and 7, 1956)

We, [the] Catholic Students of Black Africa in France, reaffirm our wish to remain at the same time entirely Christian and entirely African; it can not be a question for us, under any circumstances and under any pressure, to choose between these two loyalties. 

We ask French Catholics to make the necessary effort to comprehend the exigencies of this double fidelity to the Church and to Africa. The refusal of this effort would not fail to give credit in the minds of some of our compatriotes the impression that we risk being less African because we are Christian.

We hope that they would realize that if so much of France finds the economic and social conditions of its own country [to be] serious obstacles to an integral Christian life, the colonial system reveals itself in practice a still much greater obstacle to a true establishment and blossoming of authentic Christianity. 

We affirm our attachment to the natural right of the African people to self-determination. Far from diminishing this attachment, our faith can only reinforce it since it tends to the liberation and the spiritual blossoming [épanouissement] of man. 

We are painfully astonished that at the moment when an unjust and obsolete colonial system collapses, Catholics continue to think that exchanges between Europeans and Africans is only possible within the framework of this system.

It is in full confidence that we address ourselves to the Catholics of France and ask them to not let themselves be stopped by prejudices. We are convinced that our common faith remains the best ground of agreement and our greatest hope is to be able to find in our Catholic brothers a true international spirit, a loyal acceptance of the « duty of decolonization » and the recognition of our responsibilities to men and African Christians. 

Far from following certain publications, be they sponsored by ecclesiastics, which seek to tie at all costs Christianity and the « civilizing mission of France », we, Catholic Africans, want to stick to the teachings of the Church: « The Catholic Church does not identify with Western culture [the original text says civilization instead of culture throughout]. She does not identify with any culture [–again, civilization] but she is willing to make an alliance with each. » (Pie XII, 1955.)

We expect from the missionary Church that it will have confidence in our Christian meaning [sens] and that, in a more general way, it will grant to Christian elites an increasingly large audience; let it not be rejected by our vehemence. We are convinced that our effort follows the sense of the Mission theologically envisioned: the establishment of the Church in Africa.

It seems to us indispensable that we establish close and permanent contacts among us and the clergy of our countries and that, for its part, the clergy of Europe should endeavour to contemplate African problems from an African point of view. 

The vast program which we have elaborated as a part of our meeting seems only realizable in a community of faith and influence which, far from marking a division in the Church, is only the sign of its Catholicity. 

Our Christianity will flourish only from our engagement in our living environment [milieu]. It seems important to us to put the focus on this notion of Christian engagement. Each and every African Catholic must feel responsible for the influence and widening of our community. 

FINAL MOTION

We, [the] Catholic Students of Black Africa in France,

Referring to the exigencies of our Christian conscience: 

1° — Solemnly reaffirm that in regards to all the colonial countries — including Algeria — a duty of decolonization which is in line with the right of peoples to self-determination.

2° — Deplore the complicity of certain Catholics who make it dangerously difficult, by their writings, their words or more generally by their influence, the attainment of national independence by colonized people […] and which maintain an unhappy confusion between [the] evangelizing mission and the colonial system.

[The rest of the translation comes from Elizabeth Foster’s article Entirely Christian And Entirely African’: Catholic African Students In France In The Era Of Independence. ]

3° — Declare with emotion that the use of so-called ‘tirailleurs sénégalais’ [African soldiers] in a colonial war such as that in Algeria

  • — poses a grave moral problem;   
  • — clashes profoundly with our Christian spirit and our African consciousness; 
  • — creates a hostile atmosphere between brother peoples; 
  • — and goes against the basic respect and justice due to African population

4° — Demand, in consequence, that all those exercising political, social, or religious power in France and Africa try as hard as possible to end such a pernicious abuse.

[Source: Présence Africaine, Nouvelle série, No. 7 (avril-mai 1956), pp. 157-158]

[Originally published in Tam-Tam, avril-mai 1956, p. 4-6, ici p. 4]