Cover image for Memorializing the Unsung: Slaves of the Church and the Making of Kongo Catholicism By Elochukwu Uzukwu, C.S.Sp.

Memorializing the Unsung

Slaves of the Church and the Making of Kongo Catholicism

Elochukwu Uzukwu, C.S.Sp.

Coming in July

$124.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-09698-8
Coming in July

244 pages
6" × 9"
2024

World Christianity

Memorializing the Unsung

Slaves of the Church and the Making of Kongo Catholicism

Elochukwu Uzukwu, C.S.Sp.

“I can say without any equivocation that Memorializing the Unsung is rigorous, comprehensive, interdisciplinary, and timely. Uzukwu boldly affirms that it is crucial to avow one’s own voice, story, and identity in theological and ecclesiological investigations.”

 

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By the time the Capuchins arrived in the seventeenth century, Kongo had been Catholic for nearly two hundred years. The European mission could not be conversion, then, but reinforcement; the Capuchins sought to establish the sacraments and a line to Rome in a lay-led church already suffused with an enduring, creative, and complex theological culture. In Memorializing the Unsung, Elochukwu Uzukwu uses the framework of this “ancient” Kongo Catholicism to explore European dependence on enslaved Kongo Catholics and the unconscionable Capuchin and Spiritan participation in the slave trade at large—a practice denounced by the lone voices of Capuchin Epifanio de Moirans and Spiritan Alexandre Monnet.

Reconstructing the church that missionaries and Kongo Catholics built together on the foundations of local religion, Memorializing the Unsung contrasts the dignity denied to the Kongo Catholics with the freedom they nonetheless performed. Uzukwu is particularly deft in tracing the agency of Kongo elites and laypeople from the fifteenth century through the nineteenth, carefully evaluating their deliberate engagements with southern Europeans, the role of the maestri (translator-catechists) in guiding the faithful, and the ultimate development of a unique theological vocabulary endorsed by the Kikongo catechism.

Even while enslaved, Uzukwu argues, the Kongo people served as mediators, co-creators, and reinventors of their world, and without their support, the European missions in the region would have failed. A cutting-edge contribution to the political history of Catholicism in Africa, Memorializing the Unsung offers concrete advantages to researchers in a wide variety of fields.

“I can say without any equivocation that Memorializing the Unsung is rigorous, comprehensive, interdisciplinary, and timely. Uzukwu boldly affirms that it is crucial to avow one’s own voice, story, and identity in theological and ecclesiological investigations.”
“The Christian church in Kongo founded in the late fifteenth century has often been described as superficial and soon forgotten. Elochukwu Uzukwu’s vigorous defense of Kongo’s Christianity as both Christian and Kongolese is a very important addition to our understanding of this largely ignored African Christian community.”

Elochukwu E. Uzukwu is Professor of Theology at Duquesne University. He is the author of six books, including God, Spirit, and Human Wholeness: Appropriating Faith and Culture in West African Style and A Listening Church: Autonomy and Communion in African Churches.