Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, deposed Catholic archbishop of Lusaka, Zambia, has been at the center of a bitter controversy affecting Christianity in Africa. In attempting to silence his views by removing him to Rome, the Vatican has in fact internationalized the controversy and created partisans for Milingo's beliefs.
Milingo is an Nguni, who was raised in the warrior tradition. At age 12, after four years as a cattle herder, he ran away to enter a mission school - an astounding break wth his childhood. Milingo was illiterate, spoke only Nguni, and had never been outside his village. But he also possessed the qualities of tenacity, strength, and singlemindedness. Within two years he spoke and read English and Chewa and was ready for further education. Until 1958 he attended seminaries in Nyasaland (now Malawi). Then he served as a parish priest from 1958 to 1965, with a two-year hiatus in which he obtained diplomas in sociology in Rome and education in Dublin.
In 1965, Milingo went to Lusaka as an assistant for communications to the Zambian bishop's conference, and his radio ministry made him a popular national figure. He also started the Zambia Helper's Society, a volunteer group, to bring health care to the shantytowns. He participated in their work on a daily basis following his other responsibilities. In 1969 he was named archbishop of Lusaka.
Milingo's tenure as archbishop fostered a religious and spiritual revolution. Recognizing how deeply his Western education had separated him from his African background, he began Africanizing institutions, practices, and attitudes, making many foreign missionaries uncomfortable. He set up women's councils at all levels and fostered grassroots Basic Christian Communities. He also founded a community of sisters, the Daughters of the Redeemer, which has become the center of his thought and work in Africa. Milingo did not operate in Western style, and some Christian followers and colleagues found him paternalistic and overbearing.
Milingo believes in the existence and everyday significance of a spirit world, including the power of the devil. Increasingly, people came to him for healing, until there were complaints that he had time for nothing else. The sick besieged his home, lining the stairs, and his healing services at the cathedral were crowded. He drove out evil spirits, cured the sick, and mobilized the people. In 1976, at a training session in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Milingo found a spiritual bridge between his African heritage and his firm (and rather conservative) religious faith. He joined the Catholic charismatic renewal movement that was then growing throughout the church and found allies in that movement for his later conflicts. He continued his social reforms as well and began to denounce the wealthy African elite for commercialism and exploiting the poor.
The issue that Milingo brought to a crisis was inculturation: the development of an authentic African Christianity growing out of African values, including spiritual ones. Inculturation challenged Western control of African Christianity and its Western cultural roots. It was not enough for Milingo to use local languages or include traditional dancing in services; the African Christian's mentality had to be liberated from colonialism. Africans had to overcome a sense of cultural inferiority and validate their religious experience. Although the arguments over inculturation often concerned the spirit world, the heart of the controversy was the assumption that peoples of color are not inferior but that they have wisdom that the West neither possesses nor acknowledges.
Opposition was swift in making itself felt. The Jesuits, who had long served as missionaries, were strong opponents of the new approaches. In addition, Milingo's fellow Zambian bishops were equally troubled. Accusations focused on the healing ministry, which attracted over a thousand people to each cathedral service. Milingo was accused of heresy, witchcraft, and misuse of money. Outrageous stories were fabricated about him, and although they were disproved, they left a legacy of mistrust. Among the worst tales, his pastoral coordinator reported secretly to the Vatican that Milingo had made the superior of the Daughters pregnant and then arranged an abortion. The result of the controversies was a discreet diplomatic request to the Vatican by President Kenneth KAUNDA, followed by an investigation led by an African cardinal known for his hostility to recognizing the spirit world. In 1979 Milingo was forced to cease healing services, and in 1982 he was ordered to Rome for a rest and psychiatric examinations.
The doctors cleared Milingo, but by that time he was too divisive a figure to return home. He resigned from his diocese and accepted a minor post on the Vatican Commission for Migration and Tourism. Far more importantly, however, he came under the protection of Pope John Paul II.
Today he continues his healing work, both with individuals and before a large crowd at a monthly service in Rome. Milingo's influence, especially through the charismatic renewal movement, had been felt throughout the Catholic Church. He has returned to Zambia on visits and is planning a center for African spirituality in Zaïre.
Norbert C. Brockman
Ter Haar, Gerrie. Spirit of Africa (1992).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from An African Biographical Dictionary, copyright © 1994, edited by Norbert C. Brockman, Santa Barbara, California. All rights reserved.