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AMECEA (then ITEBEA) was the brainchild of the Catholic Bishops of Tanganyika (today’s Tanzania). In 1960 they proposed, through the then Apostolic Delegation (today’s Nunciature) in Nairobi, that there be collaboration among Catholic Bishops in the region. That time the following countries were under the Nairobi Apostolic Delegation namely Kenya, Nyasaland (today’s Malawi), Uganda, Sudan, Tanganyika and Northern Rhodesia (today’s Zambia). When these other Bishops’ Conferences agreed to the necessity of working together, the then Apostolic Delegate (today’s Nuncio) Monsignor Guido Del Mestri consulted Rome. Rome gave its approval.
There were at that time winds of change in both the Church and society in this region.
Vatican II
In 1959 Pope John XXIII announced the convocation of an Ecumenical Council, the second of its kind to take place in the
Vatican City. The intention was to renew the church.
In the Local Church
At the same time more and more African (diocesan) priests were being ordained and some were being trained overseas. African Bishops were already emerging namely Bishops Kiwanuka (Uganda), Otunga, now Cardinal (Kenya), Chitsulo (Nyasaland) and Rugambwa, later the first African Cardinal (Tanganyika). The church was already undergoing transition from a missionary to a local church. And transition, as we know, is often as exciting as it is painful. The questions that bothered Bishops in the region, most of whom were missionaries, included:
How did the church have to prepare herself for the inevitable changes Vatican II was ushering in?
Were the African clergy and religious prepared enough to take over and run the church successfully and confidently?
There was therefore both a sense of pro-activeness as well as fear and anxiety on the part of the missionaries whose time, they believed, was running out.
i. Independence
Tanganyika (1961), Uganda (1962), Kenya (1963), Nyasaland (1964) and Northern Rhodesia (1964) were all soon getting Independence under very charismatic leaders such as Hastings Kamuzu Banda (Nyasaland), Kenneth Kaunda (Northern Rhodesia), Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Julius Kambarage Nyerere (Tanganyika) and Milton Obote (Uganda). The church generally suspected most of them of leaning towards communism and atheistic socialism. Bishops therefore feared for the future of the church and church – related institutions (such as schools) in Africa in general and in this region in particular.
ii. University
Already in the 40’s and 50’s university colleges such as Makerere appeared followed by Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam. The up-coming political and civil leaders were often products of these and other colleges overseas. And the Catholic Church had till then faired very well in primary education and teacher training colleges. She had not yet ventured into university education. The writing on the wall, however, was already saying that it was high time the church did so. The society needed value-led leaders. Leaders who were highly qualified and creative, but at the same time who were people of moral integrity guided by Christian and gospel values.
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