Rev. Paulinus Ikechukwu Odozor, associate professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, will be skipping class for a couple of weeks next month. If the undergraduate students in his “Theology of Marriage” and “African Christian Theologies” courses, his department colleagues, and his chairman all seem tolerant, even pleased, by Father Odozor’s departure, it is likely because of its impressive excuse: Pope Benedict XVI is calling.
Father Odozor has been summoned to Rome for the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, a papally convened gathering of some 200 bishops from across the African continent. The bishops and their advisors will meet from Oct. 4 to 25 to discuss the topic agreed upon at the first African synod 15 years ago, “The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace.”
The African bishops and Vatican officials have been preparing for this meeting since 2007, arranging its schedule, conducting an internal poll to determine the agenda, and soliciting and appointing experts, of whom Father Odozor is one, for theological and pastoral advice.
On March 19 of this year, at an outdoor Mass in Yaounde, Cameroon, Pope Benedict released a 62-page document, or “instrumentum laboris,” providing a sort of thematic frame for the bishops’ meeting. According to the instrumentum, the bishops will discuss such issues as inculturation of the Gospel in diverse African communities, the pastoral needs of African couples and families, the effectiveness of African evangelization, the development of African higher education, the integration of African women and laypeople into church leadership and pastoral planning, the uses and impact of traditional and new media on the church in Africa, and the engagement of the church in ethnic and tribal strife.
As a theological assistant, or adiutor (the official Vatican designation is “adiutor secretarii specialis”), Father Odozor will be available throughout the African Synod for consultation with the bishops and will help in the preparation of its summary report.
Father Odozor’s scholarly background surely played a role in his selection. A member of the Notre Dame faculty since 1999, he specializes in moral theology, Christian ethics, the history of moral theology, theological inculturation, African Christian theology, and the theology of marriage. He is the author of two books, “Moral Theology in an Age of Renewal: A Study of the Catholic Tradition Since Vatican II” and “Sexuality, Marriage and Family: Readings in the Catholic Tradition,” and editor of “Africa: Towards Priorities of Mission” and “Richard McCormick and the Renewal of Moral Theology.” He also has written numerous articles for theological and popular journals in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America and is at work on a book exploring issues of morality and tradition from an African Christian theological perspective.
“The Holy See has the whole world to choose from, so this is a nice affirmation of the theological expertise and pastoral judgment of Father Paulinus,” said John Cavadini, chair of the theology department. “It’s certainly also an honor to our department.”
Contact: Father Odozor, 574-631-6583, Odozor.firstname.lastname@example.org