A giant of African theology, he rose from humble origins to become an exemplary teacher,whose insight, originality and analysis redefined the meaning, significance and practice of inculturation
Laurenti Magesa, one of Africa’s greatest theologians, died on 11 August. To many, Magesa was a father (Baba) and grandfather (Babu); a friend and a mentor; a brother and a teacher. In some African cultures, towering personalities are likened to a giant tree in the forest. Their demise is aptly expressed with the metaphor of a fallen tree. A Jesuit colleague announced Magesa’s death with the words: “Our brother, friend and priest, and giant of Africa has gone to the Lord.” Magesa’s pilgrimage from humble origins to global renown as one of the giants of African theology tells the story of a faithful pastor, humble scholar, beloved teacher and exemplary Christian.
I first met Magesa in Musoma, Tanzania in 2004, where he was doing pastoral ministry in a rural parish. His book Anatomy of Inculturation: Transforming the Church in Africa (Orbis, 2004) was in preparation for publication. He gave me a galley proof to read. The significance of that book was instantaneous and unmistakable: Magesa had written the Magna Carta of African theology of inculturation. The combination of his penetrating insight, engaging originality and evidence-based analysis redefined the meaning, significance and practice of inculturation.