By Andrew Kaufa smm, Originally Published by Vatican News
It wasn’t an easy day for delegates at the Synod’s Continental Assembly for Africa when it came to the discernment of priority issues for the Church in Africa as the meeting drew to a close.
The synodal way can be hard but is absolutely necessary. Sometimes difficult conversations arise among brothers and sisters. This was the experience of many when it came to the discernment of priority issues for the Church in Africa. As a matter of fact, the mood in the auditorium of De Leopol Hotel in Addis Ababa could as well be described as tense on Saturday afternoon when delegates reconvened to pass the draft Africa Synod document.
Family of God in Africa
Sr Esther Lukas Jose Maria had earlier warned the delegates saying, “At this point, we have to think not as me but as one Church family of God in Africa.”
“We have not yet reached the stage of what is to be done but listening to one another and to the Holy Spirit. This is what we shall offer as the Church in Africa. And priority means the most important thing, not everything. Since we have 15 groups, we want to get 15 priority areas which we shall reduce to five,” she continued.
Prioritising cross-cutting topics
However, as usual with spiritual discernment, picking few priorities out of fifteen proved a challenge. For the facilitating team of the Saturday afternoon session, it was a hustle to guide the assembly towards consensus on the eight cross-cutting topics.
After much listening, eventually, a synthesis of the contributions from the fifteen working groups highlighted the following priority areas for the Church in Africa:
1. Family pastoral care that focuses on present-day challenges such as divorce, broken marriages and re-married people, elective and circumstantial single parents.
2. Deepening African cultural values as already enshrined in the concept of the Church as family of God since the first African synod in 1995, with no disregard to the doctrine of the Church.
3. Consideration of the African communitarian culture as expressed in philosophies such as Ubuntu, Ujamaa, Indaba and Palaver where co-responsibility and subsidiarity are key principles.
4. Commitment to fighting against the exploitation of natural resources which often leads to wars and social conflicts on the continent.
5. Promoting liturgical renewal for active participation of the faithful with respect to the guidelines of divine worship.
6. Formation of the people of God where the notion of inclusivity is emphasized as a way of promoting synodality in Church governance.
7. Promoting the inclusion of women, the youth and all groups of the people of God that feel marginalized.
8. Ecological justice and stewardship as a way of living a synodal change in order to address the ecological crisis.
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!
At the end of the final session which lasted over three hours, the Church leaders present at the assembly took turns to give closing remarks.
For his part, the Archbishop of Addis Ababa and President of the Catholic Ethiopian Conference of Bishops which hosted the event, Cardinal Berhanayesus Souraphiel, expressed gratitude to the Symposium of Episcopal Conference of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) “for choosing Addis Ababa as the venue for the Catholic synodal assembly for the delegates to reflect on the issues together and dialogue on them in view of presenting a documental on the continental and universal levels.”
SECAM First Vice President, Mozambican Bishop Lucio Muandula who chaired the entire process including the two preparatory sessions that took place in Accra (Ghana) and Nairobi (Kenya) prior to the assembly, made reference to the biblical passage “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes (Psalm 133).” The passage, Bishop Muandula said, summarised the experience during of the African continental synod assembly.
Synodality, communion, participation and mission
Speaking to delegates, the Relator General of the XVI General Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Hollerich, appreciated the spirit that marked the assembly, especially during the deliberation on the draft document. He said, “Dear sisters and brothers, I would like to thank God and you for this wonderful time of listening. I express gratitude with my whole heart for everything you have said and discussed here. So important indeed is synodality, communion, participation and mission.
As the President of SECAM Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo finally closed the assembly, he thanked the government of Ethiopia, the local Catholic Church and the people of Ethiopia for their hospitality. He further expressed gratitude to the visitors from the Vatican, SECAM and the technical team of experts including all delegates from across Africa and its Islands for coming to the assembly.
A Kairos moment
“It is the first assembly, a Kairos for renewal of the Church in Africa. It has been a moment to study but also to live synodality. It has been a moment to experience the sense of family of God in Africa. It has been a moment to listen to one another, to listen to the Holy Spirit on the delicate issues affecting the Continent of Africa. It is a synodal assembly to mutually renew our mission here in Africa,” remarked Cardinal Ambongo.
Now that the African continental phase has ended, that the Synod process continues to the universal level. Perhaps there was not enough time to thrash out intractable issues such as religious ideological extremism which is on the rise and a source of great concern for the church and people of Africa.
And the climax of the closure of the continental synodal assembly was the Eucharistic celebration at Saint Gabriel Catholic Parish on Sunday, 5 March 2023.