Sr. Jecinter Antoinette Okoth, FSSA
AMECEA Online, Nairobi.
The upcoming Continental Synod Meeting slated for next 1 to 6 March in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is set to engage delegates in reflection from the local context of Africa on the working Document for the Continental Stage (DCS) which was availed by the Synod Committee from Vatican last year.
Praying and reflecting together
“There are quite a number of issues that have been raised by the local churches. Now we are to reflect together as a continent the product of what came from all dioceses in the world which was compiled together to produce the Document for Continental Stage,” Secretary General for the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) Fr. Anthony Makunde has said in an interview, recently.
“In a way, the local Church will be reflecting on the views from the Universal Church. This means the Church in Africa will meet to pray and discern together on the document but in view of our local context,” he explained and added, “After reading the document, reflecting and praying for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit we are going to look at the areas which we think have touched us the most in our African context,” the Secretary General.
According to Fr. Makunde, the eight regional bodies of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences which form the continental body known as the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), have each been allocated slots to send representation at the week-long meeting.
The assembly will comprise of 108 lay people who will be represented by 44 adults, 36 young people, five novices, and five seminarians. There will also be 32 priests, 10 religious women, six religious men, 13 bishops and 10 cardinals. Additionally, technical personnel will be represented by four members of the African Synodality Initiative (ASI) and 11 journalists from various Catholic media and communications agencies.
Listening to the Holy Spirit
The Secretary General for AMECEA region further stressed that the assembly is expected to bring together delegates from the entire continent of Africa and the Islands, and that it will use the method as proposed by the Holy Father, that is. spiritual conversation and listening to what the Holy Spirit who is saying to the Church in Africa through the representatives.
Fr. Makunde further revealed that after two working sessions by experts drawn from the continent, the taskforce came up with suggestions as guiding points to be used during the continental stage gathering, hence the need for the “delegates in Addis Ababa to understand the methodology because it is different from what is often used in other meetings.”
Prior to the upcoming meeting, “regional bodies are expected to give an induction to their delegates so that they understand well the document that will be used during the assembly and more importantly the methodology for discernment. The delegated therefore need to read and re-read (the document),” Fr Makunde explained.
“This method is in prayer form to allow the entire human person to get involved, both mentally and spiritually. It is not something that requires the delegate to find principles in a book but rather to allow the message in the document to sink into our hearts and minds, and to allow the Holy Spirit to inspire them. So, during the general assembly, the reactions from delegates are expected to be inspired by the Holy Spirit.”
Safeguarding issues and protecting the family
Fr Makunde pointed out some areas of concern which the Church in Africa should not fail to deeply reflect on include issues such as the “Safeguarding and protection of the institution of family as this has come out strongly in the regional reports as a pastoral challenge for the Church in Africa.”
He noted that a number of issues pointed out as challenges encountered in Africa “can be addressed by nurturing family values. The Church herself depends on how strong the families are, hence destroying the family is destroying the Church.”
The AMECEA Secretary General also proposed that the delegates need to discuss on how Church in Africa should live the faith she professes.
“The reports mention issues such as wars and social injustices which are contrary to Christian Faith. If we respond to the call of our Lord Jesu Christ to love each other, these issues should not be daily challenges in a Christian environment,” Fr. Anthony said and continued, “So, we need find ways to strengthen the fact that we ought to live what we profess in our Christian faith,” he emphasised.
A response to the Great Commission
Another area of concern for the Church in Africa, Fr Makunde said is, “to remember the call of our Lord Jesus Christ to go to all parts of the earth and make disciples since the Church in Africa is still young and needs more evangelization.”
“While we think of those who are already Christians and are not in full communion, we also think of those who are not privileged to hear the Word of God, he said.
Members of other faiths invited
Other than Catholics who will be at the continental meeting, the AMECEA Secretary General highlighted that there will be members from other religions who will join the assembly. These include delegates from the African Traditional Religions, from the Muslim community and from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church among others.
“Even though we are Catholics, we live in a religiously mixed society. So, an ecumenical point of view is reflected in this synodal journey. We (Catholics) need go beyond our religion to (reach out to) other Christian denomination and to non-Christian religions as well,” Fr. Makunde said.
“We are in a society whereby regardless of our Christian affiliation we are human beings and most of these religions which we relate with are monotheistic, so, we believe in one God and this is a unifying link,” he emphasized.
“Let each and every Catholic know that the Synod is not over yet and the spirit which has been kindled by this synodal journeying is not yet over. Let us capitalize on the presence of the Holy Spirit in whatever activities, whether Church activities or social activities, knowing that we are all sons and daughters of the same Creator, (and we are) called to journey together,” he said.