Gabon’s synodal process: Assuring the lay faithful that their voice counts.
Donatien Nyembo SJ - Vatican City
“For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission” is the theme of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops convened by Pope Francis for October 2023. However, before the 2023 meeting, Pope Francis commissioned a worldwide synodal consultation process currently happening in all dioceses of the world.
Initial indifference and scepticism
In an interview with Vatican News, Father Jean Davy Ndangha Mbome said the synodal consultations in the Archdiocese of Libreville were progressing well, notwithstanding initial hurdles.
The Coordinator notes that at the beginning of the consultations, the lay faithful were doubtful and rather indifferent towards the suggested diocesan process. They were not sure if their voice and opinions would really count. It is a scepticism that is justified, said Fr Mbome, “by the lack of information on what it was all going to be about.”
It took several weeks of explanations and communication efforts to overcome the indifference and scepticism among parishioners of the Archdiocese of Libreville.
Appreciating the synodal dynamic
“The diocesan commission tasked with conducting the consultations persisted in creating awareness and mobilising in various parishes. The faithful now appreciate, understand and have embraced the synodal dynamic. The enthusiasm is growing around this synodal process as desired by the Pope,” explained the Gabonese priest.
Not having given in to discouragement, the Catholics of Libreville now have high hopes from the Synod itself.
The Church is everyone’s business
Overall, said Father Ndangha, the Catholic lay faithful in the Archdiocese of Libreville, hope to break away from a certain clericalist vision of the Church “viewed narrowly as a Church of the Pope, bishops and priests.”
Father Ndangha adds, “Only after presenting the Church as the people of God can one evoke the hierarchy. In other words, the hierarchy of the Church is at the service of the whole people of God -a hierarchy of service and not of domination."
He continued, “The people really want the face of the Church to change. They want the Church to give them their rightful place so that they can become truly involved in it, aware that the Church is everyone’s business,” said Fr Ndangha. Besides and more importantly, he said, the faithful also need to be made aware of their own responsibility in shoring-up clericalism in the Church.