By Linda Bordoni
Southern African IMBISA members gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa, this week to assess progress and set new goals for a plenary assembly next year.
IMBISA stands for the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa, and is an organ of liaison and pastoral cooperation between Episcopal Conferences of Southern Africa.
It includes representatives of 9 countries in 6 Episcopal Conferences, and its mission is to foster the spirit of communion within the Universal Church.
Archbishop Tlali Gerard Lerotholi of Maseru in Lesotho is IMBISA vice president. He spoke to Linda Bordoni about the main themes and focus of the just ended gathering.
He explained that this week’s meeting included members of the Executive Commission of the organization including representatives of all the member Episcopal conferences.
Lerotholi said it was meant to be a report back on the progress made on strategic planning, but the presence of members of the Justice and Peace commissions as well as the important political changes that have affected the region recently widened horizons and discussions considerably.
The Archbishop explained that the Justice and Peace Commissions have adopted the Pope’s Encyclical “Laudato Sì” as a guideline document highlighting the need to “always put people first”: from people’s accountability to the environment to the involvement of the youth.
Lerotholi also said the political changes that have occurred recently in the region – specifically the changes in leadership in Zimbabwe and in South Africa – as well as the fact that there will be a number of countries voting in elections soon, also put issues of leadership high on the agenda.
“Election monitoring is one of the aspects of ensuring peace and stability in our region” he said.
Synod for Young People and issues of political leadership
Regarding Zimbabwe, Lerotholi says the bishops are cautiously optimistic following the change of leadership there and are certainly hoping it will be for the better. He says the bishops are already engaged with the new leadership but said it is still too early to say how it will develop.
As regards South Africa, the Archbishop pointed out that “when you get a leader that is positive about change we think there is someone who we can talk to and that will listen”.
“Political rhetoric is not just empty promises but it really means a real change for the better: so we will wait and see” he said.
He spoke about the HIV-Aids pandemic which is a great concern in the region and said that unfortunately new infections continue to be registered.
He remarked on the fact that the Church is deeply involved in assisting in this sphere “which affects mainly the youth, our future”.
Lerotholi concluded with a special emphasis on youth empowerment saying that youth is the main priority this year: “we see the young people not only as future but for their current involvement in entrepreneurship, in innovation and that, he said, has to be recognized and celebrated.
“Young people, he said, should not be postponed for the future: they are here now and the energy and the vibrancy that they show should be taken into account”.