The 19th Plenary Assembly of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) is continuing in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The ten-day event gathers more than 200 Bishops from nine African countries to discuss the theme “Vibrant Diversity, Equal Dignity, Peaceful Unity in God in the AMECEA region.”
Among those taking part in the Assembly are also Bishops from other continents, including Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey. As chair of the Subcommittee on the Church in Africa for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, he is present in order to build solidarity between Catholics in the U.S. and in Africa.
“I have to say, it’s a special grace for me to be here,” Cardinal Tobin said in an interview with Vatican News. A Redemptorist missionary before his elevation to the episcopacy, he recalled previous visits to Africa. “So it’s like coming home,” he said.
Cardinal Tobin said the AMECEA Plenary Assembly is “a reinforcement of the catholicity of the Church.” With over a billion faithful, the Catholic Church is one of the most diverse institutions on earth. “And we continue to prolong the miracle of Pentecost,” he said, “which I think is two miracles: One is that people hear the Word of God in their own language and their own culture, all that makes them unique.”
The other aspect of the miracle of Pentecost is that it helps us to “discover a principle of unity, which is the Holy Spirit, which does not deny culture, but it overcomes some of the limits of culture, so that we can find solidarity with each other.”
During the Plenary Assembly, Cardinal Tobin spoke to the Bishops about the Magisterium of Pope Francis. He said he “focused on an aspect that one doesn’t always hear spoken about: the synodality, that is, the greater respect for dialogue and consultation within the Church that engages every baptised person as co-responsible for the Church’s mission, and also as a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, through which the Holy Spirit can speak.”
He related Pope Francis’ call for greater synodality to an aspect of African culture that he had encountered. African culture, Cardinal Tobin suggested, “has a synodal aspect – in the sense that we might have a paramount chief, but generally the chief listens to the elders and to the whole group before making decisions.”
Cardinal Tobin said, “What Pope Francis calling for is a greater synodality at all levels of the Church, whether we’re talking about a pastoral council in a parish, or a worldwide Synod of Bishops like the one that will take place” in October. It’s very important, he said, for Bishops to talk with one another. And, he concluded, “I think many of the challenges we face… The Lord will help us to find the solution if we’re willing to engage in an effort to take the same road, is what the [word] synod means.”
Click on the link below to hear the full interview of Cardinal Joseph Tobin with Fr Paul Samasumo of Vatican News: