As Africa celebrates its synodal moment: Where does it go from here?
Andrew Kaufa SMM
As they entered the second day of the African Synod Assembly which is taking place in Addis Ababa, delegates who are reflecting on the Document of the Continental Stage (DCS) have been urged not to re-read the text but rather to enter into a spiritual conversation on the document while paying attention to the words, images, symbols and phrases that were captured.
Animating the reflective session on the Document for the Continental Stage of the Synod (DCS), Fr Agbonkhanmeghe Emanuel Orobator SJ said that listening to the document on the continental stage, one finds out that “We are a Church learning to journey together” and that the Synod “is a moment of dialogue among the local churches and with the Universal Church” marked by three important elements: listening, dialogue and discernment.”
He then pointed out to the delegates that the continental synodal stage “is a moment to give gratitude to God who has brought us together, guided by the spirit of God; this is a moment of joy: let us not allow the weeds to obstruct us the seed; rather, let us allow the spirit to lead us forth.”
As they went into group discussions, the delegates were urged to enter into a spiritual conversation, guided by the questions:
“What is coming to my mind as I reflect on the key points that have been raised by the faithful in the DCS and what are the key points of divergence particularly important for the Church in Africa?” challenged Fr Orobator.
Since the Synod is at the continental stage, Fr Orobator reminded the delegates what it means, to say, “We are already on the path. The Synod is not a distant future reality or a desire but a here and now experience. So, we are reminded by this document of how we have come to be here at this assembly,” he guided.
His reflection was in fact, an invitation for the African Church to discover a path that must be followed from now on.
Journeying, listening, removing the weeds
Another question the animator posed was, “What did we discover on this path?” Firstly, it is the fruit and seeds that the process of synodality has planted.
“One of the fruits of synodality is the methodology of listening to each other in silence and prayer, to which Fr Giacomo (Costa) invited us yesterday,” he said and then added, “What about the weeds?”
“When we discover the weeds, we have to remove them without uprooting the seed: these seeds include fear, resistance, lack of understanding,” he said.
“On sexual abuse and clericalism, these call for more transparency and for co-responsibility.”
He explained that the theme of the Synod emphasizes co-responsibility. In practice, this implies communion, and participation as key values hence the need for the Church in Africa to place value not only on the call to priesthood but all vocations including family and other consecrated callings. In this regard, the DCS points out that clericalism is therefore the result of weakness, something that also calls for conversation.
All in all, the experience of the Church during the synodal process also reveals that weeds have not impeded the desire of the Church in Africa to move forward as brothers and sisters who share a common dignity.
Reflecting on the symbol of the tent, Fr Orobator noted that the tent, “makes us feel like a family. It also means that the church is an open-ended place, not a fixed reality, a place where the Church can make room for everyone like a baraza, palaver, ujamaa as the President of SECAM Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo earlier said in his opening remarks. And this sense of welcoming and inclusion underscores that the Church is a missionary reality called to go forth to the world and hear the cry of humanity; it is a church deeply involved with the world’s challenges; a Church that learns from others through dialogue and ecumenism
A welcoming and hospitable Church
With regard to a Church that is welcoming, Fr Oobator encouraged the delegates to bear in mind that a welcoming and hospitable Church is not always our lived experience in Africa.
“Sometimes we succumb to individualism, clericalism but yet we are invited to listen to one another: bishops listening to priests and Christians and vice versa and together listening to the Holy Spirit.”
“A listening church is a home to our brothers and sisters who feel left out: and we know who they are: they all want to feel welcome: young people, People With Disabilities, divorcees, those who left us for other churches, migrants and commercial sex workers and prisoners,” he enumerated.
The participants were then asked to consider how the DCS summons all to rethink women’s participation in the Church.
As Fr Orabotor made his remarks, all the men present in the auditorium spontaneously stood up and gave an applause to women in the African church for the role which they are playing.
“There is in the DCS a unanimous affirmation that women love the church, yet they feel not valued as decision makers are the men. In fact, there are a few places where women can participate in decision-making and governance while the men who are the minority continue to be decision-makers,” he said. He challenged the Church in Africa to discern how best to put co-responsibility in practice.
“When it comes to women, the synod is a call for the formation of people in skills and new vision; for a spirituality that will sustain the practice of synodality; and for there to be synodality, the presence of the Spirit is necessary.”
In the same vein, Fr Orobator noted that according to the DCS, the faithful also pointed out the gaps in liturgical life as they expressed a strong desire for more active and participatory liturgy; for a Church that welcomes liturgical differences.
“And we know there are divisions on this matter as well. So, where do we go from here? This indeed is an ecclesial moment,” he said and added, “The Synod assembly we are celebrating today constitutes a new sphere in the Church.”
With this reflection blended with quiet time for personal prayer, the delegates have entered into a day-long spiritual conversation during which they will tackle the questions for the continental stage as per the DCS no. 106 which gives guidance on the three areas of focus, namely, what experiences resonate more strongly with the local Church in Africa; what substantial divergences are emerging as particularly important; and what are the priority recurring themes and calls to action that Africa can share with the universal Church.
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