Photogram of the Regional Episcopal Conferences in Africa

Paul Samasumo – Vatican City

Jan 19 2023

The Vatican’s General Secretariat of the Synod tells Catholic African media professionals that the Church counts on them to circulate clear and precise information about the Synod process.

Bishop Luis Marín de San Martín O.S.A, Under Secretary of the General Secretariat of the Synod, has expressed his appreciation for the work that African Catholic media are doing in disseminating information about the ongoing Synod on Synodality initiated by Pope Francis.

Synod is a process

In his opening remarks during a Zoom Tuesday meeting with over 50 African Catholic media, the Under Secretary reminded the media that the Synod is a process, not an event.

“For me, the Synod is a process of profound renewal and hope for the universal Church. It is not about creating a new Church. It’s about finding coherence of Christian unity with Christ and unity with the communion of sisters and brothers in the faith,” he said. Bishop de San Martín continued:

“This process is also a drive, as it were, in our evangelisation efforts within the context of our specific history. It is a process and not an event.”

His Excellency, Luis Marín de San Martín, OSA, Under Secretary of the General Secretariat of the Synod

Synod and cultural diversity

Explaining the continental stage of the Synod, Bishop de San Martín emphasised the importance of listening to the Holy Spirit and each other because what the Church is engaged in is a spiritual process of discernment, rather than a mere pastoral reorganisation or restructuring of the Church.

Bishop de San Martín assured the meeting participants that the continental stage of the Synod is necessary because the Church recognises the importance of cultural diversity.

“Just as the word of God incarnated itself in history, so too the Synodal process needs to eventually take decisions that recognise and are enriched by the cultural diversity of Africa and other continents. This cultural diversity will enrich the universal Church.”

African Synod outcomes and challenges

Africa’s regional secretaries-general were asked during the Zoom meeting to briefly share experiences from their regions. They were asked two questions.

What are the primary outcomes and challenges of listening in your region?

In their responses, most secretaries-general spoke of a successful consultative listening phase with many of the faithful participating in the various parish and diocesan Synod activities. According to the reports, the Catholic faithful were thankful to Pope Francis for the opportunity to air their views. They hope and pray that the Church in Africa will emerge stronger and more united.

AMECEA Secretary General based in Nairobi, Fr. Anthony Makunde, seemed to summarise the overall message of the reports.

“The African continent today carries out its mission in a mixed society environment. In most countries on the continent, the Catholic faith is not the main religion. As such, the Catholic faith on the continent has to find a way of co-existing and working with other faiths.”

Fr Makunde also spoke of the political instability that plagues the African continent and is manifested as both low-level or all-out civil war, and sometimes as war with neighbouring countries. Several countries in Africa, the secretaries-general said, are having to come face to face with religious extremism that is exerting a toll on the practice of the Catholic faith. It was suggested that the Church in Africa needs to strengthen its ecumenical approach to deal with religious extremism.

Strengthening family life in Africa

Other challenges include the need to scale up and constructively engage the youth in Africa before they become disenchanted with life and their faith.

Coming up now and again from the sharing of the secretaries-general were challenges having to do with family life. These consist of challenges about broken families, cohabitation, teenage pregnancies, polygamy and single parents struggling to raise children alone. Overall, the view is that the African Church needs to do more to strengthen the family.

Elsewhere, the Church in Africa recognises it has a role in accompanying the socio-political aspects of life on the continent to entrench democratic governance. This entails a Church engaged in approaches of integral development as well as justice and peace concerns.

The image of the tent

The second question the general secretaries were expected to share with the media was about image and representation. They were asked to answer the question: What is the image of Africa coming through from the listening process?

The synod presents a biblical icon, the image of the tent derived from the Old Testament book of the prophet Isaiah in Chapter 54:2 “Widen the space of your tent….”

This image of a tent is proposed for the Synod as a space of communion, a place of participation, and a foundation for the Church’s evangelisation mission where no one is excluded.

Most of the African secretaries-general said while the faithful in Africa appreciated the sentiments and narrative surrounding the tent imagery, many expressed the need for a different symbol or image. Most Africans preferred a more contemporary image of the Church as a family. This is because, in the African context, the tent is associated with refugee camps and temporary shelter: places of misery and suffering.  – Vatican News