African Catholics hope workshop will explain synod’s recommendations

LUSAKA, Zambia – As the church in Africa prepares for a consultation workshop in Mozambique May 23-26 to discuss the results of last October’s Synod of Bishops for Africa, some Catholics are questioning why little has been done to discuss and begin to implement the synod’s recommendations.

From Nigeria in the west to Zambia in the south, Catholics across the continent told Catholic News Service that the outcomes of the 2009 synod have yet to be outlined to people in the pews and that the communication effort related to the gathering falls far short of the effort stemming from a 1994 synod that also looked at the needs of the African church.

They also said they hope the workshop in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, will kick-start a years-long effort to incorporate the 57 pastoral proposals the bishop delegates offered to Pope Benedict XVI as the synod concluded Oct. 25.

“It is as though it (the synod) came and went, and everyone forgot about it,” said Joseph Mukumba, a parishioner at Mary Immaculate Church, a new parish in Lusaka. “No one is talking about the synod anymore and yet it is what is supposed to guide us on the future of the church here in Africa.”

In response, Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu of Lusaka, a synod delegate, said implementation of the pastoral proposals, or recommendations, can vary widely across the continent and therefore requires serious effort and time.

“Implementation of synod propositions (recommendations) is an enormous task,” he said. “We may have to work for the next 10 or more years to see it done, but it will be worthwhile. All that is required is to keep up the enthusiasm and effort.”

Archbishop Mpundu explained that implementing the recommendations must be based within the synod theme of reconciliation, justice and peace. He also expressed concern that the effort needed would tax the African church’s personnel and financial capabilities.

“Parishes and dioceses often struggle to provide the most basic pastoral and administrative services to the faithful,” he said. “How can you expect them to implement all the synod propositions in one year?”

Regina Chitunda, assistant catechetical/pastoral coordinator at the Zambia bishops’ conference, said the church has started a series of workshops to inform priests and women religious about the synod’s outcomes. Community radio stations also will air programs about the synod and the steps involved for implementing its recommendations, she added.

“This, we hope, will accelerate the process of educating the laity on the synod process and its outcomes,” she said.

Still, Mukumba is not alone in his sentiments. Continent-wide, Catholics said they thought they would have heard more about the synod’s proposals in the six months since the gathering ended.

“There was more discussion done on the synod on the upper level, but little information was communicated to the grassroots, and because of that, the implementation process has caught most priests and laity unaware,” said Father Cletus Mwiila, chairman of the Association of Zambian Diocesan Catholic Clergy and a member of the Zambian task force for the synod process.

Jane Wangari, a member of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Kenya’s Kisumu Diocese, suggested that church leaders should place more emphasis on ensuring that the key issues identified by the synod are addressed.

Wangari said she believed efforts should focus on creating a new model of church, one that can address critical issues facing Africa, such as poverty, HIV and AIDS, bad governance, climate change, conflicts, injustice and gender inequality.

Victor Chinedu of Holy Trinity Church in Kano, Nigeria, echoed Wangari’s concerns.

A member of his parish’s communication team, Chinedu, 29, observed that though something was being done by his diocese to inform the laity about the synod’s results, much work remained to put together a plan that would bring about a change in the church.

He said “the synod identified issues that require the church’s serious attention. Those issues cannot be addressed by sensitization but through action.”

Kor Birat, a member of the St. Joseph’s Parish, in the Archdiocese of Khartoum, Sudan, said that he was impressed with the preparations made for the 2009 synod, but he was unhappy with the follow-up.

“The Church in Sudan began preparatory meetings for the synod general assembly as far back as 2005,” he said. “Parishes would occasionally be brought together to discuss issues for the synod. Everyone was involved, and I also participated in those meetings.”

“But after the assembly, follow-up activities have been rather slow,” Birat added. “No meetings and not much information on what is happening.”

In Botswana’s Francistown vicariate, Ben Phiri, a Zambian Catholic teacher based in the central town of Serowe, said he learned about the synod through the media despite regularly attending Mass.

“Most of the laity, apart from those of us who follow current affairs, is ignorant of the synod,” Phiri said.

“It is a bad situation for the church if the idea is to get everyone involved in the process,” he added.

The Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar and Caritas Africa will host the three-day workshop. Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, president of Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, will lead the opening session.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.