Experience of Synodality in the African Church

Report on the 5th International Theological Conference of Institute of Consecrated Life in Africa (InCLA), Abuja Nigeria.  3rd– 5th of October 2022.

The 5th International Theologian Conference of the Institute of Consecrated Life in Africa could not have come at a better time, considering the growing concern raised by the Holy Father, Pope Francis, on the need for a Synod on Synodality in the universal Church, a two-year process that was initiated by the Holy Father, officially known as “Synod 2021 – 2023: For a Synodal Church”. It became imperative to align with this vision and initiative of the Holy Father to avail the African Church the opportunity for reflections on this all-important theme: “Experience of Synodality in the African Church” as viewed from a pastoral perspective, women and youth participation in the Church and a Canonical perspective.

Speakers were invited to tackle different aspects of this question. Rev. Fr. Dr. Bonaventure Ugwu, CSSp. was invited to speak on the pastoral perspective. In tackling that during his presentation, he opined that an all-inclusive participation in the pastoral life of the Church is basic to the principle of Synodality. Construction of a system that would integrate the laity fittingly into the government of the Church as a relevant organ of the Church with an active voice should be the concern of every pastoral unit. In other words, the pastor should represent Christ as an epitome of unity shunning every form of segregation or disparity.

The Second presenter, Sr. Dr. Josephine Nwaogwugwu, HFSN, examined the role and place of women in the life of the Church. Beginning from the family which is considered the first Church of every Christian child with the mother standing as the first indispensable minister, down to religious communities, women are considered agents of evangelization and messengers of the Kingdom. The Canon Law grants rights and obligations to women, which when understood could become sources of women’s active participation in the life of the Church. This, therefore, calls for a reinforcement of women’s positions in the Church since some cultural and religious traditions tend to silence them. The Church should foster the revitalization of women’s consciousness of their roles.

Any Church that neglects the youths has its future at risk. This was the centrepiece of Mr Peter Ikponmwosa Agbontaen’s thoughts in the third presentation which focused on Youth participation in the life of the African Church. The future of the Church lies in the hands of the youth and for effective participation of the youths in the Church, their programmes and activities must be prioritised. Their views, no matter how radical, must be factored into the Church’s plan for the present and the future. The key to engaging the youth and making them a vital element of the life of the Church is “listening”. Attentive listening to the contributions of the youth, therefore, is a pastoral necessity that ensures a richer and more dynamic Church.

Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Peter Okonkwo, CMF, in the fourth and final presentation looked at the Canonical Perspective of Synodality. The 1983 code of Canon Law articulates through legislative codes, the theological reflections of the Vatican II Council Documents. Synodality is a constitutive aspect of this document and for that reason, its importance for the government of the Church cannot be over-emphasized. Therefore, the Canon Law should not be seen as providing limitations for inclusiveness but as an avenue to experience God’s loving care and provisions for every member of the Church.

The Conference was enriched by further discussions and group work and activities where participants had the chance to make contributions to the papers presented. Again, the Key Note Address rendered by Rev. Fr. Prof. Wenceslaus Madu, CMF, provided the needed traction for the Conference to take off. The need to walk together as a people of God, sharing our charisms and gifts in our journey as fellow pilgrims, he emphasised, is both central and important. Rich messages came from the Fr. General, Very Rev. Fr. Matthew Vattamattam, CMF and the ACLA President, Very Rev. Fr. Jude Langeh, CMF.

Finally, at the end of discussions in the Conference it was accentuated that the success of Synodality in the African Church demands a connection with the Holy Spirit. The elements of togetherness, communion, fellowship, sharing and participation which define the principle of Synodality are all gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is through the Holy Spirit that the dialogue between God, creation and humanity takes place. While human beings have vital roles to play to establish Synodality as a way of being and acting in the Church, ultimately it is going to be actualized, “Not by might nor by power but by my spirit says the Lord.” (Zechariah 4:6).

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