In the week following the USCCB’s General Assembly in Baltimore, during which the bishops promoted their “Eucharistic Revival” and finally passed their long-anticipated and much-debated document on Eucharistic coherence, the Latin American Bishops’ Conference (CELAM) held an unprecedented ecclesial assembly in Mexico City, which was described in its final document to have been “a true experience of synodality, in mutual listening and community discernment of what the Spirit wants to say to his Church.”
We will have much more to say about the CELAM meeting in the days and weeks to come. For most of us in the US, the synod still seems as though it’s something on the horizon, rather than a process that has already been underway for nearly two months. It seems this way despite the urging of papal representatives Cardinal Mario Grech and Archbishop Christophe Pierre—the latter of whom is constantly calling the American bishops to get with the program. He’s practically begged them to undergo an ecclesial conversion, “The conversion, especially in our mentality, that the process brings about can leave us ‘vulnerable’ but in a better place.”
Whether the US episcopate, which seems to think that drafting a secret document in a committee behind closed doors is a “true experience of synodality,” will undergo a conversion remains to be seen.
In addition to Latin America, many of the bishops of Africa have been leading the way in adopting synodality and helping to teach their flocks what it means to be a synodal Church. I recently found myself wondering if the Church in other parts of the world was tackling this worldwide synodal process, and I was quite impressed with the straightforward, direct, comprehensive, and confident presentations of the African bishops that I came across. Compared to the Church in the US, where we seem to be stuck on “what is a synod?” or eye-rolling and cynicism. In Africa, they are ready to move forward with a strong awareness and understanding, and that’s also how they frame it.
Here I will highlight three examples. I am not sharing these merely to demonstrate how far ahead they seem to be than the Church in the West, but because I honestly learned from them and I think we can all benefit from their messages. (If any US bishops are reading this, I think you have much to learn from your brothers in Africa.)
Archbishop Andrew Nkea of Cameroon:
Archbishop Nkea, in his presentation, reflects on how the local Church participates in communion with the global Church:
“Communion. You know that the word communio—it’s unity, it’s togetherness.
And with communion, a decision that is taken by the local Church, by the rest of the Church, has to be in unity. So you talk about communion with the local bishop. You talk about communion with the episcopal conference. You talk about communion with the Supreme Pontiff. The Church walks in communion. Communion is a very important word for the Catholic Church because the Catholic Church is the Church that walks, the Church that evangelizes in communio. In communion. So it is not that every Church exists in isolation, but we walk in unity.
In this communion, we now talk about participation. How does everyone who is a Catholic participate in the life of the Church? This is a very important point. While we are maintaining our unity, we also see about participation. How does everyone participate in the life of the Church? And on this, we have to answer the questions beginning from the grassroots. Like we say, here will reflect on our needs in our small Christian communities in our mission stations, in our parishes, the level of the diocese, etc.”
Webinar led by Bishop Maurice Muhatia Makumba (Kenya):
Imagine a US archbishop leading the people in a webinar!
Archbishop Augustine Akubeze, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN):
Vatican News published an article on Archbishop Augustine Akubeze, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), a Church that is not without it challenges. As the article reports, “When asked about the Church’s efforts in the face of these different lived experiences of Christians within the country, Archbishop Akubeze acknowledges the pain and suffering of the Christian brothers and sisters in the northern part of Nigeria, noting that their experience ‘cannot be expressed adequately in writing, or fully captured in any interview.'”
And in the face of this, the Church in Nigeria remains committed to the synodal process.
“The local church in Nigeria is vibrant and alive,” he affirms. “She is not shy of confronting any challenges that are peculiar to her.”
He added, “We will wait to listen to the fruits of the local discussions from the various dioceses to see what our faithful are thinking, and this will be transmitted to the Holy See for the Synod of Bishops.”
Here is the audio interview with the Archbishop:
In all three of these cases, I was impressed with the clear plans of action sketched out by the bishops, and their determination to participate successfully in the process. They all seem likewise committed to keep tabs on the progress of how their local Church was carrying out the synodal process.
I sensed none of the hesitancy or cynicism from these bishops that I see in the US, and none of the infantilizing of the faithful that many US bishops have put forth in their own presentation. They don’t talk about the synod as if their flocks are kindergarteners, rather as adults who are invested in the life of the Church and who want to participate in the global Church.
Image: Archbishop Andrew Nkea, YouTube.