By Fr Ncamiso Vilakati
Many perceive the Catholic Church as a gentlemen’s club that seeks to protect those in positions of privilege. Sometimes words like mafia are synonymously equated to this esteemed institution that seeks to rejuvenate itself in modern times. Ever since the initial pontificate of Pope Francis the Church has not only been thriving to go towards the periphery, reaching out to those in need, but also calls for equal share in the governance of the Church. At the end of the Synod of Bishops on the paths for the church for an integral ecology, the Holy Father, announced on the 7th of March 2020, that in October 2023, bishops from around the world will meet in Rome to discuss the theme: “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission.”
True to that, on the 7th of September 2021, the Holy See released a vademecum that seeks to guide the Church worldwide on how to go about in the quest for an authentic period of seeking what the Church is saying. At Diocesan level, of which our Diocese of Manzini will do so from the 17th of October 2021, the Holy See seeks to exhort Dioceses to acknowledge the richness of listening from all stakeholders of a Diocese devising social actions that promote deepened communion, fuller participation, and a more fruitful mission. This phase is an opportunity for parishes in our Diocese to encounter, experience, and live out the synodal journey together, thus discovering or developing synodal tools and pathways that are best suited for our local context.
As a process, being synodal means to have the aim to live “the action of the Spirit in the communion of the Body of Christ and in the missionary journey of the People of God.” And so, when the bishops meet in Rome in October 2023, they would have been a desire to promote and develop the practice and experience of sharing, in an authentic courage and honesty (parrhesia) so to integrate freedom, truth, and charity. This requires humility in listening by affording everyone the right to be heard, just as everyone has the right to speak. The next two years we shall aim at an authentic dialogue that leads to newness of life, where pre-conceived opinions may change. The end would be an openness to conversion as the Holy Spirit inspires those who discern good. In our Diocese, in a subtle way we may be suffocating from clericalism, prejudices as well as stereotypes but this period which the holy Father presents to us seeks to make us Emaswati to be a Church which is the Body of Christ filled with different charisms in which each member has a unique role to play. We are all interdependent on one another and we all share an equal dignity amidst the holy People of God of which in essence the image of Christ true power, is service. Self-sufficiency, selfish ideologies are to be diminished, and hope amplified through this period of renewal.
As synodality calls upon the clergy to listen attentively to the flock entrusted to their care, the same applies to the laity to express their views freely and honestly. Everyone listens to one other out of love, in a spirit of communion and our common mission. Thus, the power of the Holy Spirit is manifested in manifold ways in and through the entire People of God. An outcome to this leads to an innovative outlook, inclusivity, open minded, understanding we are on the journey together, co-responsibility as well as reaching out to those Christians who may differ in approach as well as other religions.
The vademecum, seeks to warns us from pitfalls, as they could hamper a good initiative. First the Holy Father wants the Diocese of Manzini to allow God to lead, for we are not a corporate entity but a spiritual one led by the Holy Spirit. We are to think outside of our horizons, outside oof the box as they say. It is not an opportunity to look for problems or structural reinforcement nor the visible confines of the Catholic Church in Eswatini, but an expression of the Gospel in our lives either as clerics or laity. Rather this is an opportunity for the Church in Eswatini to be inspired by the Gospel of John 17: 21, “that they may be one”. Hence the approach should not be bureaucratic, as if we are in a parliament by only involving those within the confines of Catholic Church activities in Eswatini.
The synod seeking to desist from protocolism, monopolization and exclusivity but thumbs up to inclusivity and spontaneity; exhorts me and you to a call to journey together by authentically listening to the Scriptures as a pathway and core foundation in listening to the people of God. It is time as a Church in Eswatini, we opt for the guidance of the Spirit which has guided the Church’s journey through history and, today, calls us to be, together, witnesses of God’s love. Those in the margins of society, would get the opportunity to express themselves and to be heard in order to contribute to the edification of the People of God; as well as recognizing and appreciating the wealth and the variety of the gifts and charisms that the Spirit liberally bestows for the good of the community and the benefit of the entire human family. After the synod it is anticipated a participatory effort to build a more beautiful and habitable world would bring to light and convert prejudices and distorted practices that are not rooted in the Gospel.
In anticipation of an inclusive Church, probably we would adopt “new languages of faith” that are capable of interpreting events deep theological events to a simple ecclesiastical life. Church members to adapt and adopt a tradition that respects the “sensus fidei” as seen in the second century when St John Chrysostom affirmed that the “Church and Synod are synonymous”. But yes, the gist of the questions that need to be elucidated at the end of our journey this coming year would be: How is this “journeying together” happening today in your particular Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our “journeying together”?
As we prepare ourselves, we need to pose questions to the self, and seek what experiences in your particular Church the fundamental question calls to mind? What joys did they provoke? What difficulties and obstacles have they encountered? What wounds have they brought to light? What insights have they elicited? Where, in these experiences, does the voice of the Spirit resound? What is he asking of us? What are the points to be confirmed, the prospects for change, the steps to be taken? Where do we register a consensus? What paths are opening up for our particular Church?
As we wait for the 17th of October, we need to discern how are going to journey as companions, who listen to another so as not to respond but with humility just like our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to find out how can we speak to them out, as we celebrate them in our daily devotions. We need to pose those difficult questions to the self how we have been co-responsible in the mission of the Church by promoting dialogue in inside the Church in Manzini as well when we serve society. How have other Christian denominations perceived me to be a person of inclusivity, spontaneity devoid of rigidity?
Article sourced from Siyatfunywa News (Diocese of Manzini Newsletter) 1st Edition published in October 2021.