We do not “go to Church”

by Bp José Luis IMC

At the beginning of this year our diocese launched the very first “online survey” offering everyone in the diocese the opportunity to share – as baptised and sent – about our journey together.

The word to keep in mind is: “everyone”.

Thinking of the spaces our diocese offers to share on our Christian journey, we realised that only those who are members of a parish council, or a specific sodality are able to do so. The rest, which might be the majority of our Christian community, has not been given that space. In fact, when asked in the survey “which spaces does your Church offer you to share your views, concerns, ideas”, many answered “none”. That is why we launched an “online survey” and that is why we will be placing “suggestion boxes” in every parish for those who would prefer to do it in a different way.

I believe our goal is being reached as, one third of those who have taken part of the survey, do not belong to any sodality but they are indeed active members of our Church.

Going through the answers I noticed that when asking about “joyful” experiences in the Church, the answers particularly underline community events: sacraments, Masses, pilgrimages, retreats, special events (centenary of the Church in Eswatini, year of mercy).

When asking about “hurtful” experiences, though some share about tensions in and between the sodalities, it is mostly about personal attitudes: lack of care, gossiping, abuse of power, hurtful language (being the bishop, the priests, the sisters, or the laity).

The survey makes it clear that “we are the Church”. In fact, none of us should ever speak about “going to Church” because the Church is us: you and me. It is you and I who – with God’s grace, with our words, our actions, our attitudes, with what we do or fail to do – have the power to build and to destroy, to heal and to hurt. We should never ever underestimate or forget it.

I was in Rome at the beginning of our Lenten Season. Ash Wednesday Mass was presided by Bishop Diamantino (Bishop of Tete in Mozambique and a Consolata Missionary like me). His words remained in my heart. He said: “our Lenten Season begins with us bowing our heads to receive the ashes and ends with us bending down to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters”.

Lent is more than a season. It is a “school” which reminds us of who we are. Even beyond Lent and filled with the Easter joy, we will continue to bow down for mercy acknowledging our weaknesses and bending down to serve like Jesus. It was, in fact, at that last supper that he said: “I have set an example for you, so that you do just what I have done for you” (John 13:).