By Br. Alfonce Kugwa
The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference recently held their 2023 plenary meeting which reflected on the benefits of the Synodal process in the local Church. Addressing participants during the plenary, the Papal Nuncio to Zimbabwe, Archbishop Paolo Rudelli said the Church should strive to better reflect the face of Christ all the time. Below is the full text of the Apostolic Nuncio’s address to the Church in Zimbabwe:
We have been involved in the synodal journey for almost two years. Some might say, “well, we have worked hard, we have discussed issues at length, so we can now move on and think about other matters.”
In fact, though, if we look at the path travelled thus far, we must surely recognize that the work entrusted to us by the Holy Father is anything but useless. I would like to stress two dimensions that clearly demonstrate the fruitfulness of the journey: one ad intra and the other ad extra.
Ad intra, the debates held during the diocesan phase and the process leading to the national synthesis have offered a unique opportunity for discussion and dialogue, both of which are much needed. It was worth giving everyone a voice, even those who for one reason or another feel marginalised within our communities. The People of God has had the opportunity to exercise its prophetic office (LG No. 12).
I think the result is before our very eyes: reading the diocesan synthesis and the contributions of the various ecclesial realities present in our country (I am thinking of the CMRS, lay associations, etc.), we see an accurate picture of the richness and indeed challenges of the Church in Zimbabwe.
An observer might claim, “these things were already known and there is not much that is substantially new”. This is not a true statement of course. Firstly, the things that were “already known” are understood now in a completely different way as we hear them from people who are directly involved. We are able to understand that behind a given situation, problem, challenge, there are concrete people, our brothers and sisters in faith, with feelings, experiences and their life journeys. What we call “problems” are actually concrete people asking to be heard, concrete relationships asking to be healed in our communities.
Furthermore, if we look attentively at the results of the discussions and, if we take time to go back to what has been said in individual parishes or outstations, we can appreciate that the entire initiative has allowed us to get to know each other better and to better understand who we are as a Church.
With a new perspective we have seen things that perhaps we did not pay so much attention to before (as is the case, for example, when cleaning the house from top to bottom). In this way, we have been able to rediscover the beauty of our Church and the service she offers. While recognizing our own limitations, together, we have also thought: ‘how wonderful if we could be that which the Lord Jesus calls us to be!’
The result of the listening phase, moreover, is not simply a picture of our Church, realistic because taken by ourselves. Rather, the fruits of this phase are in and of themselves, a journey of discernment open to new and fresh possibilities, guided by the Holy Spirit. The results of the listening phase help us to see anew who we are in the light of the risen Jesus: a light that comes from Christ, our Head, and which enlightens us, his Body. We have indeed come to a better understanding of who we are and must walk the road that the Spirit has opened before us.
In this regard, among the many elements contained in the diocesan synthesis, I would limit myself to three ways in which we are called, as the Church in Zimbabwe, to walk forward:
- A call to exercise authority in a synodal way.
At all levels of the life of the Church, we need to heal those relations of authority that are not in harmony with the Gospel. Authority in the Church is necessary, just as fathers and mothers are necessary in every family: but such authority can either give life or suffocate their children, depends on how it is exercised.
- A call to include those categories of people who feel marginalised in our communities.
The diocesan summaries have clearly highlighted them. They are members of the body of Christ who need the care of the mother Church.
- A call to re-examine vocations in the light of a synodal Church.
It is a challenge addressed in particular to priests and religious men and women, but it touches also laypeople involved in the life of the Church: ‘what does it mean to live a vocation in the context of a synodal Church?’ The diocesan summaries have highlighted some precise expectations from the people of God.
The pressing task before us is to take seriously the results of the path travelled so far and, as a Church, set out with courage on those paths that the Spirit has shown us.
A second dimension of our synodal journey is the “ad extra”. The journey we have made as a Church in Zimbabwe is not just for us, it is a gift for the universal Church, and this emerges not simply because our national document was mentioned twice in “Enlarge the space of your tent”…
The moment we have a deeper intuition of the truth about ourselves as a Church, the moment we become aware of who we really are, namely sinners forgiven and loved by the Lord, a Church holy and always in need of purification, we also discover in that moment how we are a gift for others. This is something that will certainly appear in the continental and then universal phase, during the celebration of the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome.
The Church in Zimbabwe has something to say to the Church in Africa and to the universal Church. The Church in Zimbabwe is a gift for the entire Church: because of her history, because of the holiness that she is adorned with.
In this regard, always taking inspiration from the reading of the diocesan and national synthesis, I return to the theme of relationships. The national synthesis quotes an African philosophical thought: “I am related therefore I am”.
It is true that sometimes we need to heal our relationships. Yet, it is also true that the relationships we experience daily within our families and within the Church, God’s family, are a priceless treasure. I see here a richness that the Church in Zimbabwe has been able to draw from traditional culture and then nurture it according to the wisdom of the Gospel.
Those intense bonds that our people experience in daily life, which are born in families, expand into the Christian community and become bonds of true charity, relationships open to the poor, to those who feel excluded from the human family. These are a precious treasure, which reflects the Triune God, who is in himself relationship and who created us in his image.
Despite all the limitations that emerged from the synodal discussion, the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe is a place where relationships are intense and open, and from this point of view, she offers a significant contribution to society.
The presence of the Church as the family of God is a living part of the history of Zimbabwe, and such presence is particularly important in the contemporary social and political context: it is a seed of communion, a sacrament which prophetically announces the vocation of our society and of our world.
The Church in Zimbabwe offers also a wonderful gift to the universal Church: during her history, she has embodied the Gospel in a unique and singular way, and she continues to do so in our time, thanks to the daily, faithful and often heroic Christian commitment on the part of so many brothers and sisters, members of our communities. The celebration of the continental phase has been a moment to share this gift, so as it will be the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
Dear brothers and sisters,
This General Assembly takes place at an important ecclesial juncture. We are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the election of Pope Francis. On this joyful occasion, we feel compelled to give thanks to the Lord. At the same time, this anniversary also gives us an opportunity to take stock of our commitment to understand and put into practice the vision that the Holy Father has offered to the Church these last ten years.
When I was asked by SOCCOM in an interview, ‘How can the Church in Zimbabwe celebrate this anniversary?’, I replied: we could take anew into our hands the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, which offers a programme of Pope Francis’ Pontificate, and ask ourselves: ‘where are we on the path that the Holy Father has shown us?’
The ad Limina Apostolorum Visit of our Bishops, which will take place next September, will be a unique moment of communion with the Successor of Peter. It is long awaited, as almost ten years have passed since the last visit. While meeting Pope Francis, while pausing in prayer at the tombs of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, our Bishops will bring with them all the members of the Church in Zimbabwe, all of our communities. Let us accompany them in prayer, as they visit the tombs of those who first transmitted the Faith to the world, and as they dialogue with the Successor of Peter, who shows us how to keep this same Faith alive in our time.
Let us pray to the Lord that from this meeting, as well as from the synodal journey we have embarked upon, our Church may always better reflect the face of Christ.