The Synod for Africa has concluded. John L. Allen, Jr. has written an excellent summary of the Synod for the National Catholic Reporter titled Women may come out winners in the Synod for Africa. The results of the Synod reflect a realistic acknowledgement of present injustices while not forgetting the gifts inherent in the African continent and her people.
The Synod has presented Pope Benedict XVI with 57 propositions to consider as he prepares his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. Here are some of the propositions that speak directly to the laity, New Ecclesial Movements, and Small Christian Communities. There is much for us to ponder in these words, especially in light of our new document, “Marianist Lay Communities in the Church and in the World“. (Emphases are mine.)
- The Synod renews its support for the promotion of Small Christian Communities (SCC), which firmly build up the Church-Family of God in Africa. The SCC are based on Gospel-sharing, where Christians gather to celebrate the presence of the Lord in their lives and in their midst, through the celebration of the Eucharist, the reading of the Word of God and witnessing to their faith in loving service to each other and their communities. Under the guidance of their pastors and catechists, they seek to deepen their faith and mature in Christian witness, as they live concrete experiences of fatherhood, motherhood, relationships, open fellowship, where each takes care of the other. This Family of God extends beyond the bonds of blood, ethnicity, tribe, culture and race. In this way, SCC open paths to reconciliation with extended families, which have the tendency to impose on Christian nuclear families their syncretistic ways and customs. (35)
- Christ’s lay faithful share in the threefold mission of Christ, priest, prophet and king, because they are members of the People of God. They are therefore called to live their vocation and mission at all levels of society, especially in the socio-political, socio-economic and socio-cultural spheres. …Consequently, the Church must provide them with an initial and ongoing catechesis for a conversion of heart, supported by an adequate spiritual, biblical, doctrinal and moral formation for a social Christian conscience.
In this regard, perhaps one of the providential tools for the development of this conversion and faith experience are the new ecclesial movements. These movements and communities of faith and communion exist in the Church as “veritable laboratories of faith”, places of formation and empowerment through the Spirit for a life of witness and mission. Thus equipped as disciples of the Lord, they act in the world as leaven. (37)
- For those who are engaged in directing political, economic and cultural affairs, the Church is to take special care to plan a formation programme based on the Word of God and the social doctrine of the Church (cf.”The Compendium”, 12). This program is to include formation in leadership which transforms life through action (leadership training for transformative action).…Small Christian Communities are to offer assistance in the formation of the People of God and serve as a place for concretely living out reconciliation, justice and peace. (37)
- Permanent catechists or those who act as catechists on occasion are the vital heralds of the Gospel for our Small Christian Communities, where they exercise various roles: leaders of prayer, counsellors and mediators. They require a solid formation and material support which is necessary for them effectively to assume their role as spiritual guides. They also need to be encouraged and supported in their zeal for service within these communities, especially their service to reconciliation, justice and peace.
Our Marianist Lay Communities in Africa formed their own Region within the International Organization of MLC during our 2005 meeting in Bordeaux. Lorna Mueni Kilonzo, the first Regional Responsible for Africa, constantly reminded the international team of the need for formation in the countries she represented. Her words were, “we must form formators”! Ernest Kasongo, the new Regional Responsible for Africa, is continuing the call for formation resources and programs. This will be an important agenda item for us during our meetings in Rome.
The African Bishops recognize that lay women and men, formed and educated in their faith, are needed to build both the church and society. And, they are needed for leadership within both. Ecclesial movements and small Christian communities, such as our Marianist Lay Communities, provide “veritable laboratories, places of formation and empowerment through the Spirit for a life of witness and mission.”