Second Special Assembly for Africa
of the Synod of Bishops
The Synod of Bishops is a group of bishops who have been chosen from different regions of the world to meet at a stated time to meet with the pope and assist him in addressing key issues facing the Church around the world. The pope sets the agenda and, through days of speeches and meeting in groups, the bishops address the issues on the agenda and offer recommendations to the pope. The pope may write a document based on the synod’s recommendations, such as Sacramentum Caritatis (March 13, 2007), issued in response to the Synod on the Eucharist (October 2-23, 2005).
The Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, which will convene October 4-25 at the Vatican and include over 200 bishops, is in many ways a follow-up to the first Special Assembly for Africa, “The Church in Africa and Her Evangelizing Mission Towards the Year 2000: You Shall Be My Witnesses’” (April 10-May 8, 1994).
Two representatives of the U.S Church will participate at the Second Special Assembly for Africa:
Archbishop Gregory was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago on May 9, 1973. He was ordained an auxiliary bishop of Chicago in 1983 and served as bishop of Belleville, Ill. from 1994 to 2004. He was installed as the sixth archbishop of Atlanta on January 17, 2005.
Archbishop Gregory has had a leading role in the U.S. church. In November 2001, he was elected president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops following three years as vice president. Archbishop Gregory has written extensively on church issues, including pastoral statements on the death penalty and euthanasia/physician -assisted suicide. He is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
Archbishop Gregory Blog from the Synod
October 4, 2009
October 10, 2009
Archbishop Gregory Blogs from the Synod
Sunday 4 October, 2009
The Second Synod for Africa began this morning with a Mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica presided over by the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI. There were about 250 concelebrants including the cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and priests who will attend the Synod. The basilica was filled with pilgrims who knew about this special opening Mass for the Synod as well as many others who simply happened to be visiting for a Sunday Eucharist with the Holy Father.
The Mass texts were from the Liturgy for the 27th Sunday of the Church Year [B]. And so we listened to the same Scriptures as did Catholics the world over. The Holy Father used the readings from this Sunday to highlight the importance of the Synod for Africa as well as to speak lovingly and convincingly on the importance of the holy bond between husband and wife. He did what every successful homilist is called to do – relate and apply the Word of God to the life situation of the flock of the Lord!
When I passed through the great Bronze Doors of the Apostolic Palace, I was greeted in the vesting area for the bishops by several of my dear friends: the Archbishop of Accra, Ghana: Gabriel Charles Palmer Buckles, who has family living in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and who happens to be a very good friend in Father Dan Stack; the Archbishop of Cartagena, Columbia: Jorge Jiménez Carvajal; The Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria: John Baptist Onaiyekan; and the Archbishop-Emeritus of Kumasi, Ghana: Peter Sarpong
The Synod promises to provide me with opportunities to make new friendships and to strengthen that bond of cherished friendships from the past. The issues that face this continent are as vast as is the territory itself. Yet Africa is a land blessed by great resources, the primary one of course are the people themselves and their rich spiritual vitality. I am sure that I shall hear of the great challenges that still confront the African nations: poverty, the pandemic of HIV-Aids, political corruption, exploitation of the poor, and sometimes violent tribal divisions and animosities. Yet I also expect to learn of the hopes and aspirations of a truly magnificent and diverse community of people. I also anticipate being able to assure them of the respect and esteem of their brothers and sisters who are the Church in the USA as they face the difficulties that are theirs and seek to provide for the Church’s role as a Servant of Reconciliation, Justice, and Peace.
Archbishop Gregory Blogs from the Synod
Saturday 10 October, 2009
This is the third Synod of Bishops that I have attended, and I believe that I have begun to understand the typical dynamic of this collegial exercise of pastoral authority. First of all, I am amazed that the Holy Father is able to attend the vast majority of the sessions. He is the presider at every Synod and he convenes them. Yet his appointed leaders for the Synod conduct the day to day business. The pope listens very carefully to the discussions and never interrupts the interventions. He truly wants to hear what the people of the Church have to say on the given topic. And although the bishops comprise the vast majority of the participants, there are always others who engage in the conversation.
This particular Synod for Africa has welcomed ecumenical guests, experts from the United Nations, religious provincials and superior generals of men and women’s communities, university professors, and research scientists. The Synod hall hears the voices of men and women of faith who speak to the topics from a wide variety of backgrounds.
There are two types of Bishops’ Synods – Ordinary Synods that treat of universal Church issues – the sacraments, catechesis, Scripture, functions and roles in the Church, etc. and then there are regional Synods that gather Bishops and experts from a particular part of the globe. Each Synod has two parts: the general sessions where we are all together in the Synod chambers of the Paul VI General Audience Hall and the small language discussion groups the “little circles” that allow for much more interactive and free-flowing conversations. In each setting, the laity and religious are invited to engage in the conversation and offer their wisdom. The bishops of the Synod listen very attentively to that perspective, perhaps even more attentively than we do to each other’s interventions!
There is a dynamic to each Synod – first there are the formal presentations of the bishops and special delegates (5 minutes in length) on the themes of the Synod within the full assembly and then there are the conversations that take place in the small group settings. Over the course of time of each Synod the discussions always seem to settle on a number of significant issues. The Second Synod for Africa is beginning to follow that same dynamic. The pastoral issues that confront the great African Continent are beginning to be ranked and highlighted – the challenge of political instability and corruption and tribal and ethnic violence, the ecological crises that threaten this land so rich in natural resources, the devastation of HIV-Aids on the population, the rampant poverty that people face in spite of the great material wealth that is available, the threats to traditional African morality and customs because of the intrusion and influence of Western secular values and communication dominance; and the role of women in African society. Over and over again these themes have been highlighted in the interventions. While the small language discussion groups (French, English, Portuguese, and Italian) have only met once (to select the Moderator and Secretary, or Relator, of each group), I have every reason to believe that these topics also will be the focus of these smaller discussion groups.
Each small group will be asked to distill their conversations into several recommendations that all the bishops then will vote upon and these will thus become the basis for the final proposals from which the Holy Father will craft the Apostolic Exhortation that will be the final document from the Synod. There is great respect shown for the opinions of others and the type of give-and-take that results in a shared process.
As a Bishop from the United States of America, I have the great privilege of listening to the pastoral concerns of the people of the African continent. I also have the duty to assure them of the support and the affection of the people of our nation. I have the distinction of seeing how Pope Benedict listens to the voices and hearts of the people of the Church in order to lead, guide, and strengthen us in that unique office that he holds from the perspective of the Chair of Peter.
October 18, 2009
Archbishop Gregory Blogs from the Synod
Sunday 18 October, 2009
Coffee breaks at the Synod of Bishops are very much like our own USCCB coffee breaks – there is a lot of social networking going on! Bishops are trying to meet each other over projects and tasks on which they would like to collaborate or would like to influence. And occasionally, the coffee breaks are just a welcome moment to meet new people. But the Synod of Bishops has an added element – one has to figure out in what language to begin a conversation. English and French are the two dominant tongues for this Synod, but you can never go wrong by breaking the ice with Italian. Portuguese is also sprinkled throughout the hall. And these modern European languages may well be joined by the many indigenous languages of the people of this vast continent. Africa is a land of many languages, cultures, and ethnic traditions. In fact, this great diversity is one of the challenges that face and also grace this vast territory.
There are more than 50 nations that are located in Africa and its related island communities. Most of these states are the artificially configured creations of the colonial period. Some of the nations are amalgamations of peoples who came from many different tribes and did not always enjoy a very warm or cordial relationship. The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 called by German Prime Minister von Bismarck divided the continent of Africa into 50 territories that gave little recognition of the languages, tribal communities, and ethnic heritages of the peoples of Africa. One of the bishops from the African Synod made note of the fact that this event occurred 125 years ago this year and was the source of much of the internal strife with which Africa still faces
While the Church has been present in Africa from ancient times, its presence was largely to be found north of the Sahara where some of the great Saints and Fathers of the early Church established monasteries and early dioceses. The faith came south of the Sahara along with those same colonial powers that sent missionaries into these territories some of which were then known by other names. The very names of many of the participants attending the Synod are a worthy testimony of the presence of missionaries from European nations: Patrick, Jean-Louis, Boniface, Stanislaus, Alphonsus, Pierre, and many others that link the African peoples of today to the missionaries from the colonial period. Now in turn those very same African nations are supplying clergy and religious as missionaries to the former colonial powers and to the Americas.
The Church faces the great responsibility of bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to such a diverse gathering of peoples in Africa. Multiple languages may not be the most difficult challenge the Church faces in that endeavor. Cultural and ethnic differences are even thornier as people cling to their own heritages and reject others not so much because of language as tribal differences. This diversity in ethnic and cultural differences complicates the establishment of state governments that must draw upon people from many different tribal backgrounds in order to form one nation. We in the USA know how challenging it can be to bring people together and to fashion them into a single nation in spite of racial, regional and ethnic differences – it is the same in Africa – only more so.
Africa’s great diversity is an operative factor that has repeatedly entered the conversations of the Synod for Africa – both during coffee breaks, in small group discussions and in individual interventions. As an American, I am intrigued by the vastness of the continent, the many ethnic and cultural traditions that are to be found therein and yet the common spirit of hope that the bishops from Africa have that even these challenges will be overcome through the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
Father Odozor is an associate professor of Christian Ethics at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind. Before coming to Notre Dame in 1999, he held numerous academic, administrative, and pastoral positions in Nigeria and Canada. He is currently president of the Governing Council of Spiritan International School of Theology in Enugu, Nigeria.
Father Odozor's scholarly interests are in Foundational issues in moral theology/Christian ethics; history of moral theology; contextual theological issues, including questions pertaining to inculturation; theology and society; African Christian theology; and the theology of marriage. His major publications include: Moral Theology in An age of Renewal: A study of the Catholic Tradition since Vatican II (Notre Dame Press, 2003); Sexuality, Marriage and Family: Readings in the Catholic Tradition (Notre Dame Press, 2001), editor; Africa: Towards Priorities of Mission (Enugu: SIST Publications, 2000), edited with Elochukwu Uzukwu; and Richard McCormick and the Renewal of Moral Theology (Notre Dame Press, 1995). He is currently working on a book that will explore the question of morality and tradition from an African Christian theological perspective.
Catholic News Service Stories on the Synod for Africa