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Documentation Presented to the Supreme Pontiff
The Synod Fathers submit to the Supreme Pontiff for his consideration the documentation on “The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace.” You are the Salt of the Earth…You are the Light of the World” (Mt 5:13,14), associated with this Synod. This documentation includes: the “Lineamenta”, the “Instrumentum laboris”, the reports “ante” and “post disceptationem”, the texts of the interventions, both those presented in the synod hall and those “in-scriptis” and the reports on the deliberations in the small groups. In addition to these, the Synod Fathers make some concrete proposals which they hold to be of capital importance.
The Fathers humbly ask the Holy Father to consider the opportuneness of issuing a document on the Church in Africa in service to reconciliation, justice and peace.
I – ECCLESIA IN SYNODO
The Synod of a New Pentecost
If the First Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops was declared “the Synod of the Resurrection and of Hope” (EIA, 13), the Synod Fathers, in communion with the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, view this Second Special Assembly as the Synod of a “New Pentecost”.
With gratitude to God, they thank the Holy Father for the auspicious initiative of convoking this synod.
The Synod Fathers are therefore content to witness the universal character of the synodal assembly in the presence of the Holy Father, his closest co-workers and representatives of the Church from the other continents.
They pray that the Spirit of Pentecost may renew our apostolic commitment to making reconciliation, justice and peace prevail in Africa and the rest of the world. May it also not let the immense problems weighing down Africa overcome us, so that we may become “salt of the earth” and “light of the world”.
May this exercise of ecclesial communion and collegial responsibility inspire other structures and forms of collaborative ministry in the Church-Family of God.
By her very nature, the Church is a communion which brings about an organic, pastoral solidarity. Bishops, in communion with the Bishop of Rome, are the foremost promoters of communion and collaboration in the Church’s apostolate, in which priests, deacons, consecrated persons and the lay faithful participate. This communion of the Church is particularly seen in the Bishops’ effective and affective collegiality in their Ecclesiastical Provinces and at the national, regional, continental and international levels.
Therefore, the Synod recommends that Bishops, Priests, Deacons the Religious and the Laity further strengthen their cooperation at the diocesan, national, continental and inter-continental levels. It also encourages further and ongoing cooperation between the “Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) and the “Confederation of the Conferences of Major Superiors of Africa and Madagascar (COMSAM).
In this way, the Church becomes a more effective sign and promoter of reconciliation, justice and peace.
Ecclesial Communion at the Regional and Continental Levels
The Synod Fathers give thanks to God for the work accomplished by SECAM/SCEAM (The Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar), during the past forty years of its existence (1969-2009), the first instance of ecclesial communion at the continental level.
They desire that, in keeping with the Spirit of Pentecost, National Episcopal Conferences and the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy of Egypt renew their commitment to SECAM, in order to foster out a more fruitful pastoral ministry in Africa, with special reference to reconciliation, justice and peace.
Consequently, they encourage the Bishops in Africa to revive existing structures of ecclesial communion, especially COMSAM (The Confederation of the Conferences of Major Superiors of Africa and Madagascar) and promote others, such as:
— a continental council for the clergy;
— a continental council for the laity; and
— a continental council for Catholic women.
They request SECAM/SCEAM to explore and elaborate possible ways and means of ensuring fruitful collaboration within the said structures.
II – SYNODALIA THEMATA
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
God’s grace creates a new heart in us and reconciles us with himself and with others. An essential element of “reconciliation” is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is to be celebrated according to the canonical norms and in the spirit of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Reconciliatio et Poenitentia”. It is a matter of restoring a great importance to the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance in its dual aspects: personal and communal.
Reconciliation on the social level contributes to peace. After a conflict, reconciliation restores unity of hearts and life in common. In virtue of reconciliation, nations long at war have again found peace, citizens ruined by civil war have rebuilt unity; individuals or communities seeking and granting pardon have healed their memories; divided families once again live in harmony. Reconciliation overcomes crises, restores dignity to people, and opens the way to development and lasting peace among people at all levels.
The Synod Fathers now launch a heartfelt appeal to all those who are at war in Africa and make their people suffer so much: “Stop the hostilities and be reconciled!”
They ask all African citizens and governments to recognize their brotherhood and promote initiatives of every sort, which would encourage reconciliation and permanently strengthen it at all levels of society.
They invite the international community to give strong support to the struggle against all the manoeuvres which destabilize the African continent and persistently cause its conflicts.
They propose that African countries celebrate an annual Day of Reconciliation.
The Non-Sacramental Form of Celebrating Reconciliation
The non-sacramental form of celebrating Penance should also be prudently favoured in such a way that it reveals the ecclesial character of penance and reconciliation. This would allow communities at a distance, without a priest, to live a real process of penance and reconciliation. It would allow Christians whose personal situation keeps them from the sacraments, to join in a penitential process in the Church. At the beginning of liturgical seasons like Advent and Lent, it can also serve, even for communities who have a priest, as a step towards the more fruitful reception of the sacrament (cf. “Reconciliatio et Poenitentia”, 37).
Inculturating the Sacrament of Reconciliation
A great number of Christians in Africa adopt an ambiguous attitude towards the administration of reconciliation. While they are very scrupulous in carrying out the traditional rites of reconciliation, they give little value to the Sacrament of Penance.
Therefore, a serious and in-depth study should be done on the traditional African ceremonies of reconciliation, such as “palaver” (where a team of sages do public arbitration of cases), and arbitration of conflicts by a “team of mediators”. Similar bodies can be set up on Justice and Peace Commissions to assist Catholic faithful to seek conversion in a serious way through the celebration of the sacrament of Penance.
The grace of the Sacrament of Penance celebrated in faith suffices to reconcile us to God and neighbour, and does not require any traditional rituals of reconciliation.
Pastoral Practices in Reconciliation
In order to enhance the development of the culture of reconciliation, local Churches may develop pastoral initiatives such as:
1. A Reconciliation Day or Week every year, especially in Advent and Lent, or a Year of Reconciliation on the continental level, to ask God for special pardon for all hurts and wounds inflicted upon each other and to reconcile offended persons and groups within the Church and the wider community. Communal acts of reconciliation and forgiveness could be arranged; and
2. an extraordinary Jubilee Year in which the Church in Africa and its Islands give thanks together with the universal Church and pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This period of reconciliation should be marked by the following:
a. personal conversion and individual sacramental confession and absolution;
b. a continental Eucharistic Congress;
c. the celebration of rites of reconciliation in which people forgive each other;
d. renewal of Baptismal promises, in which being disciples of Jesus supersedes all other forms of allegiance to clan or political party; and
e. a renewed Eucharistic life.
The Spirituality of Reconciliation
“God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting us the message of reconciliation…So we are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor 5:19,20).
Reconciliation involves a way of life (spirituality) and a mission. To implement a spirituality of reconciliation, justice and peace, the Church needs witnesses deeply rooted in Christ, nourished by his Word and by the sacraments. Thus, they may strive towards holiness, in virtue of an ongoing conversion and an intense prayer life, and give themselves to the work of reconciliation, justice and peace in the world, even to the point of martyrdom, after the example of Christ. Through their courage in the truth, their self-denial and their joy, they bear prophetic witness in a way of life which is in keeping with their faith. Mary, Mother of the Church-Family of God, who willingly welcomed the Word of God, listened to human needs and, with compassion, was a mediatrix, is to be their model.
The Synod Fathers recommend that:
— the memory of the great witnesses who gave their life in the service of the Gospel, who promoted the common good and defended the truth and human rights, be preserved and faithfully commemorated;
— Church members develop a sense of responsibility for their actions and an ongoing “metanoïa”, which can regularly be celebrated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; and
— the celebration and adoration of the Eucharist, prayer and meditation on the Word of God, deeply establish the Church-Family of God in the Lord and give her the strength to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world”.
In service to reconciliation, justice and peace on the continent, and in union with the universal Church, the Church in Africa recommits herself to the task of ecumenical dialogue and cooperation. A divided Christianity remains a scandal, because it runs contrary to the wishes of the Divine Master, who wished and prayed that his followers may be one (cf. Jn 17:21). The goal of ecumenical dialogue is, therefore, both to bear witness to Christian fellowship in Christ and to move towards Christian unity with those with whom we share the same faith, through listening to the Word of God and collaborating in the service of their brothers and sisters “in one Lord…one Baptism, one God and Father of all…” (Eph 4:5, 6). Accordingly, the Synod commends the ongoing efforts of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity to initiate and sustain dialogue with other Churches and ecclesial communities.
The Synod is aware that, although the unity of Christians is not yet a reality, Christians in various African countries have come together in various associations (such as the Christian Association of Nigeria, the Christian Council of Liberia, etc.) to undertake common works of charity and to safeguard the interest of Christians in a pluralistic modern state.
The synod commends these efforts and recommends them for other countries, where such associations could serve the cause of peace and reconciliation. In addition, the synod invites the Church in each diocese or region to ensure that the week devoted to prayer for Christian unity be marked by prayer and common activities that promote the unity of Christians, “that they may all be one” (Jn 17:21).