In Africa, synodality is undoubtedly a challenge. "Most of the African dioceses have begun the diocesan phase in preparation for the Synod of Synodality, an event that will culminate in October 2023 with the celebration of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops," writes Mundo Negro, a magazine specialized on Africa, in its opening page of January.
“The Church of the African continent – like those of the rest of the world – is invited to enter the path of synodality proposed by Pope Francis that comes to remember something essential in the Church: the common dignity of all its members and their co-responsibility in its evangelizing mission.”
In Africa, on a day-to-day basis “are the lay people who carry the Church forward”, affirms the Cardinal Archbishop of Kinshasa, Fridolin Ambongo, in his interview with Mundo Negro (MN 665, pp. 28-33). However, despite the obvious progress in this field, the African Church still seems "excessively clerical, patriarchal and hierarchical." It is normal to hear people identifying their bishop as the Great Chief and the priests as patriarchs of his parish. It is then appropriate to ask, "whether those same lay people, men and women", who carry out the path of the Church day by day "have the same weight when decisions on pastoral orientations come around."
For what our Newsletter is interested in, we ask whether this “excessively clerical, patriarchal and hierarchical” attitude does not help to perpetuate the attitude of political and social leaders who seek to run the life of their countries and state organizations as “clerical= personal management”, “patriarchal=personal property”, “hierarchical=under personal decisions”. Said with an expression of former General Mobuto of Congo, does not the “article 15”, respect the boss and manage your life yourself, going on in society as it does in the Church?
In this ecclesial, social and political context, a true synodic process could be enormously purifying for the Catholic Church, for the Governments and for African society as a whole.
One might then wonder whether the African Churches does not have a great opportunity to adjust their way of exercising authority “to the synodic proposal of communion, participation and mission, based on the conviction that in the Church no one is more than anyone else? Of course, only Africans themselves can walk this path, just as the American Churches are trying, while recognizing that at times they have an authoritarian style and therefore begun a path of synodic conversion.”
However, African cultures and praxis offer a very eloquent symbol, the sacred tree, the tree of common life, the "Gandzelo". In the Bantu cultures (guiding more than half of the African continent), the sacred forest and tree come “from the deeply rooted belief that life does not end with death and that the dead must be respected, because they continue to live.” Therefore, in the villages there is a tree under which people ask their ancestors for protection, health, fertility, rain, where meetings are held to make decisions about the future of the family, the village and society. It is under this tree that the council of elders meets to make decisions regarding the life of the community. The sacred tree is the representation of African democracy and it affirms the common responsibility of the members of the community, the equality of those who take the floor, and the will to seek together the common good inherited from the ancestors, a common richness that must go on towards the future.
The tree of life for the Christian Church is the tree of the Cross - that reminds the faithful of the words of Jesus, "I did not come to be served, but to serve and give my life for the good of all." It is difficult under “this Tree” to exercise an authority that reflects a “clerical, patriarchal and hierarchical” mentality without coming into direct conflict with the Gospel, without ultimately living in perpetual intellectual and moral hypocrisy.
Only a lack of transparency and intellectual and moral coherence of Christians, who are the majority in many African countries, explains what María del Mar Martínez Rosón writes about Costa Rica: “The electoral results show that voters do not always punish corrupt politicians at the polls and are able to vote for a corrupt politician if they consider him competent.”
Since 1995, Transparency International studies and publishes the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) in the world. The 2017 report says, “Most countries make little or no progress in their efforts to end corruption, while journalists and activists in corrupt countries risk their lives every day trying to speak out.” At the same time, the report unambiguously singles out African countries as the worst ranked and puts Africa at the top of the corruption indices.
We cannot dissociate common good, democracy & honesty in public management. In the same way, in the Church we cannot associate the Gospel and a management of authority that is clerical, patriarchal and hierarchical.
Will two years of Synod be able to bring back African democracy under the sacred tree and the Church under the Sacred Tree?