Two years after his maiden visit to Cameroon, Africa in March 2009 where he presented to the Church family of Africa the agenda of the synod, Pope Benedict XVI returned to Africa on an apostolic visit to Benin from Nov. 18 –20, 2011 to deliver the post-synodal exhortation Munus Africae following discussions at the African synod in October 2009.
At the Opening Mass of the synod in 2009, the Holy Father remarked that: “The Synod is not primarily a study session. Rather, it is God’s initiative, calling us to listen: listen to God, to one another and to the world around us, in an atmosphere of prayer and reflection.”
And as Fr Henriot rightly affirms “It is very important to appreciate that this Synod is not simply an event that occurred for three weeks in Rome. It is indeed a process that has been moving through three phases or moments: preparation, meeting and implementation.”
It has taken 7 years then for this process to come to its implementation stage which is what Pope Benedict launched in Benin with the signing of Munus Africae – The commitment of Africa.
It was on November 13, 2004 during an audience with the Bishops of Europe(CCEE) and Africa (SCEAM) that His Holiness Pope John Paul II announced his intention to convoke a Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops.
One cannot fail to draw out the significance of this announcement at this joint audience given that Africa was both colonized and evangelized by Europe and today in its debt of gratitude Africa is in many ways re-evangelizing Europe. John Paul II would not live long enough to bring this to reality.
On June 22nd 2005, a few months after his ascension to the papacy, Pope Benedict XVI convoked the synod for October 4th to the 25th 2009.
Entre-temps, the Church in Africa and the universal church prepared for the momentous occasion. After a series of preparatory meetings, the first document called the lineamenta was released on June 27, 2006.
The document raised questions and encouraged a shared search for solutions from the vantage point of the synodal process, beginning from the First Special Assembly.
“According to accustomed practice, the Lineamenta, meant to foster extensive discussion on the synodal topic.”
There were 32 questions at the end of it that required dioceses to discuss, brainstorm, meditate and respond according to their local needs. Responses were submitted by October 2008.
Laurenti Magesa, saw the lineamenta as having a strong potential for moving forward a most necessary agenda of effective engagement of the African Church in the “joys and hopes, sorrows and anxieties” of the people of this beautiful but troubled continent.
For Raymond Olusesan Aina (MSP), a Nigerian theologian, the lineamenta is a foundation in terms of being a springboard. Aina believes though that the document’s narrative on Africa’s socio-economic state was merely symptomatic and failed to tackle core causes such as “anthropological pauperisation – in the crisis of identity and dislocation,” caused by colonialism, “incompatibility & indivisibility in Primordial Conflicts,” “trade liberalization leading to food insecurity and environmental problems in Africa,” “Postmodern depthlessness & economic injustice,” and “disaster/shock capitalism amongst others.”
Instrumentum Laboris – Working document of the synod
The Instrumentum Laboris, the working document was “a summary of the responses to the questions in the Lineamenta, submitted by the 36 episcopal conferences and 2 Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris on the African continent, as well as those of the 25 Departments of the Roman Curia and the Union of Superiors General. Its content also included observations from various ecclesial institutions and Christ’s faithful, responsible for evangelization and human promotion in Africa.”
In March 2009, Pope Benedict traveled to Cameroon where he released the Instrumentum laboris, the working document for the synod.
To show continuity with Ecclesia in Africa, Pope Benedict XV1 handed over the Instrumentum laboris to heads of the different episcopal conferences in the same Apostolic nunciature in Yaounde where his predecessor, John Paul II 14 years earlier on 14 Sept. 1995 had signed the post synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Africa.
And like Archbishop Nikola Eterovik, General Secretary of the synod of Bishops said on that occasion, “Ecclesia in Africa is an important document for the Church on pilgrimage in the great continent of Africa and an authoritative point of reference for the next Special Assembly for Africa.”
The Instrumentum Laboris was made up of four chapters. The first begins with a brief overview of contemporary African society in the period since the First Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops (1994). It then considers the implementation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa and concludes by examining the theological aspects of the topic of the Second Assembly.
“Treating the three aspects of socio-political, socio-economic and socio-cultural life and recounting experiences within the Church, the second chapter describes the “openings” and, above all, the “obstacles” encountered by the Church and society on the road to reconciliation, justice and peace.”
“The third chapter sets forth the characteristics of the Church as Family of God in her desire to serve as a force opening paths to reconciliation, justice and peace.”
“Finally, the fourth chapter is an account of what the Church’s members and institutions have already undertaken to promote reconciliation, justice and peace in Africa.”
From March 2009 – October 2009, the synod fathers perused the instrumentum laboris and prepared themselves for the great event.
Phase Two: Synod Proper
From Oct. 4 – 25, 2009, 244 delegates gathered for the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the synod of Bishops, of whom 78 participated by reason of their office, 129 as elected members and 36 as papal appointments. There were 29 experts and 49 auditors.
It was truly Catholic in nature as there were delegates of the different episcopates from the various continents of the world. For three weeks, they examined the Instrumentum laboris, synchronized thoughts and proposed an agenda for the task ahead. At the end of this meeting, the synod fathers issued a final message which was divided into 7 parts.
One of the highlights of this message was the synod’s message to African leaders
“Many Catholics in high office have fallen woefully short in their performance in office. The Synod calls on such people to repent, or quit the public arena and stop causing havo to the people and giving the Church a bad name.”
And paraphrasing John’s gospel, the Synod Fathers signed off thus: “Africa, rise up, take up you pallet, and walk! (Jn.5:8)
The synod fathers also submitted 57 propositions to the Holy Father essentially recommendations for consideration in setting the agenda for the Church in Africa. It is worth noting that Benedict was personally present during most of the deliberations and is no stranger to most of the propositions.
One way of reading the Pope’s document then would be to evaluate how much of the recommendations did the Pope include in his exhortation.
Phase Three: Implementation
This phase has three distinctive levels. First, immediately after the Synod, 15 Bishops were appointed members of the Special Council for Africa of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. Their mission was to organize “the proposals from October’s Synod into a workable outline for the creation of a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation.”
This special council first met in January 2010 and many times thereafter. They submitted their suggestions to the Holy Father who then uses them to write the post synodal exhortation.
One must reference the fact that in anticipation of the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation, 134 delegates from 46 countries met in Mumeme, Maputo, Mozambique from 23-26 May 2010 to reflect and discuss the message and propositions generated by the Second Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
On Saturday November 19, the third phase of the implementation kicked off with the Holy Father’s publication of Munus Africae. Many have felt that a real fault of the First African Synod was the failure to put in place effective implementation measures to draw out the power and beauty of that event.
One can only hope and pray that the Second Synod will not suffer a similar fate. The Church in Africa would then get to work with giving flesh to this document by putting in place the recommendations made.
As experts read through and analyze the Pope’s exhortation, the question remains: What fresh perspective does Munus Africae offer us? What don’t we know that the exhortation offers us on why there is so little economic justice and sustainable just peace in Africa? (To paraphrase Fr Aina’s comments on the Lineamenta.)