Full Text: ‘Pastoral Letter of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference to the Church in Zimbabwe and All People of Goodwill’
The Roman Catholic Church in Zimbabwe has embraced the synodal process inaugurated in October 2021 by the Holy Father Pope Francis. This process entitled “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission” seeks to bring all the baptised to take up an active role in the mission given to the Church in Matthew 28: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptising hem in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
In going forth we do so as one family of faith, who work together in love and respect. We are invited to not only proclaim the gospel but to listen, listen first to the Spirit who gives us what we are to say. We are called also to listen to each other as we undertake this work and more importantly listen to those to whom we are called to minister the unbelievers, those from our Christian churches, those from different religions, politicians, even those who are opposed to what we believe. In listening to each other we grow in communion, and we create a conducive environment for participation in the life and mission of the Church.
This synodal journey offers us a unique opportunity to intensively encounter each other in truth as we seek to build a more inclusive Church, a church that listens to the faintest voice, walks along with the slowest among us and seeks to carry the weakest who need help to come along on this faith journey.
As your Shepherds, we thank you for embracing our invitation to participate actively in this synodal process. We are already experiencing some fruits of the synodal process as you are creating platforms for honest and open dialogue. We consider this process to be an opportune moment for the Church, our country and indeed for the whole world. We, therefore, take this opportunity to offer you some reflections on this important theme in the life of the Church and its mission.
Companions on the journey of faith and life
We are all companions on the journey of faith and life. Indeed, “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ”.
The Church and her mission
The synodal process demands that we ponder on the missionary identity of the Church. At the beginning of his Pontificate in 2013 Pope Francis described the Church as one that is always going out to the margins and not a Church that waits for people to come in. Given the urgency of the gospel message, this ‘Franciscan’ Church exists to evangelize by going out to seek and find what was lost. It exists to convert people to the way, the truth and the life of Christ. As a Church, “the world in which we live, and which we are called to love and serve, even with its contradictions, demands that the Church strengthen cooperation in all areas of her mission”.
In order to do so the Church seeks to walk respectfully with those who may not share our beliefs and our values. We can only cooperate with each other when we start listening, listening to each other’s stories, where we have come from and what has got us here.
Synods in the Church
The word synod derives from an ancient Greek term that means “coming together” or “traveling together.” Synods are not new in the Church. The practice of synodal gatherings can be traced back to the early Church where local leaders would come together to pray and make decisions about matters affecting the Christian communities. The synod of bishops, as we have it today is one of the fruits of the Second Vatican Council, instituted by Pope Paul VI in 1965.
In the Synod, bishops from all over the world gather to reflect and discern together with the Holy Father on a particular pastoral concern thus “providing for the good of the universal Church”. The Church has increasingly realised that synods must not be just for the bishops, since the Holy Spirit speaks through all the baptised and the entire People of God. Synods, therefore, must be the occasion to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church through listening to the whole people of God.
As Pope Francis once said: “A synodal Church is a Church which listens, and which realises that listening “is more than simply hearing”. It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17), in order to know what he “says to the Churches” (Rev 2:7).”
Aims of the Synod
This Synodal journey aims at assisting us as members of the Church to journey together as co-partners in announcing the gospel. In order to build strong synodal structures in the future the Church must assess her past and present synodal life and structures, the fundamental question being: how have we journeyed together as the people of God? We have wounded each other by our failure to recognise each other’s vocations, excluding each other, and undermining each other’s roles. We need to undergo a synodal conversion and to put into practice the synodal nature of the entire Church.
Through the synodal process we are called to discern how God calls us to walk forward together and to promote a new style of living out the communion, participation, and mission of the Church. In order to achieve this, the synodal process aims to create platforms to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church. We do so by listening together to the Word of God in Scripture and then by listening to one another, and especially those on the margins whose voices are often drowned by louder and more powerful voices, discerning the signs of the times.
We have many groups of people on the margins. Among them as those without a voice such as minority tribes and certain groups who because of what they stand for are often heard but not listened to. Are we prepared to listen to them without any prejudices?
The context of the Synod
While embarking on this synodal process, let us be conscious of the important realities in our world. The Covid-19 pandemic has proven to be much more than a health crisis as it has had a devastating effect on the socio-economic, spiritual and political cohesion of nations. The world is also experiencing many wars and conflicts. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says that one-quarter of humanity, 2 billion people are living in conflict areas today and the world is facing the highest number of violent conflicts since World War II. Countries such as Ethiopia, South Sudan, DRC, Palestine, Afghanistan and Syria have become synonymous with bloodshed. The international peace and order appears to be under serious threat with the war in Ukraine.
In Zimbabwe, the context of the synodal journey is the growing political volatility brought about by the impending 2023 general elections. These elections are already being preceded by political intolerance, violence and bloodshed. What has exacerbated our situation is the economic instability of the country which has brought with it instability in the financial market resulting in continuous increases in prices of basic commodities leaving them beyond the reach of the poor.
If, as Catholic social teaching says, the value of policies is assessed by how they impact the poor then one can safely say that our political and economic policies have failed. There is so much dehumanising poverty and despair among our people. In order to overcome our socio-political and economic challenges there is need for a meaningful inclusive dialogue in the country.
If there is a lesson from our synodal journey it is precisely that we cannot go it alone. No single political party has all the answers hence the importance of listening to each other as we journey together.
An equally important context is that of climate change which has resulted in ever increasing droughts in Zimbabwe. The 2022 crop yield has been very poor resulting in the exposure of the poor to hunger.
The synodal path as a way forward
The common global challenges we have faced such as the Covid pandemic have increased our awareness of our connectedness and inter-dependence. Besides our connectedness, humanity also appears increasingly shaken and fragmented. Nevertheless, we still have the capacity to work together in order to build our “common home”. As a Church, we have the mandate to continue Christ’s mission in the world today. The synodal path represents the only way for the Church and for the world today.
By choosing this path, we choose to listen and not just hear the other, we choose to journey together and not alone, we are choosing the way of consensus not dictatorship. This path offers the Church and our politics the opportunity to initiate processes of listening, participation, dialogue and community discernment in view of arriving at the common good and God’s will for us. The synodal path also launches the Church to pursue her mission as a prophetic witness that embraces the entire family of humanity. This mission is always urgent in the midst of our severely wounded country and world.
Seeds of Synodality
These are seeds of synodality which we need to promote. As your Shepherds we work together at national, regional, continental and international levels. The Religious congregations come together at various levels demonstrating the same synodal spirit. As lay people through various diocesan and national guild structures, liturgical structures et al you have equally demonstrated the capacity for synodality.
We have also seen inter-religious and ecumenical structures that promote inter-religious and ecumenical dialogue . We have again witnessed seeds of synodality in our parishes as we work together in small Christian communities, praying together, visiting the sick and burying the dead. In our meetings, be they the burial of one of our own, we have met and embraced those who do not belong to our church who themselves were related to our member. In doing so we have created a platform for walking together and for respecting each other.
Weeds of Synodality
Among some weeds that may affect our dream and work for a synodal Church is clericalism which makes everything revolve around the ordained, diminishing and even disregarding the role of the laity and even religious brothers and sisters. Among the laity themselves are weeds of an unhealthy competition, divisions and outright exclusivism within the Church, among lay associations and lay groups. As pastors, we have not always listened attentively to the flock entrusted to our care. This too is a weed that affects our journeying together.
Synodalisation of the church
This synodal process aims to develop a synodal mind. We invite all of you to work hard towards the synodalisation of the Church. This means reinvigorating the sense that all the baptised, both the hierarchy and the laity, are called to be active participants in the saving mission of the Church. In a synodal Church, we all should learn from one another.
Participation and Co-responsibility
A synodal Church is a participatory church in which believers are actively engaged in the Church and in the world. To achieve this, we must pursue new avenues to empower lay ministries. All members of the Church must be aware that participation and co-responsibility is both a right and an obligation rooted in the vocation received at Baptism and Confirmation.
Communities marked by participation and co-responsibility become communities of missionary disciples. Thus, evangelisation ceases to be a prerogative of priests and religious. There is need to continue capacitating lay people with skills for the various services needed in our parishes, such as Sunday Service Leaders, funeral ministers, readers, communion ministers, prayer leaders and taking care of the sick.
Synodality and Dialogue
The synod calls for an open dialogue within the church and with people from the worlds of economics and science, politics and culture, arts and sport, the media and social initiative. If we want to encounter and help one another as fellow travellers, we have to dialogue. We cannot overstress the benefits of a true and open dialogue. Dialogue entails respectful listening, speaking out openly with respect, coming to know and understand one another as we find common ground. Let us commit ourselves to persistent and courageous dialogue.
As a Church, we renew our commitment to act as genuine peace-builders in our nation. The Church is a credible partner in creating a broad public consensus to guide our country to peace. The synod does not only require a mutual dialogue but ‘prophetic dialogue’. The church not only listens to all but as prophet, the church listens carefully to God, is attentive to people’s cries, anguishes and discerning the signs of the times speak truth to power.
There is a serious danger in trying to mute the prophetic voice of the Church. The history of Zimbabwe clearly shows how the Church, guided by values of standing against injustice and corruption and promoting respect for life, promoting the common good and the dignity of the human person has contributed to building a better Zimbabwe. History has taught us that when the Church is controlled by the State, the end is disastrous, the Church ceases to speak out for the weak and oppressed, power is corrupted and freedom is denied.
Synod and Ecumenical dialogue
“The dialogue between Christians of different confessions, united by one baptism, has a special place in the synodal journey.” The serious divisions and outright animosity among Christians are a scandal. We encourage all to pray and work for the mandate given by our Lord Jesus when at the Last Supper he prayed that the disciples and all those who believe in him “… may be one …” We believe that the desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit. The commitment to build a synodal Church brings with it the call to deepen relationships with the other Churches and Christian communities with which we are united by our one Baptism.
We all belong to one human family and the Church, in the power of the Holy Spirit is at the service of the Kingdom of God, contributing to the building up of the common good. We remind each other that ‘everything is connected’. We are all in the same boat, and that “one person’s problems are the problems of all.”
The synodal process, if taken seriously will help give shape to a definite style of being Church and will contribute positively to nation building. It will shape our attitudes and models of thinking about the mission and pastoral care and about relationships with other Christians, the world, other religions and indeed relationships among the members of the Church.
Let us together dream and work for a missionary synodal Church. Let us together dream of a synodal Church, a Church that listens, a Church of mercy and love, a Church that cries out for justice for the poor more than a Church that is enslaved by its systems and structures. Let us dream as a single human family, as fellow travellers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.
Our vision for a Synodal Church incorporates but is not limited to some of the following elements:
Synodal presbyterate where priests and bishops work as a team and family of God.
Synodal Religious communities where Religious Congregations use their charisms and spirituality to edify and enrich the whole Church.
Synodal laity where all laity use their talents in co-responsibility to make Evangelisation more effective.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.