The continental assembly under the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) started in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where over two hundred delegates are gathered to reflect on the document for the Continental Stage of the Synod on Synodality.
By Andrew Kaufa, smm
After welcoming remarks by Fr Rafael Simbine the Secretary General of SECAM, the continental body’s first Vice President, Archbishop Lucio Muandula, led the participants in a prayer and reflection which drew from the story of the encounter between the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip in the book of Acts 8:6-8, 25-40.
“Understanding the Synodal process means to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit speaking to us and to listen to one another in order to do better the mission of the Church. That is why Philip asked for the Holy Spirit,” he said. “In Africa, we believe that we have to journey together as a family, to listen to one another. And that is why Pope Francis invited us to journey together in this Synod on Synodality, to enlarge our hearts, let us now together close the opening prayer with the prayer of our Father, asking for the Holy Spirit to be with us.”
The method of spiritual conversation
On the meaning, methodology, and practice of the Synod, Fr Giacomo Costa the Consulter for the General Secretariat of the Synod, said that the method called Spiritual Conversation involves three main steps: Taking the Floor, Making Room for the Other, and Building Together.
“The Spiritual Conversation Method does not guarantee the result but it offers a way of journeying together,” he added.
“The method helps us to listen to one another’s contribution, and so open up to the Holy Spirit who offers us new ways of looking at the Gospel mission” he continued. “The method does not guarantee anything; it is an attitude of prayer, to begin with prayer and to end in prayer.”
He explained, “It is not intended to go against the authority of the Church but putting together our experiences as a way of participating in the process of Synod on Synodality; it is not a win-lose situation.”
Starting from lived experience
Referring to the disciples who were moving away from the community on the way to Emmaus, he connected to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Christus vivit, arguing that it was starting from their lived experience that Jesus asks them to bring out their concerns and difficulties. “Therefore, the first step is to be in contact with the reality that we are living” and create an environment where, “each one tells his or her story and what is going on in his or her heart, yet it is not a debate but putting one’s story in the group.”
The second step invited the participants to go deeper into the experience. On this note, Fr Giacomo said, “Jesus leads them to interpret their experience in the context of Scriptures so as to go to the heart of their stories, to understand their stories in a different way until their hearts were burning.”
“This calls us to go beyond what each one has said, to avoid insisting on my point but to recognize where did I hear something about the mystery of faith both from my sharing and from what the other ways saying. Therefore, what I shared must resonate with what the others have said, hence the question, ‘What struck me as I listened’ so that we may move from personal opinion to recognizing what the Holy Spirit is calling us to do from the shared story.”
Sharing the experience
In the third step, Fr Costa explained, “It was the disciples who resolved to go back to the community in Jerusalem to share their experience with the risen Christ. “We too have to meet Jesus in order to gather courage to enter into the night and go back to our community, transformed by the experience of meeting the risen Jesus.”
He then said to the delegates, “We have to make this our experience, and this is the purpose of this method, so that Jesus makes us able to choose the way we want to take,” adding that “We are called to move away from ‘I, my understanding’ to ‘Us, our understanding’; from confusion to harmony like the Pentecost; and this is possible by listening to the Holy Spirit.”
“Then, from that building together, we open the way for us to go back to our Conferences and communities and share our experiences.
As delegates went into spiritual conversation groups, a general impression is that there is need for facilitators to give them more orientation into the methodology.
“The method is very interesting for me because it promotes listening to various views and together discern what is really resonating,” said Georges Pascal Kendema a youth representative from Morocco.
On her part, Sr Nelenta Ngarndiguimal a representative of the Religious from Chad said that she is of the opinion that with time the delegates will get into the methodology as it is easy to follow, while Ms. Marie Laure Epse Boni expressed, “I found it difficult to capture everything because of my Francophone background. I believe with the help of the group facilitators I will become more comfortable by the end of the day.”