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Synodality in Africa: A journey of listening and discernment

Sister Marie Solange Randrianirina highlights the synodal process on the African continent, which sought to strengthen the commitment of all the baptized in the Church, in the run-up to the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod held in October.

By Sr. Marie Solange Randrianirina

My experience of this Synod on the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission” began when the Conference of Bishops of Madagascar appointed me as one of the members of the national group tasked with animating and preparing the island’s churches to experience this moment.

There were seven of us in that group: three diocesan priests, a religious priest, a layman, a laywoman and me, a woman religious, obviously along with the Bishop who had been appointed to participate in the Synod.

The experience of “journeying together” began with that group in a style marked by communion, mission and participation, as Pope Francis invited us to do as children of God.

We are different in many ways within this group, in terms of stages of life, knowledge, our talents, the society we come from, age, as well as each one’s personality. But the love for the Church that we share and the differences we accept, which became diversity, are my first steps towards synodality because the willingness to listen depends on this: listening to the Holy Spirit, the protagonist of the Synod, listening to others, and also listening to our “common home”, and the ability to discern also depends on this.

Group photo of Synod Continental Assembly in Addis Ababa

Group photo of Synod Continental Assembly in Addis Ababa

Listening and welcoming others became increasingly important as I interacted more with all those who were participating in the Synod at a diocesan level, then at a national level and then on the continental level, during the event in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the beginning of March, and especially now when the Church throughout the world is living the experience of “journeying together”.

Thus, I slowly expanded the space in my tent to weave communion with all those who have now become members of my family, my neighbours and my friends.

I very much like the following part of the Prayer for the Synod: “We are weak and sinful; do not let us promote disorder. Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions”. Firstly, I cannot wait until this prayer becomes a reality in our Church. If, through her children, the Church “lives” out her aims, it will be pleasant to be a part of her and she will spread like wildfire as she journeys with society.

Eucharistic celebration during Synod Continental Assembly in Ethiopia

Eucharistic celebration during Synod Continental Assembly in Ethiopia

This Synod has allowed many people from different social classes to draw even nearer. It has fostered a spirit of communion and a sense of reciprocal listening and sharing. Everyone, in particular lay people, was enthusiastic at being able to speak about essential issues that could promote their relationship with the Church. This Synod has strengthened the commitment of all the baptized people in the life of the Church. I therefore impatiently await that synodality may become tangible in the Church at all levels.

Especially for the way it took place, this Synod on “Synodality” is a great opportunity to highlight that everyone, without exception, is useful in the Church. Thus, each and every one, according to the gift they received (1 Cor 12:4-7), their capabilities, and their vocation, participates in the Church’s mission.

The Synod opens us up to the grace of understanding that we cannot go towards God on our own and that the Church needs her children in order to fulfil her evangelizing mission in today’s world. Therefore, there should be no interference on our part with regards to responsibilities and no quarrels over positions, but rather, complementarity and mutual respect.

A delegate at the Synod Continental Assembly

A delegate at the Synod Continental Assembly

Women religious in Africa are like the (few) women who followed Jesus. As women and according to their charisms, they are committed to proclaiming the Gospel. This Synod asks us first of all to review our way of “journeying together” in our congregation and then in our way of “journeying together” with the Church and with the African society in which we live. It also gives us the opportunity to be heard, to be part of the family of God.

The synodal journey is not always a bed of roses, without problems, but I am convinced that with the willingness to walk together and to bear difficulties, we will achieve tangible results, because “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” (African proverb).

Thus, docility to the Holy Spirit spurs us to open ourselves to others, gives us the certainty of listening to one another and helps us learn from each other because differences are a richness and a guarantee that allow us to live our identity in a more efficient way: “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission”.

Sister Solange (L) with other participants in the Synod Continental Assembly

Sister Solange (L) with other participants in the Synod Continental Assembly

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