Diocesan Synod Not Parliament of Christians, Apostolic Nuncio in South Africa Says

Archbishop Peter Bryan Wells. Credit: SACBC

The Apostolic Nuncio in South Africa has urged the people of God in the Southern African countries to look at the Synod on Synodality as a type of “council meeting”, which is “pastoral in nature”, and not some kind of parliamentary discussion.

In his Wednesday, January 19 address to members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC) during their Plenary Assembly, Archbishop Peter Bryan Wells said that the authority in the church does not originate from what he called “a democratic referendum,” but from the dynamics of the interrelationship between members of the Clergy, the Religious, and the Laity. 

“We need to make it clear that the Diocesan Synod is not a parliament of Christians with their Bishop and Clergy, and the Synod of Bishops is not a parliament of Bishops with the Pope,” Archbishop Wells said.

The representative of the Holy Father in South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and Eswatini who was giving his address at the first annual SACBC Plenary Assembly added that the council meetings, which are pastoral in nature, entail listening to the word of God and trying to respond accordingly to the signs of the times.

In the statement of his address shared with ACI Africa, Archbishop Wells says participants in the Synod need to discern the signs of the times in their prayers and mutual dialogues so as to understand what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church.


He says that the Church does not function like other civil institutions whose authority originates from public opinion. 

“Consultations in the Church originated from the dynamics of the interrelationship between those members who have the ministerial Priesthood, for example the Bishops and four Priests, and those who share the common Priesthood, namely, all the baptized faithful,” the 58-year-old Nuncio says.

Credit: Sheila Pires

He adds, “These two forms are very different from the general functioning of the civil institutions that today we call ‘democracy’, whose power comes principally from public opinion.”

Archbishop Wells further says that the faithful and the Clergy can participate in the Synod without undervaluing each other for the unity of the people of God is very important especially for the future generations.

More in Africa

“The Synod provides a platform for the collaboration of all the faithful in the mission of the Church. It is instructive that within this ‘Synodality of the whole Church’, everyone is expected to play their part in the Church's mission in unity without invading the other's field or undervaluing the other in what is proper to them,” the Apostolic Nuncio says.

He continues, “The Church's unity is paramount and must be cared for and transmitted to future generations in this way.”

Speaking on the unity of all the followers of Christ, the native of the U.S. says that “Synodality of the whole church has its roots in the unity of all Christians… This symbiotic relationship of a mutual dependence in which Synodality serves unity – and unity is at the basis of Synodality – is evident when we as People of God are in a position to listen to one another and to hear what God is saying to all of us.”

Therefore, he continues, “a Synodal Church is a Church of listening, conscious that listening is more than hearing. In the Church we are called to listen with a loving heart.”

Speaking on the importance of Church councils and Synod, the Apostolic Nuncio says that such meetings exist because of the need for constant renewal among the faithful.


He says that God is constantly calling upon his people to reform and renew the Church institution so as to be God-centered rather than turning them into human centered institutions.

Credit: Sheila Pires

“We must always remind ourselves that the real Temple, the actual dwelling place of God, is his people, is each one of us. ‘You are the temple of the Spirit,’ says St. Paul,” Archbishop Wells says, and adds that the act of the Church moving forward, walking together, is Synodal, but it is always the Spirit who is the great protagonist of the Church.

He challenges the people of God to work towards ensuring that the local Church becomes even more “temples” pleasing to God.

“We must concentrate on what we need to do to ensure that our Parishes, our Church communities as a whole, more clearly point to God, so that people will be drawn to Him and come to discover His love, mercy, and solicitude for our salvation,” the Nuncio says in his statement used to address SACBC members January 19. 

(Story continues below)

He explaines, “The local Church's mission is to carry out pastoral work continuing in a concrete way Jesus Christ's work on earth. As members of the local Church, each of us needs a good shepherd to direct or guide our souls since no one can map out their course without exceptional help from God.”

Speaking on the role of the local Church, Archbishop Wells says that the mission of the local church is miscellaneous. He proceeds to list the mission as training, sending and supporting missionaries all over the world in the mission of Christ.

He further urges the people of God to share the word of God and also help those who are in need, saying, “Live as examples to all; be united in moving forward together; and be aware of their differences, which is an integral part of the Synodal way.”

Credit: Sheila Pires

The Catholic Archbishop who has represented the Holy Father in the five Southern African countries since 2016 says that the outcome of the Synod will not only depend on the preparation of the participants but also their good will towards the whole process.

“An adequate spiritual disposition is needed on the part of all. In practical terms, this preparation means the fruit of study, of faith experience, of one's own life and that of others,” he says in his statement used to address Catholic Bishops in Botswana, Eswatini, and South Africa on January 19.

He adds, “This preparation will also refer to the personal conscience of each participant in the synod meeting: to be responsible for the mission entrusted, to speak, and not to take a passive attitude.”

Archbishop Wells urges members of the Clergy to play an essential role in both their teaching functions and spiritual accompaniments.

“If the Synod members are well versed in the topics and possess wisdom, they will enrich the vision of all and contribute to practical and workable solutions to the many challenges we together face in an increasingly connected and global reality,” he says.

He explains, “Suppose, however, the Clergy and laity are poorly prepared in this sense of faith, there is the likelihood that the presbyteral, pastoral, and parish councils will contribute very little in any conciliar reform gathering.”

The American Archbishop makes reference to Pope Francis' solution to the challenge of culture as a major hindrance to creativity and calls for continued connectedness of “intra-Diocesan Synodal bodies.”

“In order to try to solve this problem of cultural blocks to initiative and creativity, in a practical way, the Pope suggests that the intra-diocesan Synodal bodies remain connected with the ‘basics’ and start from the people, from the daily problems,” he says.

Credit: SACBC

The Apostolic Nuncio adds in reference to Pope Francis’ counsel, “It is a concrete way of listening to others, at the intra-ecclesial level, which he considers fundamental for the Church to begin to take on an authentic Synodal form.”

In his conclusion, Archbishop Wells says that Synodality should not in any way be looked at as the “mechanical law of the majority or the unanimity imposed by the leader but a dialogue that strives to bring everyone together towards unity.”

The seven-day SACBC Plenary Assembly that is taking place within the context of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is expected to conclude on January 25.

It is the first to be held physically since January 2020. Previous meetings were held virtually amid COVID-19 restrictions.

In his homily during the opening Eucharistic Celebration for the Plenary Assembly January 18, Bishop João Noé Rodrigues of South Africa’s Tzaneen Diocese described the gathering of Catholic Bishops in the three-nation Conference as “a moment of grace.”

Bishop Rodrigues said that communion among Church leaders is “a fruit of the Holy Spirit” in their respective lives.

Silas Mwale Isenjia is a Kenyan journalist with a great zeal and interest for Catholic Church related communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communication from Moi University in Kenya. Silas has vast experience in the Media production industry. He currently works as a Journalist for ACI Africa.