Southern Africa’s Synodal Process an Opportunity to Discuss “new way of being”: Official

The Secretary General of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), Fr. Hugh O'Connor. Credit: SACBC

The Secretary General of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) has said that the Synodal process in the three countries of the Conference, Botswana, Eswatini, and South Africa, allowed people an opportunity to gather together to discuss “a new way of being”.

In an interview with ACI Africa about the SACBC Synod Synthesis Report, Fr. Hugh O'Connor said, “The synodal process was actually an assembly of people getting together to discuss a new way of being. It was about looking at the church and looking at the relationships that we want to structure so that we become more of a synodal church.”

“Words like listening, like dialogue, engagement, relationship, these were the important words, ways of being together as Church, leadership with ordinary parishioners, parishioners with Clergy, Religious with leadership, and Bishops,” said Fr. O’Connor during the September 15 interview.

The member of the Clergy of South Africa’s Cape Town Archdiocese further said that the Synodal process paved the way to “the realization that the church is no longer able to work along a hierarchical command structure.”

“Leadership is no longer able just to give commands and expect blind obedience. It's not how the world is working today,” the Priest who has been SACBC Secretary General since January 2021 said.


He added, “Even though we are seeing certain very fundamentalist forces around the world, we are seeing in certain spaces more dictatorship; within the Church there is definitely a move to establishing communities that are open to each other, that are listening to the needs that are meeting the lives and situations of people where they are at.”

“There is that element of beginning to develop and grow a Church where we do listen, where we do dialogue, where we do talk together. It doesn't mean that just because I've said something, I must get that thing. That's not necessarily how anything works, but where there is an increase in sharing”, Fr. O’Connor told ACI Africa.

He noted that the Church in the three-nation Conference is rich with spaces for dialogue and listening right from grassroots level, parish council to Diocesan Pastoral Council to the meeting of Bishops at conference level. 

He said in reference to the Church in Botswana, Eswatini, and South Africa, “In terms of a Southern African Church, we have plenty of structures as to where dialogue can take place, where listening can happen.”

“I think what the Holy Father is hoping for out of this Synod and this process is not necessarily another structure, but a change of heart, and a change in the way that we do things,” said Fr. O’Connor.

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In the September 15 interview, the SACBC Secretary General highlighted the need for Church leadership to involve as many people as possible in the Synodal process at a time he said Catholic Bishops’ Conferences are coming out of the COVID-19 experience.

“One of the real challenges for the Dioceses was to re-establish themselves, to get Parish life going again, to bring things back to a new normal…this really did have implications for participation in the Synodal process,” the South African Priest said.

He added, “There was a wide effort to get people to participate; however, I think the struggle on the ground is bringing people back to active participation in the church, getting Parish life going and orienting oneself as church, as Parish, as community, as sodality to new ways of doing things.”

The 54-year-old Catholic Priest called on participants in the ongoing synodal conversations to help in disseminating the information to ensure that the report is not archived like other Church documents.

“The people who participated in this process must ask the questions, where is our document? Where is our response? What has happened to it?” Fr. O’Connor said.


He added, “Sometimes we leave too much up to leadership and expect them to drive everything; they can't. We need to take some responsibility as ordinary men and women of the Church. We are part of the Church; we are the Church together with the Bishops, together with everybody that belongs.”

“The only way of keeping a document alive is if people in the church want the document to be kept alive. That is the only way to do it, to ask the questions, and to seek those documents,” Fr. O’Connor told ACI Africa September 15.

Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.