Africa’s Synodal Contributions Should Foster “walking together” Approach: Vatican Cardinal

There is need for the people of God in Africa to foster the approach of “walking together” as they participate in the ongoing preparations for the Synod on Synodality, the Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development has said.

Cardinal Michael Czerny who was speaking Wednesday, September 28 at the launch of a publication of the African Synodality Initiative (ASI), a partnership between the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM), the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), and the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) made reference to his eight-year experience in Africa.

The member of the Society of Jesus (SJ) who founded and directed the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN) from 2002 to 2010, collaborating with Catholic Bishops' Conferences in Africa and “occasionally” offering lectures at the Nairobi-based Jesuit Institute, Hekima College, recalled the life of the people of God on the continent and said, “Walking was the engine of getting around”.

“It is important for Synodal contributions from Africa to be aware of the real roots of the meaning of Synod and to hang onto the paradigm of walking together,” Cardinal Czerny said in his reflection on “why theological insight and voices from local and global church contexts matter”.

He added, “It is important to be conscious of this paradigm even in the modern world.”


The 76-year-old Canadian Cardinal, a native of Czech Republic, who was among the 13 new Cardinals that Pope Francis created on 5 October 2019 continued, “The experience of walking in Africa and whether we are losing our habit of walking or if we are keeping it, learning from it and building on it, is part of our future.”

The habit of walking that has always united the people of God in Africa should be used to boost their Synodal contributions, Cardinal Czerny whose ministry in Africa, Latin America, and Rome has contributed to the promotion of social justice said during the launching of the ASI publication, “A Pocket Companion to Synodality: Voices from Africa”.

Among the contributors to the ASI publication who participated in the September 28 virtual event included the Secretary General of SECAM, Fr. Rafael Simbine, Dr. Nora K. Nonterah from Ghana, and Rodrigue Naortangar, a Chadian Jesuit Priest. Sr. Jecinter Okoth, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Anna (FSSA) and a journalist in the Communications Department of AMECEA facilitated the two-hour session.

According to the leadership of ASI, the partnership that was established to generate creative ideas and resources that aim to support local churches in Africa and enable them to engage fruitfully and constructively in the Synodal process, the publication that was launched on September 28 highlights “Synodal experiences” of the people of God in Africa.

The publication, they have indicated, is “the outcome of reflections by the ASI Theological Working Group that highlight Synodal experiences in Africa, explore the links between Synodality and culture in Africa, and deepen a theology of Synodality from an African perspective.” 

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It seeks “to promote and support a wide and inclusive listening of all the People of God in keeping with the vision of Pope Francis of Synodality as ‘a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn,’” the leadership of ASI says.

In his reflection, Cardinal Czerny made reference to the second Chapter of the publication on walking together as companions in ecclesial discernment, saying, “This is a good expression of this African Synodal initiative that is helping to support how the church in Africa prepares for the Synod.”

He also reflected on the life of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels and said that He walked in many ways and every way raises questions and makes suggestions that are relevant to the Synodal process.

The Cardinal likened the experience of Jesus on his way to Jerusalem and the rejection by the Samaritans as recorded in the Gospel of St. Luke and said, “This might be a clue to the Synodal conflict”.

“There is no one way in which Jesus walked; he walked in different ways at different moments and therefore, our walking has also to include the flexibility, the sensitivity of Jesus walking,” he said.


Cardinal Czerny said that the different ways that Jesus walked can only prove to be relevant if they are well applied in “our Synodal walking”.

The Vatican-based Cardinal said that the Holy Father intends to make the “process of Synodality the thematic content” that invites the Church into learning “how to do something rather than doing it, or even learning how to produce something rather than the product.”

“When reflecting on the purpose and goal of 2023 Synod, what strikes me so much is the title itself, because Pope Francis is making the process of Synodality the thematic content. It is not immediately very concrete or very real or very practical,” he said.

The Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development added, “When we meditate on it, we realize that if we don’t learn how, we are not going to do very well and we will not find a way. It is not easy to make this great effort in order to learn how to do something.”

He continued, “Pope Francis himself expresses it as a way of learning how to Synod in order to become the church of the third millennium that God wants.”

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The purpose of the ongoing Synod on Synodality, Cardinal Czerny went on to say, is to “strengthen the salvific mission of the church in the contemporary world through an integrated participation of all the faithful.”

The ongoing Synod does not seek to address any issue, but “to discover and to learn to prepare ourselves, our communities, our church structures for the communion, participation and mission that God is calling us to”, he added.

Reflecting on the theme of the Synod on Synodality which is outlined in the Preparatory Document as “For a Synodal Church, Communion, Participation, and Mission”, Cardinal Czerny said that the three aspects of the Church “are the names of the graces that we are seeking for, the graces we are asking from God with the help of the Holy Spirit.”

Speaking at the September 28 virtual event, Dr. Nonterah, a theological and comparative ethicist, underlined the need for a collaborative approach in the relationship between members of the Clergy and the Laity so that “all voices” matter.

“It is time for all voices to matter, and so in my opinion, clericalism does not help in this process,” she said, and added, “What will help the process is when we understand that every baptized person qualifies to be part of the decision-making process, weather Cleric or not.”

“This is because clericalism encourages the top-down decision-making process, which is not what we want to achieve in the Synodal process that involves participation, communion and mission,” the lecturer at the Religious Studies Department of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana said.

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.