“Rooted in African anthropological principles”: SECAM President on Synodal Process

Fridolin Cardinal Ambongo addressing delegates during the opening ceremony of the March 1-6 SECAM Plenary Assembly taking place in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa. Credit: ACI Africa

The ongoing preparations for the Synod on Synodality is consistent with the social networks typical of the people of God in Africa, the President of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) has said.

In his address during the opening ceremony of the March 1-6 SECAM Plenary Assembly taking place in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa, Fridolin Cardinal Ambongo said the Synodal process is “rooted in African anthropological principles”.

“On the one hand, this synodal process confirms the Church's way of doing things in Africa,” Cardinal Ambongo said Thursday, March 2.

He added, “Indeed, rooted in African anthropological principles, especially the palaver, Ubuntu and Ujamaa, which emphasize community spirit, sense of family, teamwork, solidarity and conviviality, the Catholic Church in Africa has grown as a Family of God.”

The Archbishop of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) underscored the need for Synodality to be lived in the context of families, saying, “The privileged place to experience family spirit and synodality is the Small Christian Community.”


He explained, “In many parts of the continent, the Small Christian Communities (SCCs) are the manifestation of the Church in Africa and constitute the space where the faithful are renewed and confirmed in their baptismal ministry and where they experience and live Synodality as mission, communion and participation.”

As a way of being Church, the Congolese member of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (OFM Cap) further explained, “Small Christian Communities foster strong interpersonal relationships, deepen their sense of community, and promote the active proclamation of the Gospel of the Risen Lord.”

SCCs “provide opportunities for common prayer, interaction, collaboration and reflection, welcoming and celebrating the unique gifts and charisms of each member,” the Cardinal said.

“The Papal initiative to undertake this synodal journey came at the right time as an invitation to all members of the Church-Family of God in Africa and the Islands to pause and evaluate their journey as a Family,” he said. 

The Catholic Church leader who had been serving as SECAM Vice-President and succeeded the late Richard Kuuia Cardinal Baawobr who died in November 2022, months after he had been elected SECAM President, expressed his awareness of the “visible situations of weakness” of the Church in Africa.

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“Despite the remarkable growth of the Church-Family of God in Africa and the Islands, there are visible situations of weakness,” Cardinal Ambongo said.

Some of the weaknesses, he said, include “the bitter and painful experiences of conflict and war, racial tensions and tribalism, xenophobia, political instability, injustice, selfish political actions, plundering of national wealth and rapid enrichment by illegal means.”

The Synodal journey provides hope for the people of God in Africa, the Cardinal who started his Episcopal Ministry in March 2005 as Bishop of DRC’s Bokungu-Ikela Diocese said.

He said that with the Synodal process, the people of God in Africa are given “courage to evaluate our faith and to speak with freedom, courage and charity about the challenges we face in Africa, both in the Church and in society, and to engage deeply with these challenges in order to respond to them through concrete transformations.”

“We are so grateful to the Holy Father for this pastoral initiative to call the whole Catholic Church to rediscover the precious value of Synodality,” Cardinal Ambongo who has been at the helm of Kinshasa Archdiocese since November 2018 said.


He told delegates of the ongoing SECAM Plenary Assembly that “this synodal process, under the sign of communion, participation and mission, constitutes a time of grace and a great moment of ecclesial communion for the Church.”

The Plenary Assembly, “which is guided by the Synod’s call to the Universal Church to communion, mission, and participation” aims at engaging the delegates from the Church in Africa on the Document for the Continental Stage (DCS), which was sent to the Universal Church by the General Secretariat of the Synod in October 2022.

In his speech, the President of SECAM also reflected on the importance of listening in the Synodal process.

“By focusing on listening, this synodal process should lead the journey of the Church, the family of God in Africa and the Islands, to its fulfillment,” he said, and added, “Indeed, a true encounter as members of the same family, a true journey together as brothers and sisters can only be born of listening.”

Listening, Cardinal Ambongo continued, “implies going further than just hearing.”

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“To listen, it is essential to be silent and to listen to what the other person has to say. Listening requires leaving one's own world and immersing oneself in that of the other,” he said, and added, “Lack of listening is, in large part, a cause of conflict, disagreement, division and violence in society and even in the Church.”

The Congolese Cardinal continued, “We can only walk together as a family and as a Church if we know how to listen to each other. This Synod offers us the opportunity to become a church that listens and listens to each other.”

“Let us make this African Synodal Plenary Assembly a vibrant experience of listening to each other and moving forward together, guided by the Holy Spirit,” the President of SECAM said. 

“This Synodal Assembly calls upon pastors to listen attentively and lovingly to the faithful entrusted by Christ to their care,” he further said, and added, “This Synodal Assembly also calls upon the laity to freely express their opinions with honesty and respect.”

Cardinal Ambongo invited the delegates of the SECAM Plenary Assembly to “enjoy the beauty of being together, walking together, celebrating the bond of our communion and sharing the joys and sorrows of our life and mission.”

Jude Atemanke is a Cameroonian journalist with a passion for Catholic Church communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Buea in Cameroon. Currently, Jude serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.