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It was “a surprise, a challenge”: African Nun on Appointment to Bishops’ Synod Commission

Sr. Hermenegild Makoro, the South African member of the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood Sisters who was recently appointed to the Commission for Methodology of the 2023 Synod of Bishops. Credit: Fr. Paul Tatu, CSS/South Africa

The South African Catholic Nun recently appointed to the Commission for Methodology of the 2023 Synod of Bishops has shared her reaction to the appointment, saying the news came to her “as a surprise” and “as a challenge”, which she has accepted.

“When I read the letter from the Secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Mario Grech, I wasn’t sure whether I should accept,” Sr. Hermenegild Makoro told ACI Africa earlier this week.

Sr. Makoro added, “The appointment came as a surprise, as a challenge that I have accepted.”

The appointment of the member of the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood Sisters (CPS) to the Commission for Methodology of the Synod on Synodality scheduled to take place in Rome in October 2023 was made public July 20, some three months before the start of a two-year preparatory phase that involves Catholic Dioceses across the globe.

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Fr. Paul Béré, a Jesuit Priest from Burkina Faso who was the first African to win the prestigious Ratzinger Prize for theology was appointed to the 25-member Commission for Theology.

Sr. Makoro was among the nine members appointed to the Commission that is coordinated by Sr. Nathalie Becquart, one of the undersecretaries of the Synod of Bishops.

Appointed a consultor to the Synod of Bishops in 2019 and named an undersecretary and Coordinator of the Commission for Methodology on 6 February 2021, the French-born member of the Congregation of Xavières became the first woman to hold a position of this level within the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

Other members appointed alongside Sr. Makoro include three women: Prof. Cristina Inogés Sanz, from Spain, Dr. Christina Kheng Li Lin, from Singapore, and Prof. Susan Pascoe from Australia. Others are Indian-born Percival Holt, Fr. David McCallum from the U.S., Fr. Olivier Poquillon, from France-Iraq, Arnaud Join-Lambert, from France-Belgium, and Mauricio Lopez Oropeza, from Mexico-Ecuador.

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They have the duty to develop best practices and propose processes for the Synod at the local, national, regional, and international level.

These synodal processes include proposals for the drafting of the handbook (vademecum) for Bishops, gathering and analyzing summaries, the drafting of the working document (instrumentum laboris) as well as the final document of the 2023 Synod of Bishops.

The members of the Commission for Methodology have also the task to identify facilitators who are to help realize the synodal process.

In the Tuesday, July 27 interview, Sr. Makoro who is the immediate former Secretary General of the three-nation Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) told ACI Africa that her appointment is an acknowledgement of women’s contribution and capacity, and that the Catholic Church recognizes that women are so gifted and have a lot to contribute.

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“Work has begun through online meetings,” the native of South Africa’s Mthatha Diocese said, and added, “Our task is to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to be heard.”

“The last two Synods are a good example of the involvement of the lay faithful, of the people of God,” the South African Nun who served at the Pretoria-based SACBC General Secretariat for 15 years told ACI Africa.

In 2014, Pope Francis appointed Sr. Makoro to serve on the newly-established Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, whose purpose, as stipulated in its Statutes, “is to propose initiatives to the Roman Pontiff … for the purposes of promoting local responsibility in the particular Churches for the protection of all minors and vulnerable adults.”

The holder of a Theology degree from the University of Natal and an education degree from the University of Transkei was reappointed for a second term in 2018 and continued her service on the education and formation portfolio of the Vatican-based Commission.

When she completed her term of service as SACBC Secretary-General on 11 December 2020, Sr. Makoro returned to her native Diocese where she has been working alongside the Local Ordinary, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, towards a Diocesan Synod.

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In the July 27 interview with ACI Africa, she shared about the Synod process saying, “We are at the initial stages, working on a theme for the Mthatha Diocese Synod, which will be launched (this) October to coincide with the inauguration of the Universal Synod.”

The first-ever woman SACBC Secretary General has served in various positions in her native Diocese, including Coordinator of the Diocesan Catechetical team and the leadership training program of the Diocese.

The 69-year-old Nun who has also served as CPS Provincial Superior in South Africa is also remembered for successfully spearheading the SACBC’s new Pastoral Plan, “Evangelising Community: Serving God, Humanity and Creation”, which was launched in January 2020.