Vision for a Safe Church, Environment Preoccupy Southern Africa Bishops in 12th Plenary

Notes by IMBISA Bishops during a session on care of creation, our common home guided by Pope Francis' Laudato Si during their 12th Plenary Assembly in Maputo, Mozambique on November 15, 2019
Credit: Bishop José Luís Gerardo Ponce de León of Manzini, Swaziland

Facilitators in the ongoing Plenary Assembly of the Bishops within the Southern Africa region of the continent have, over the last two days, guided the Church leaders drawn from six Bishops’ conferences across nine countries to deliberate on the need to ensure the safety of children within Church institutions and concrete steps towards care for God’s creation.

“The first day of the meeting was dedicated to a follow up on the last plenary session held in 2016 in Maseru (Lesotho) on “Laudato Si”,” reads in part a statement sent to ACI Africa Friday, November 15, referencing the five-day meeting of Interregional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) taking place in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo from Wednesday, November 13.

“It was an opportunity to listen to what each one of the six Bishops' conferences have been able to do and to identify other initiatives,” the statement continues, referring to the Harare-based regional conference of Bishops comprising the Episcopal conferences of Mozambique, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Sao Tome and Principe and the Southern African Bishops’ Conference (Botswana, Eswatini, South Africa).

The sessions on the care of creation were facilitated by Mantopi Lebofa, who, according the statement sent to ACI Africa, spoke about her experience in Lesotho and “started by pointing out how inappropriate (it) was to be talking about this topic having so many plastic bottles of mineral water in front of us. She even made the bishops promise it won't happy again.”

There were two sessions dedicated to child safeguarding within Church institution.

The facilitator, Br. Fortune Chakasara FMS, “called Bishops to think what their vision is of a safer Church being aware that involves everyone: clergy and licensed ministers, religious congregations, diocesan employees, all voluntary and paid workers.”

The two sessions also involved “reflecting on how safe our schools are and being compliant with local laws and bishops' conferences guidelines.”

These deliberations are in line with the Apostolic Letter Vos estis Lux Mundi (You are the Light of the World) issued May 7, 2019 in which Pope Francis established new norms obliging Bishops and leaders of Religious Orders and Societies of Apostolic Life to report cases of child abuse by clergy and religious in view of ensuring accountability.

In an interview with ACI Africa at the beginning of the month, the Coordinator of the Pastoral Department of IMBISA, Fr. Dumisani Vilakati admitted to cases of child abuse within his ecclesiastical region saying, “IMBISA is no longer in denial about this matter which has wreaked havoc in society as well as in the ecclesiastical sphere.”

According to Fr. Vilakati, it was important for Bishop members of IMBISA to deliberate on child safeguarding “so that the Church may be better prepared to assist in the necessary spiritual, physical and psychological healing of victims.”

“The meeting is going on very well. The issues are being dealt with frankly,” Bishop Victor Phalana of South Africa’s Klerksdorp diocese told ACI Africa Friday, November 15.

Confirming the sessions over the last two days, Bishop Phalana said, “We looked at the protection of minors and vulnerable people. This should be a priority. There is a resolve to fight sexual abuse in all its forms. Children must feel safe in church premises and there must be policies and guidelines to that effect.”

Regarding the session on the care of creation, he reconfirmed, “We spent enough time looking at Laudato Si, and once more looking at what we did or did not do in implementing it.”

“We are now starting a business session where we will hear all the reports,” the South African Prelate disclosed in reference to updates on the evangelization mission from the Bishops’ conferences that constitute IMBISA.

Bishops who are members of IMBISA come together for their Plenary Assembly every three years.

The ongoing 12th Plenary Assembly is taking place at Mumemo in Maputo, Mozambique under the theme, “Reinforcing communion in IMBISA for effective collegiality to respond better to the protection of children and vulnerable persons as well as the earth, our common home.”

There are sixty Bishops in attendance as well as representatives of other Bishops’ conferences and faith-based organizations.

“IMBISA is grateful for the presence and support of the delegates representing our partners,” the statement sent to ACI Africa reads and acknowledges Fritz Zuger from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Dorothy Bird from the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and Gabriele Bertani the Catholic International Development Charity in England and Wales (CAFOD).

Bishop José Luís Gerardo Ponce de León of Manzini, Swaziland, contributed to this report

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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
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