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Small Christian Communities “true experience of synodality” for Church in Africa: Priest

Fr. Rafael Simbine Junior. Credit: SECAM

The way of being church through membership in Small Christian Communities (SCCs) in Africa portrays a true experience of communion and collaboration, a Catholic Priest has said.

In a Monday, August 23 publication used for his presentation to participants in the Inter-regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) session on Consultation on Synodal Processes, Fr. Rafael Simbine Junior links SCCs and synodality.

“This is the true experience of synodality that has been lived out in the SCCs: experience of communion, participation and mission, evangelizing themselves and bringing the Good News to others,” Fr. Simbine says, addressing himself to those involved in preparing for the Synod on Synodality in IMBISA.

In March last year, Pope Francis announced that the next ordinary Synod of Catholic Bishops would be on synodality and that Catholic Bishops from around the world would gather at the Vatican in October 2022 to discuss the theme, “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission.”

In the August 23 publication, Fr. Simbine continues, “Small Christian Communities are truly places for studying, meditating upon and sharing the Word of God. They are seeking ways of expressing the Christian faith in the typical settings of a traditional African community.”

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According to the member of the Clergy of Mozambique’s Xai-Xai Diocese who is a Deputy Secretary General of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), collaboration in the African Church has been emphasized by “anthropological principles”, which advocate for familyhood and togetherness.

SCCs, the Coordinator of the Evangelization Commission of SECAM says, “emphasize personal relationships, family bonds, solidarity, Christian belonging, sharing together, working together and celebrating together (including meals and entertainment) in the context of African values and customs.”

“Inclusiveness, unity and community values are basic to African life and the foundation of SCCs,” he goes on to says, and adds that the meetings in SCCs offer the opportunity for “interaction, collaboration, reflections and for praying together.”

In the IMBISA publication titled, Synodality and the Church-Family of God in Africa, the Mozambican Priest acknowledges participation of all members as an essential aspect of SCCs and further notes that distinguishing qualities, talents and skills of the members are recognized in the communities.

“It is precisely because of the SCCs that many lay people, men, women and youth in particular have become quite dynamic, both in the Church and in the society,” the SECAM official says.

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In the four-point publication, Fr. Simbine highlights other concepts within the African society that foster synodality, including the principles of Ubuntu (I am, because you are), Ujamaa (Swahili concept, that means: sense of community- familyhood and solidarity) and Fihavanana (Malagasy concept that means: vital bond that links family members and neighbors).

“In the African family, one is given recognition, acceptance and a sense of belonging. In it, one enjoys respect and understanding. One need not pay for services received in one’s family and consequently renders services to other members without counting the cost,” he says.

In the publication, Fr. Simbine who is responsible for SECAM Evangelization Commission that promotes Bible Apostolate underscores the central place of the family for Africans.

“Family is dear to the heart of the African. Africa is the continent of the family. This is why the African Bishops, who could have chosen the other Vatican II concepts of church, as Communion or as People of God, but they purposely chose Church as Family,” he says.

By choosing the concept of Church as Family, Fr. Simbine says, Catholic Bishops in Africa “wanted to imprint in the church the African values of family.”

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He adds, in reference to the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia in Africa, “The Fathers of the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops recommended the image of the Church as the family of God, because this image emphasizes care for others, solidarity, warmth in human relationships, acceptance, dialogue and trust.”

“Ecclesia in Africa understands this and recommends the protection and perpetuation of this African value and reminds all of us of the papal ardente hope and prayer that Africa always preserve this priceless cultural heritage and never succumb to the temptation to individualism, which is so alien to its best tradition,” Fr. Simbine says. 

In the August 23 publication, the SECAM official says the upcoming Synod on Synodality is an opportunity for the African Church to share with the Universal Church “synodal experience of the Church, Family of God in Africa, and it is also the occasion to renew ourselves as Church-Family of God in Africa and Islands.”

“Synodality has been a reality as an ecclesial experience in Africa, especially through the Small Christian Communities,” he reiterates, adding, “Let us find a way to share and enrich the universal Church with the African experience of synodality: experience of communion, community spirit, familyhood, teamwork, community sharing, and togetherness.”

He encourages “active involvement of the lay people into the life and mission of the Church,” and adds that the Synod scheduled for October 2022 is also an invitation for the people of God in Africa “to stop and review our life as a Family.”

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“There are many internal and external factors that have been spoiling the guidance of African values and the synodal path of the Church-Family of God in Africa,” Fr. Simbine says and highlights some of the challenges on the continent including violent conflicts, bad news and intolerance.