Synodal Process Entails “reciprocal listening”, Discerning the Spirit: Nuncio to Namibia

Members of the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA). Credit: IMBISA

The ongoing preparations for the Synod on Synodality entail the fostering of “reciprocal listening” and the discerning of the Spirit, the representative of the  Holy Father in Namibia has told delegates of the 13th Plenary Assembly of the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA).

In his speech during the opening ceremony of the IMBISA Plenary Assembly that officially started on September 23 in Namibia’s Capital city, Windhoek, Archbishop Peter Bryan Wells encouraged Catholic Church leaders in the Southern African region to actualize “mutual listening and active dialogue to establish a relationship between faithful members of the Church”.

“Synodality is about reciprocal listening, where everyone has something to learn by listening to the Word of God, responding to the signs of the times and trying to discern what the Spirit is saying to the Church in their prayer and dialogue with one another,” Archbishop Wells said during the event convened at Safari Court Conference Centre in Windhoek.

The Apostolic Nuncio to Namibia who also represents the Holy Father in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, and South Africa added, “In exercising this reciprocal listening as an activity of doing something together (journeying together), we tend to interact, listen and learn from each other, cooperate and exchange ideas and together make decisions.”

He went on to describe the ongoing Synodal process as “an essential dimension of the Church” and explained, “It expresses the Church's nature, form, style, and mission, and is what the Lord asks the Church in the third millennium.”


“The Synodality of the whole Church requires that everyone is heard and can contribute,” the 59-year-old native of the Catholic Diocese of Tulsa in the U.S. said the ongoing IMBISA Plenary Assembly that has brought together over 60 Catholic Bishops and youth representatives from Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

The South Africa-based representative of the Holy Father underscored the need to foster listening the preparations of the 2023 Synod on Synodality, saying, “Pope Francis assures that listening to the People of God is the best way to help the Church to make pastoral decisions that correspond closely to God's will.”

Archbishop Wells further told delegates of the IMBISA Plenary Assembly that Synodality is “a call from the Holy Father to co-responsibility, unity and participation in the Church evangelizing mission as an institution belonging to all the faithful by their Baptism.”

“In accord with this desire of the Pope, the quality of disposition that synod members should have must include openness of mind that helps to listen to others,” he further said.

The openness that Synod members need to foster, the Vatican diplomat said, “will consist of respect for the views of others, a capacity for dialogue, and inner freedom to say what one thinks and take charge of the situation and proposals of others.”

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He encouraged Catholic leaders in the Southern African region to “walk with the people, sometimes in front to guide, sometimes in the middle to encourage and feel the flock's smell, and sometimes behind, for the people sometimes also have an instinct to find new ways forward or find the lost way on their own.”

The Archbishop who has been representing the Holy Father in the five Southern African nations since 2016 highlighted some of the challenges the people of God face in the countries of IMBISA that could hinder the realization of the “vision of Synodality”.  

“Deprivation and poverty among the laity in the IMBISA region could be an indirect obstacle to Pope Francis's vision of Synodality,” he said, adding, “Against this backdrop, I explain that the primary concern of the least privileged and poor is how to feed their families and survive in a rather inhumane set of circumstances.”

Archbishop Wells further said in reference to the Laity, “It may be that they do not particularly dream or think of making decisions for their local church communities where the Cleric's traditional role is still solid and decisive.”

“It would be interesting to know how many of such people participated, who participated and why they participated during the synodal process,” he continued, adding, “There may be little co-responsibility of the Laity. Perhaps this needs to change. But it will take time to change a long-standing cultural pattern in its broadest sense.”


He underlined the need to make every effort to realize the needed change that ensures co-responsibility between members of the Clergy and the Laity. He said, “Concrete support structures for active participation and evangelization are required.”

“The overall synodal principle encourages everyone to be heard and to express their opinions on various topics within the guidelines provided,” the Apostolic Nuncio to Namibia told delegates of the IMBISA Plenary Assembly in his speech September 23.

He added, “The Holy Father goes along in the direction of counting more and more on the contribution of the Laity, Religious women and men.”

“The Synod provides a platform for all the faithful to collaborate in the mission and life of a Church that listens,” Archbishop Wells said at Safari Court Conference Centre in Windhoek.

Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.