Church in Africa “needs to continue to be open”: Catholic Priest on Synodal Process

Panelists during the February 25 webinar of the Continental Stage of the Synod on Synodality. Credit: Paulines Publication Africa

The Church in Africa “needs to continue to be open”, reaching out to the people of God on the periphery, a Catholic Priest has said in his reflection on the ongoing preparations for the Synod on Synodality that is at the continental phase. 

In his presentation in a webinar Fr. Michael Mensah reflected on the Biblical icons of the Document for the Continental Stage (DCS), described as “a synthesis of the reports that the universal Church submitted to the General Secretariat of the Synod in Rome.”

The General Secretariat of the Synod shared the DCS across the globe in October 2022 so that the people of God can “continue with the dialogue and discernment process on the pastoral issues” that had been captured in the very document.

Distributed under the title, “Enlarge the Space of Your Tent” (Isaiah 54:2), DCS highlights “a wide range of issues” that came up during the local sessions, such as “the desire for greater inclusion expressed by many people who feel unwelcome in the Church, or undervalued: women, young people, people with disabilities, the poor, those who are divorced and civilly remarried, single parents, and LGBTQ people.”

In his presentation titled, “Biblical Icons of the working Document for the Continental Stage: Relevance and impact in the African context,” Fr. Mensah explained images contained in Chapter Two of DCS.


“The three dimensions of the tent, the tent cloth, the rope, and the tent pegs present the architecture of the Church,” he said during the February 25 virtual event that was organized by Paulines Publications Africa to raise awareness about the Continental Stage of the Synodal process. 

The Ghanaian Catholic Priest added, “The other aspect of the tent cloth is the ability to stretch outwards and this is important because if the tent is able to stretch outwards, it's almost unlimited in its ability to expand, and to include and to bring other people into its fold.”

“One of the things that DCS says about the tent cloth is the fact that it seems to be sometimes not so close and open so there is this ability for people to keep coming, and going openly as it were and that, you know is an image also of the openness of the Church to embrace as many people as possible,” he further said. 

The member of the Clergy of Ghana’s Accra Archdiocese continued, “The Church in Africa is supposed to be like one that protects and, of course, in Africa, we can speak endlessly about those who are vulnerable.”

The tent cloth, he said, “is very important as an image for us and then the fact that the Church needs to continue to be open. Pope Francis has increasingly spoken about the Church being able to reach out to the peripheries.”

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The Biblical Scholar went on to highlight the second image, that of the tent rope, which he said “holds the cloth together and balances the tensions”.

“The dimension of the rope in the architecture is that which keeps it (the tent) together so that when there are winds and when there are storms and when things seem to be going wrong, the rope is that which holds the (tent) cloth together and keeps us protected,” Fr. Mensah said.

The lecturer of Biblical studies at the department for the Study of Religions in the University of Ghana, Legon further said, “The tent peg is what anchors the structure so it keeps it solidly fixed to the ground.”

He went on to share about “other” interpretations of the image of a tent, highlighting the challenge.

He said, “One of the problems with the image of the tent, it appears, was that it really evoked sentiments of distress, of suffering, of pain because in a certain sense what Africans associate with the tent is the refugees, the migrants, and the displaced.”


There is need for the tent image to be taken cautiously, Fr. Mensah said, cautioning that the image “could open old wounds for some people”.

“Perhaps it brings to mind the number of displacements that have occurred on the African continent as a result of war,” he said, and explained, “We know when our brothers and sisters who braved the Mediterranean to cross into Europe, they're kept in tents.”

The Catholic Priest continued, “In Africa the human agent is far more important than any material reality. So, when I look at a tent as an African, I'm not looking at the architecture of the tent; I'm looking at who dwells in the tent. That is more important for me as an African, not the architecture.”

Also addressing participants in the February 25 virtual event, the Secretary General of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) provided a brief summary of DCS.

“We are all aware that Pope Francis has called us to embark on this special journey called Synod on Synodality, focusing on three pillars, communion, participation and mission. This synod is a unique one and it has a special methodology. It's a call to journey together,” Fr. Anthony Makunde said.

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DCS, Fr. Makunde said, “is the result of a group reflection on the syntheses submitted to the Vatican by 112 Bishops’ Conferences and 15 Oriental Catholic Churches of the questions raised during the local and national listening sessions held in 2022, plus reflections from 17 out of 23 Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, from the men’s and women’s international unions of Superiors General, and from Catholic lay associations and movements.”

“One thing to be clear about is that the document does not endorse the position of any particular area, whether Africa, Latin America, in America itself or Europe or Asia,” the Secretary General of the Nairobi-based Secretariat further said.

He described DCS as “a general document that brought together the fruits from all the continents”, and that it carries the “hopes and concerns of the people of God across the globe.”

“The document for the Continental Stage is not conclusive,” Fr. Makunde cautioned, and explained, “What we experience when we were requesting people to give us a reaction will help us in the continental discussion.”

In Africa, the Tanzanian-born Catholic Priest said, members of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa & Madagascar (SECAM) are expected in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, “for a Continental Synod Assembly from the 1st to 6th March 2023.”

“We are still in the process because people will say now, we have the document we just wait for the Pope to endorse it and we are done. No, it's not a document of the Church's magisterium; it is a working document,” Fr. Makunde said February 25.

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.