“Abstract topic”: Archbishop, Others on Initial Misconceptions about Synodality in Africa

Members of the the African Synodality Initiative (ASI) at a workshop that was held at the headquarters of the Jesuits Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) in Nairobi, Kenya to constitute a Synodality Resource Team (SRT) which is expected to deepen the engagement on the Synod on Synodality. Credit: ACI Africa

When Catholic Bishops and Priests in Cameroon heard about the Synod on Synodality, which Pope Francis launched in October 2021, some of them flatly opposed it.

The International Theological Commission in 2018 defined Synodality as “the action of the Spirit in the communion of the Body of Christ and in the missionary journey of the People of God.”

Those who did not want anything to do with the Synod on Synodality said that Cameroon had “more important” issues to talk about, including the Anglophone crisis and the country’s economic crisis that had resulted from the violence in the country’s English-speaking region.

In a Wednesday, March 15 interview with ACI Africa, Archbishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya of the Catholic Archdiocese of Bamenda in Cameroon said that some members of Clergy in the Central African nation saw the Synod on Synodality as “an abstract topic”, and that it had taken continuous training of the Clergy to create a significant understanding of a Synodal Church in the country.

Archbishop Andrew Nkea Ifuanya of Cameroon's Archdiocese of Bamenda attending a Synodality Resources Team workshop in Nairobi. Credit: ACI Africa


“When Pope Francis launched the Synod on Synodality, the first thing that the Bishops in Cameroon did was to ask about its relevance. They said that Cameroon was facing more serious issues and couldn't afford to waste time on a topic they said was abstract,” Archbishop Nkea said.

He added, “We had to make formation on synod on Synodality compulsory for the Clergy to create a clear understanding around it. It was only later that they began to understand its relevance.”

Members of the Clergy, the Archbishop of Bamenda said, also struggled to see how the Laity would be involved in the decision-making processes of the Church. 

The concept of listening, communion and participation was alien to the Church which had, for long, been clerical in nature, he said referencing the theme of the Synod on Synodality that entails answers to: How does our church community form people to be more capable of “walking together,” listening to one another, participating in mission, and engaging in dialogue?

The Local Ordinary of Bamenda Archdiocese who doubles as the President of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon (NECC) spoke to ACI Africa on the sidelines of a workshop that was organized by the African Synodality Initiative (ASI) at the headquarters of the Jesuits Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM), Africama House in Nairobi, Kenya.

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Credit: ACI Africa

ASI, which is a partnership of JCAM, the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), and the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA), held the workshop partly to constitute a Synodality Resource Team (SRT),  which is expected to deepen the engagement on the Synod on Synodality.

On the first day of the SRT workshop, participants shared their experiences with the Synod on Synodality since its launch, as well as their involvement in promoting Synodal engagements. They shared the main obstacles that impeded Synodal conversations in Africa.

The participants who were drawn from various African countries, including Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Zimbabwe, and Kenya also explored what Synodal leadership entails, as well as the profile of a Synodal leader.

In the March 15 interview with ACI Africa, Archbishop Nkea who started his Episcopal Ministry in August 2013 as the Coadjutor Bishop of Cameroon’s Mamfe Diocese said that some members of Clergy, at the beginning, had expressed fear that the Synod on Synodality had come to transfer “their power” to the Laity.


“It was clear that the Clergy feared, for some reason, losing their power. They saw the Synod on Synodality as a way to transfer the power to the Laity. They opposed the process, seeing it as a way to democratize the Church. And they started fighting the process. In some Parishes, Priests said that they didn't want to hear the mention of Synodality,” the Archbishop who has been at the helm of Bamenda Archdiocese since February 2020 said.

On her part, Laurene Oluoch a journalist the Catholic Information Service for Africa (CISA) said that she had interacted with people who saw the Synod on Synodality as an opportunity to air their long bottled-up grievances about what they thought was not going on well in the Church.

“It was like a moment to disparage the Church, especially in the remote places where we went to speak to Christians,” Ms. Oluoch said.

The Nairobi-based Catholic journalist added, “It was like a moment for the Laity to finally take over. Priests, on the other hand, needed to be reminded that they were not losing their ‘power’ to the Laity.”

Bishop Willybard Lagho of Kenya’s Diocese of Malindi shared that he had leant that the Synod on Synodality was not a new concept, especially in Africa where he said the Catholic Church has embraced the new way of being church in Small Christian Communities (SCCs).

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Bishop Lagho said that a key aspect of SCCs is sharing the word of God and listening to each other, factors he said are similar to what the Synod on Synodality proposes.

The Bishop of Malindi, however, expressed concern that up to now, some members of the Clergy have not internalized the process of the Synod on Synodality. “I feel they consider it as an external phenomenon rather than an internal process,” he said.

To the Kenyan Catholic Bishop, some people in the Church see the Synod on Synodality as a time-bound process that will eventually come to an end.

He underlined the need for the Clergy and Laity to understand that no one in the Church is too illiterate to air their views in the Synod on Synodality, which he described as “a time for those who have been silent for too long to speak out for the first time.”

Fr. Marcel Uwineza, the Principal of the Kenya-based Hekima University College shared his experience of the Synod on Synodality through encounters with other people, saying, “I experienced the pain of families who shared about their children struggling with their sexuality.”

Fr. Marcel Uwineza, the Principal of Hekima University College at the JCAM headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. Credit: ACI Africa

The Rwandese Catholic Priest said that he had organized seminars about the Synod on Synodality at Hekima University College, and has had Jesuit Priests go to share experiences of Synodality in India and in Rome.

As for Gertrude Chimange, a Catholic Lay woman working with the Zimbabwe Community Development Foundation Trust, her experience with the Synodality had started with her first listening to herself, and finding healing.

“I gradually learnt that it was something more than picking the bad we have seen in the Church. To me, the Synod on Synodality has also been a healing process,” Gertrude said.

She described herself as “a survivor of some of the negative aspects of a Church that didn't listen”, and added, “As women, we have for a long time had no voice in the Church.”

Philomena Mwaura, a lecturer at Kenyan-based Kenyatta University (KU) shared that she had taken personal initiative to learn as much as she could about the Synodal Church

She said that when the Synod on Synodality was announced, her SCC community offered off-hand formation, and that not everyone had internalized what it entailed.

“When the Synod on Synodality was announced we were taught about the process in our Small Christian Community. The challenge was that everything about it was packed in just a few hours, and not everyone understood its depth,” Philomena said.

She added that her parish went ahead to mobilize all groups for seminars on the Synod on Synodality. Additionally, a questionnaire was administered for people to participate in it.

“I was later invited to participate in the development of the working Document for the Continental Stage. This exposed me to a lot of material on the Synod on Synodality. I worked in groups from across the continent and enjoyed the richness of what was shared concerning other people’s experiences with the Synod,” the KU lecturer said on March 15.

She added, “I also participated extensively in the ASI sessions and built up my understanding of what it means to be a Synodal Church.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.