IMBISA Tasks Theologians to “shed light” on Traditional Initiation, Polygamy in Africa

Credit: IMBISA

Members of the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA), who include Catholic Bishops in nine countries of Southern Africa have tasked theologians in the region to “shed light” on the practices of traditional initiation and polygamy.

In the Synod on Synodality’s “synthesis report” that the Vatican released on October 28 night, the leadership of the people of God in Africa was called upon “to promote theological and pastoral discernment on the issue of polygamy and the accompaniment of people in polygamous unions coming to faith.”

The stance of the Catholic Church on polygamy in relation to the Church’s understanding of the institution of marriage and the Sacrament of Matrimony, and reflections on ways of journeying with persons in situations of polygamy in Africa are likely to characterize the theological discernment and pastoral discernment respectively. 

In a statement published Wednesday, December 6, IMBISA officials highlight deliberations of the five-day Synodality Meeting that concluded on December 1. 

Held at at Padre Pio Retreat Center in South Africa’s Pretoria Archdiocese under the theme, “Deepening Synodal Engagements”, the meeting brought together “theologians, the contact persons of the Episcopal Conferences”, and two delegates who participated in the October 4-29 XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, Archbishop Robert Ndlovu of Harare in Zimbabwe and Bishop John Tlhomola of Mohale’s Hoek, Lesotho. 


The meeting aimed “to shed light on the ecclesiastical region’s synodal activities and invite engagement to live and deepen what was discussed at the Synod.”

“Participants reflected on various aspects of the synod, with synod delegates sharing their experience at the synod and contact persons their conferences’ perceptions and lessons of the synodal process,” IMBISA officials report.

During the meeting, they add, “Theologians presented papers on the involvement of young people in the Church, the family and synodal conversion and illness and healing in a synodal church.”

IMBISA officials go on to highlight what needs to be addressed, saying, “The main challenges in our region include paying attention to the place of traditional initiation and healing of traditional marriage, especially polygamy, and the pastoral care of those who are intimately involved with these.” 

In this regard, Catholic Bishops from Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, São Tomé and Príncipe, South Africa, and Zimbabwe “call on theologians in our region to engage in a dialogue with those who are on the same road with us in this regard.”

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“The synodal journey is trying to build a Church that embraces a synodal style and we are called to work out the most suitable ways to make this a reality,” they further report, and continue, “It is an achievement that the faithful are gathered and are searching for a way of journeying together. At the same time it is not easy to listen to different ideas without immediately countering the views expressed and impose a better idea.”

In the statement, IMBISA officials call upon the people of God in the region to engage in “open dialogue” to realize the spirit of Synodality.

“We encourage all members of the church in our region to engage in open dialogue and deep listening and invite clergy and their communities to open the doors so that we can live out Synodality,” they say. 

They underscore the value of “open dialogue and deep listening”, saying that “only in this way will we be walking together as those on the road to Emmaus, fragile yet faithful as we are in this family of God, our Church.”

The nine-nation Catholic Bishops “recommend that all local churches in our region engage the youth so that they are empowered and encouraged to participate in church life and so be protagonists of evangelisation in their circle.” 


Working with young people, IMBISA officials say, “includes working with them to remove the stigma of seeking help in the psycho-spiritual sphere.”

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