Toward the 2009 Africa Synod: An Interview with Fr. Pius Rutechura

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AFJN recently facilitated Fr. Pius Rutechura’s visit to Washington, DC.  He is the secretary general of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) which extends from Sudan to Zambia, headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. Fr. Rocco was able to interview him regarding the upcoming African Synod to be held in Rome from October 5th to 25th.

Preparation for this Synod has been ongoing for the past three years.  What has interested the churches on the grassroots level the most with the theme of this Synod focused on Reconciliation, Justice, and Peace?

Following from the first African Synod, we wished to review the concept of the Church as Family of God and Diaconia (Service to others) being entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation, justice, and peace.  There is the awareness of being sent forth to bring about justice and peace as part of proclaiming the kingdom of God.  It is a very timely topic due to the many conflicts that are happening in Africa.  It can be a real challenge for the Church to become this instrument of reconciliation, peace, and justice for the people of Africa.

How has the preparation for this synod happened in the AMECEA region? 

We were able to make great use of the media, especially through a media news service housed in Nairobi.  Once we received the guiding document called the Lineamenta, we were able to quickly translate it into languages of the region, such as Swahil  and others regional languages.  There were many attempts to study and respond to the questionnaire found in this guiding document in national, diocesan, and local groups, and among religious communities and movements.

All of the eight AMECEA national conferences responded to the issues that were pertinent to their situation, some examples being: Uganda focused on the long standing conflict in the north with its need for reconciliation and peace; Kenya reviewed the violence of last year with the hope of focusing on the values of belongingness as opposed to ethnicity; and Ethiopia looked at what it means to be a Christian Church and persons of peace as a minority in that country.  All the various particular insights from each country found a place in the summary. Then all these responses were sent to the eight national episcopal conferences of AMECEA where synthesis’ were put together and sent to the preparatory committee by October 2008 in Rome.

As a region, we went a step further and called together the 48 delegates to the Synod from the AMECEA region in March 2009 and held a workshop with the help of CRS to shape the prophetic voice of the region.  It became an important effort that better articulated issues from the preparatory documentation and also captured some gaps that may have come from the individual responses previously sent.  Two such topics were on women and youth issues.  Through that workshop, the bishops appointed a team of advisors from the region that will accompany them to the Synod.  This team will work on these issues, before, during and after the Synod.  One thing we learned from the first Synod in 1994 was that not much follow-up post-Synod was planned and executed.  Much was left to individual initiative, and lack of coordination and direction resulted in little follow-up. The report from this meeting was sent to all the bishops throughout Africa for their information.

And then there was the presentation of the working document for the Synod, called the Instrumentum Laboris.  Pope Benedict travelled to Cameroon to present this document to the Church in Africa and most of the Bishop Presidents of the conferences of AMECEA traveled to Cameroon for that step.  Now each episcopal conference is in the process of studying this working document and bringing together their findings and issues to the advisory team through the AMECEA Secretariat.  The Advisory team will then meet in September before traveling to Rome to further distill input that comes from the many Justice and Peace Networks working on conflict and reconciliation, including Ecumenical groups and other non-governmental groups.

What do you hope will come out of this Synod?

What I hope for is that we are able to become a church that is credible, more visible, and proactive when addressing issues of justice, reconciliation, and peace as integral parts of the mission of the Church.  We hope for a church that steps up and makes efforts to reconciling African societies.  We want a church that would have perimeters of justice within itself as well as among all peoples.  Peace needs to be fostered as a virtue, as Jesus desired, which the world cannot give. If this can happen, we can reach our goal.

In the past, AFJN has been very connected to the hopes and struggles of our contacts on the continent.  Over the past two years, we have tried to link with those of you in the African Church to keep our members up to date on your preparations for the Synod.  Do you have any thoughts on how to improve those links?

We need to take into consideration the challenges we still have on the continent when it comes to electricity and internet.  We use printed material for the most part.  All of our summaries and publications are in print only.   However, I have learned during this visit that there may be ways to have you spread these studies through the networks you are part of, scanning material and making it available on various websites.  We can try to initiate this and see if it improves the situation.  But, I would recommend encouraging visits, personal exchanges, and discussions on issues that we all are concerned about.  It would become a balance between the modern means of communication and the human face.  So, I do hope to see you at the Synod in October!

This article by Fr. Rocco Puopolo s.x., AFJN’s Executive Director, was first published in our July-August, 2009 newsletter

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