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Walking Together

Walking Together
Bringing of the African Synod home to Malawi: Second Anniversary
September 1998

A Letter from the Episcopal Conference of Malawi to priests, men and women religious, catechists, all pastoral workers and the laity on the occasion of the 2nd Anniversary of the launching of the implementation of the resolutions by the special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops (the African Synod).

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate, Crucified and Risen, we greet and send you God’s blessings.

INTRODUCTION

On 14th September, 1998, the Church in Malawi is celebrating the 2nd Anniversary of the Launching of the Implementory Phase of the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops (the African Synod) whose theme was: The Church in Africa and her Evangelising Mission Towards the Year 2000: “You shall be my Witnesses” (Acts 1:8).

As you may well remember, this phase was marked by a very significant event, the Holy Mass, that took place on 14th September, 1996 at the CIVO Stadium in Lilongwe which the whole Church in Malawi, led by us, your Bishops, celebrated. It was marked by a Special Pastoral message again from us in a letter entitled “Walking Together in faith: Our Journey Towards the Year 2000.”

In this letter we, your Pastors, briefed you on the history of the great event for the Church in Africa, the African Synod, that took place in Rome in April 1994 at which three members of our Conference namely: Archbishop James Chiona, Bishops Felix Mkhori and Tarcisius Ziyaye participated and which was attended by Dr. Enock Timpunza Mvula representing the laity. You are also aware that the results of the Synod are summarised in a papal exhortation called “The Church in Africa” which the Pope himself handed to Africa during the month of September, 1995 at Yaounde (Cameroun), Johannesburg (South Africa) and Nairobi (Kenya). Later on, some Dioceses proceeded and launched the Synod at Diocesan level.

This was the phase the Church in Malawi celebrated on 14th September, 1996, the feast of the Triumph of the Cross.

The National African Synod Commission

Already in January, however, the Bishops’ Conference decided to establish, both on the Diocesan and National levels, a structure that would be responsible for the study and research on the five themes of the Synod and then make recommendations to the Conference on what could be implemented within the local Church. By so doing we, your Pastors, were aiming at co-ordinating our efforts in the process of implementing the recommendations of the Synod. This way of doing things was already highly recommended by the 2nd Vatican Council whereby the Council Fathers say:

The competent territorial ecclesial authority ... must in this matter, carefully and prudently consider which elements from the traditions and cultures of individual peoples might appropriately be admitted into divine worship. Adaptations which are considered useful or necessary should then be submitted to the Holy See, by whose consent they may be introduced. [1]

This Commission was formed for an initial period of two years. It consisted of experts from various fields: Canon Law, Dogmatic and Systematic Theology, Liturgy, Bible and Education.

Thanks to the Commission, the Conference came up with a three period programme from 1996 to the great Jubilee in the year 2000. Thus:

Period One: From March 1996 to Pentecost 1998

The Jubilee theme was “Jesus Christ, the one Saviour of the World yesterday, today and forever” while the theme for the implementation of the Synod was “Formation of Agents of Evangelisation; Inculturation as a process of Evangelisation; building the Church as a ‘Family of God’ through Small Christian Communities.”

Period Two: From Pentecost 1998 to Pentecost 1999

The Jubilee theme for this period is “The Holy Spirit and Mary, Mother of the Church” while that of the Synod is “Dialogue: Within the Church at all levels; dialogue with other Christian Churches (Ecumenism); dialogue with Islam and with African Traditional Religions.”

Period Three: From Pentecost into the Year 2000

In this year the Jubilee theme will be “God the Father” and the theme of the Synod shall be “Justice and Peace and Integral Development.”

From September 1995 to December 1996 the Commission, through the Pastoral Department at the Catholic Secretariat, launched a nation-wide awareness programme aimed at dissemination of the message of the Synod under its five themes of Proclamation, Inculturation, Dialogue, Justice and Peace and Communication.

As already observed this was meant to be a pre-implementory phase prior to the implementation of the three period programme aimed at merely informing the Family of God in Malawi that they be familiar with the message of the Synod. This was not an invitation to start implementing the themes of the Synod. Actual implementation was to be co-ordinated by the National Commission stage by stage through its recommendations to Bishops’ Conference and that would only begin with period one from March 1996 to Pentecost 1998.

Actually in January 1997, the Commission presented to the Bishops’ Plenary its plans on the implementation of the topic “Formation of Agents of Evangelisation.” This included week long workshops in all the seven Dioceses to Priests on the “Role of the Bible in Small Christian Communities.” These were training of Trainers’ workshops whereby priests were supposed to go back to their Parishes and train their people on how to effectively use the Bible in Small Christian Communities (SCC’s) and in their daily life since the Bible is the Word of Life. Participants also refreshed their knowledge on the nature and function of SCC’s and appropriate forms of leadership.

This programme went off very well. We thank the Pastoral Department, the National Commission and the Balaka Montfort Itinerant Group for their excellent preparations and the Dutch Montfort Fathers for funding the entire programme.

Inculturation

Guidelines

While the first programme on the formation of agents of Evangelisation is, hopefully, continuing down to the grassroots, the Conference asked the new Commission which was approved in June, 1997 to come up with Pastoral guidelines on Inculturation that would make a study of and research on this very important topic. The Commission has come up with a questionnaire to priests and selected groups of the laity which was sent out last February. The Commission is eagerly waiting for feedback on this exercise so that they can proceed with the formulation of the guidelines.

We are all aware of the importance the Synodal Fathers placed on Inculturation. They say:

Although Africa is very rich in natural resources, it remains economically poor. At the same time, it is endowed with a wealth of cultural values and priceless human qualities which it can offer to the Churches and to humanity as a whole. The Synod Fathers highlighted some of these cultural values, which are truly a providential preparation for the transmission of the Gospel.[2]

Inculturation is not a luxury, but rather a duty if Evangelization should ever take deep root in Africa. The whole life of the African needs to be inculturated: theology, liturgy, politics, art and the Church’s structures. No area should be spared. However, the same Synodal Fathers do admit that Inculturation is a “difficult and delicate task.”[3]

That was why the Council entrusted the task of Inculturation to either the Diocesan Bishop or the appropriate territorial ecclesiastical authority, such as the Bishops’ Conference and to no one individual. [4] It was for the same reason that the Conference put in place a structure at both diocesan and national levels to study and do research on the themes of the Synod including Inculturation to make recommendations to the diocesan Bishop or the Conference respectively for appropriate action.

Various Initiatives

The Conference has observed, however, that while we are still waiting for the much needed pastoral guidelines on how to go about implementing Inculturation, various parishes, dioceses, religious communities are already coming up with many initiatives in our efforts to make Evangelisation take flesh in our culture. The area that has experienced a lot of experiments for the past few years is the Holy Mass. Various cultural elements are being introduced into the Holy Mass on varying degrees. And the reaction to these well-intentioned adaptations are also varied ranging from annoyance, happiness to confusion by both the clergy and the laity. Understandably, the People of God are looking up to us, their Pastors, for guidance. As already pointed out, the Council has entrusted the ultimate guidance on these matters to either the Diocesan Bishop or, in our case, the Conference. This is because Liturgy by its nature is public, and not individual worship and the Bishop is the High Priest in the diocese. The Bishop is therefore to make sure that in his diocese the Church, through the liturgy, continues to effectively exercise the priest-hood of Christ which is two-fold namely:

1. Giving glory to the Father (or worship). This is the upward motion, and is our human action.
2. Our sanctification, which is the downward motion and it is God’s own action.

The liturgy through its prayers, songs and bodily gestures help the faithful to render effective glory to God. That is why liturgical innovations should be sanctioned by the Bishop or the Conference before the faithful have been exposed to them.

Let Us Walk Together

While the Bishops’ Conference appreciates the good intention behind all these initiatives, the Bishops have at the same time noticed with concern lack of co-ordination of our efforts in this very important, but sensitive area of inculturation. It is often the case that even the Diocesan Bishop is not adequately appraised of latest liturgical developments in his own diocese even though all the dioceses are supposed to have Commissions for the Implementation of the Synod in place.

This Mushrooming of uncoordinated efforts result in confusion for the faithful whereas the Liturgy of the Mass, by its nature, is supposed to bring about communion. This letter is therefore an invitation to you all, our pastoral co-workers, to walk together. We want to propose the following to this effect:

  1. The Bishop and his Commission to meet and asses liturgical developments, especially in the Holy Mass, in their respective diocese over the past few years.

  2. Send their findings and recommendations to the National Commission by 1st October, 1998.

  3. The National Commission to meet during October to study these diocesan reports.

  4. The National Commission to compile a report to both the Conference and the Task Force that has been entrusted with the formulation of the draft guidelines.

  5. The Task Force to take a three day retreat in order to draft the guidelines early December.

  6. The Task Force to submit the draft guidelines to the Bishop’s Plenary next June after the Theological Commission has reviewed them by next May.

We are therefore asking you to suspend new liturgical initiatives until these pastoral guidelines have been put in place so as to enable the Family of God to walk together.

Gratitude

Let us conclude by thanking each one of you for the great love you show for the Church and your desire to see her flourish. Our letter is meant to support and encourage you and not to stifle your efforts. We are merely calling for co-ordination and co-operation since Liturgy is the Church’s public worship.

The Catholic Church in Malawi has been able to achieve so much under 100 years because of the co-operation that has been there between her faithfuls and pastors. May this continue with God’s help.

May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellow- ship of the Holy Spirit be with us all in our journey towards the Year 2000.

M. Rev. James Chiona Archbishop of Blantyre
Rt. Rev. Felix E. Mkhori Bishop of Chikwawa
Rt. Rev. Alessandro Assolari Bishop of Mangochi
Rt. Rev. Allan Chamgwera Bishop of Zomba
Rt. Rev. Gervasio M. Chisendera Bishop of Dedza
Rt. Rev. Tarcizius G. Ziyaye Bishop of Lilongwe
Rt. Rev. Joseph M. Zuza Bishop of Mzuzu
Rt. Rev. Remi G. Ste-Marie Auxiliary Bishop of Dedza

Notes

[1] A Flannery, O.P. VATICAN COUNCIL II, Sacred Liturgy No. 40, 1992.
[2] Ecclesia in Africa 42.
[3]Ibid 62.
[4] VATICAN II Sacred Liturgy 22.