The bishops of the Catholic Church in Southern Africa gathered for their plenary session under the theme “Synodality” at Khanya House (SACBC national headquarters) in Pretoria from the 23rd to the 30th of January 2024. Having prayerfully reflected in a synodal way on issues affecting the Church and the state of the nation in South Africa, they issued this Communiqué:
In his opening Presidential Address, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka highlighted the positive matric results of 2023 and congratulated the Department for Basic Education on this achievement. He also referred to the troubling economic situation of the country and the negative impact that it is having on the lives of many South Africans.
He expressed gratitude for the fact that in this post-COVID period, the number of congregants at Services of Worship has increased and that usual activities were returning in churches. Of concern is that a number of priests are not well trained in Catechesis, and he encouraged further specialization of priests in this area. The President applauded the renewed efforts for the inculturation of faith and the work of the Theological Advisory Commission.
During the eight-day meeting, the Bishops, who are from South Africa, Botswana, and Eswatini, addressed matters concerning faith formation, laity, ongoing formation of clergy, theological studies on, and a pastoral response to, the complex issue of gender fluidity which will be further discussed and informed by professional input, the upcoming general elections in South Africa, the Synod on Synodality, the financial state of the Bishops’ Conference, working towards a self-sufficient Church, as well as pastoral matters at the diocesan level. In terms of ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue, it was resolved that every diocese should establish an ecumenical/inter-faith committee to facilitate dialogue on a local level.
In keeping with the theme of the January plenary session, the bishops discussed matters concerning the ongoing formation of the Clergy recommended by the Synod on Synodality at the end of the first session in October 2023. It was resolved that recently ordained priests be encouraged to be actively involved with and participate in the programme organised for their ongoing formation (AGROP).
The bishops also discussed matters concerning the ongoing formation of the laity, especially in terms of a missionary spirituality as envisaged by the Synod on Synodality, through the existing sodalities and processes of parishes. Discussions were held on the need to provide new opportunities for priests, Religious and laity in their formation, and Catholic Education. Regarding the Vatican document on blessings of persons in irregular unions Fiducia Supplicans, the bishops agreed that the stipulations of the Declaration be implemented with prudence.
The January plenary session was the first meeting of the Catholic bishops of Southern Africa since the end of its first session of the 16th General Assembly of Bishops on Synodality. A full day was reserved for reports on the Synod delivered by the SACBC Synod delegates together with two Religious Sisters and two bishops who facilitated the conversation in the spirit of the methodology used at the Synod.
Bishops were divided into four groups to reflect on two points: How can we be a synodal Church in mission? How can we enhance the differentiated co-responsibility in the mission of all the members of the People of God? The bishops are to finalise a report by the end of April which is to be sent to Rome by May 15.
THE 2024 GENERAL ELECTIONS AND THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH
In preparation for the general elections in South Africa, the Justice and Peace Commission held a panel discussion on the state of the nation. During the session bishops emphasised that the Church is called to proclaim the Good News and to be a source of hope to people among all the serious challenges facing the country; however, it cannot offer false hope. A Pastoral Letter will be issued to the country encouraging those who are entitled to vote, to vote and to vote according to their consciences and informed by Catholic Social Teaching.
CONFLICT IN ISRAEL, PALESTINE, AND GAZA
The bishops commended the South African government for the principled approach to the International Court of Justice for the protection of innocent lives. They made a strong appeal to those involved in this tragic conflict, as well as those supporting it, to honour the decisions of the International Court of Justice. Peace can only be established with the total cessation of hostilities and a just settlement for all the peoples of the Holy Land.
Cardinal Stephen Brislin
Spokesperson SACBC 30 January 2024