This booklet contains the Acts of the IMBISA Symposium on Pope Francis’ Post-Synodal Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. The word symposium comes from the Greek sumposion which refers to a “drinking party” or if one wishes to use the verbal form, sumpinō, which means, “I drink with”. The word, at least in its nominal form, appears only twice in the New Testament. Both appearances are in the same verse (Mark 6: 39) and refers to “the eating groups” at the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. One realises that Mark uses the word in the context of a Jesus who is compassionate as well as being a teacher (cf. Mk. 6:34).
Speaking of sumposion reminds us of what African men do, or at least used to do, as they sat under a tree drinking together. While the drinking was certainly key to their gathering, nevertheless the coming together expressed far more than just drinking. It meant companionship and solidarity.
Companionship precisely because that was the normal context where lots of advice and support for the men of the village could be obtained. It was a moment in which the men would keep each other updated on the latest developments in the community, i.e. outside of the formal meetings convoked by the chief or the village headman. Solidarity, because even those who were broke and thus could not afford to buy some beer were allowed to participate. Drinking together was also a sign of equality among the members of the group.
Our coming together as members of IMBISA in the Symposium on the Post-Synodal Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium should recall this typical life of African men in the villages. It is a moment of companionship and solidarity. It is a moment in which we stand ready to give and receive advice. At the same time it is a moment to update each other on the goings on in our countries and Episcopal Conferences. How has the Exhortation been received in IMBISA? What are the best ways of receiving it? How better can we do evangelisation? What are the problems encountered?
We speak of solidarity because we know that certain territories might be struggling more than others. As such therefore, a listening ear is important so that we may truly support one another. No church is perfect anyway. Even churches of ancient origin have their own struggles and shortcomings. In IMBISA we have churches that have celebrated five hundred years of evangelisation and some just having celebrated a hundred years. Both these churches can teach each other. The younger churches might even teach better if Jesus’ teaching is anything to go by: “Let the little ones come to me for unto such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:14). The methodology of Jesus is clear: “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Mt. 13: 52).
The Church in Africa has a duty and indeed the right to speak of the experience of her faith. She should not be muzzled and neither should she engage in self-censorship. The Symposium on Evangelii Gaudium took place in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some participants were able to travel to the venue and be physically present whilst others remained at home and joined via video-link. Either way, we were together and shared much. The acts of the Symposium have now been collated and placed in this booklet for future reference as well as for providing vital assistance to other persons engaged in evangelisation.
On behalf of IMBISA I hereby express my sincere gratitude to all who contributed papers and shared their experiences during the Symposium. Sincere thanks goes also to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops who provided the financial means for hosting the Symposium and printing this booklet.
Fr. Dumisani Vilakati
Director of the IMBISA Secretariat