General, Synod


By Fr. José Brinco, Diocese of Benguela, Angola

Greetings to everyone who is connected to this Video-Conference. To all, Bishops, Priests, Religious, Christian faithful, ‘Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’ (cf. Gal1, 3).

This conference on the ‘theological relevance of the synodal walk of the Diocese of Benguela (1997-2002) in the light of The Synod 2021-2022’ takes place in a social and ecclesial context: it is Easter time, we have just celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, in some countries also Mother’s Day. Here in Benguela, May is the month of the Patroness of Cova de Iria (13 May), the month of Diocesanity, the opening of which took place this past Sunday in the Municipality of Caimbambo; it is the month of the foundation of the City of Benguela some 405 years ago on May 17th.

The pastoral program of Pope Francis, outlined in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (2013) has sparked a redoubled interest in the process of ‘missionary’ conversion, in view of a constituent synodal church.

Synodality is related to key concepts of the Second Vatican Council, such as the communion of the faithful and the episcopal communion which both flow into the communion among particular Churches. Synodality rests its foundations on pillars on the conciliar doctrine of chapters II and III of Lumen Gentium. On the one hand, there is the ‘sensus fidei’ of the whole people of God (LG 12), and on the other, apostolic and sacramental collegiality of the bishops in communion with Rome (LG 22-23).

The proper articulation of the two dimensions (hierarchical and charismatic) of the people of God help not only to creatively rethink the ecclesial processes of interaction and common bonds between “decision-making” and “decision-taking”, but also to rediscover the eschatological sense of the historical-pastoral trajectory of the Eucharistic, Marian and Missionary Church particular to Benguela.

The Diocese of Benguela celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its existence (1970- 2020), at the same moment in which the universal Church was celebrating the fifty-fifth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council (1965-2020). Created by Pope Paul VI, the Church of Benguela was urged to take the first steps in its pilgrimage of faith at the dawn of that new ecclesial atmosphere, deeply marked by the reforms of the Council, the cornerstone of the 20th century and a ‘sure compass for the Church’s path in the 21st century’.

Thus, more than fifty years after the reception of the Second Vatican Council and the synodal journey of the Diocese of Benguela, it is necessary, in light of Synod 2023, to reflect upon the fundamental aspects of the conciliar reform of the Church in order to illuminate with the light of faith the synodal experiences already lived in the Diocese of Benguela, sharing the fruits, the difficulties and challenges, joys and hopes of “walking together”, in communion, participation and mission.

The Second Vatican Council is the great grace, the greatest gift of the Spirit to the Church of the 20th century, the cornerstone of the 20th century (John Paul II), the safe compass for the Church’s journey in the 21st century (Benedict XVI).

More than fifty years after the reception of the Second Vatican Council and the synodal journey of the Diocese of Benguela, we need to ask ourselves about the reception that the pastoral project of the Synod 2023 proposes to us: 1. What is meant by reception of a Council? 2. What is the state of the reception of the Second Vatican Council? 3. What theological scope does the synodal project of Pope Francis have in the reception of the Council?

i. The texts of a Council must be correctly interpreted and appropriated by the ecclesial community, under the guidance of the Magisterium. Theology has the mission of promoting a ‘hermeneutic of reform’, which without breaking with the past, helps to preserve the unchanging doctrine, deepen it and present it in a way that corresponds to the demands of our time.

ii. The Extraordinary Synod of 1985, convoked by John Paul II to commemorate the twenty years since the closing of the conciliar event, inaugurated a new phase of conciliar reception, marked by the re-launching of the category of communion as the guiding idea of Vatican II, followed by the articulation of the notions of communion, synodality and collegiality.

iii. Since synodality is an itinerary which is inserted in the “updating” (‘aggiornamento’) of the Council, we can think that it introduces us into a new phase of reception of the conciliar doctrine.

The Church’s synodality has as its theological foundation on the sacramental collegiality of the episcopate in hierarchical communion with the Pope and the conciliar doctrine of the Church Sensus fidei fidelium‘.

In addition to the theological paradigm of ‘communion’, Lumen Gentium designates the Church, in chapter II, with the category of ‘People of God’, and only in chapter III does it speak of the ´Hierarchical constitution of the Church’. This structure requires recognizing that both the charismatic and hierarchical reality constitute fundamental elements of the Church’s identity and its mission.

The Lord Jesus elected twelve Apostles, constituting them into a college or stable group, with Peter as their head. The Apostles left the bishops as their successors, “entrusting to them their own teaching office”. In virtue of episcopal ordination and by hierarchical communion with the head and the members of the college, the bishops are constituted into an episcopal body. Thus, episcopal power is, in its essence collegial i.e., it can only be exercised in hierarchical communion with the head and with the members of the episcopal college. Bishops only address the universal community of the faithful through an act of the entire Episcopal College, i.e, in communion with the Roman Pontiff and, in turn, the Head can only fulfil its ministry fully and truly with the support of the collegiality of the bishops.

The sacramentality of the episcopate illuminates the theological understanding of the Church as the visible sacrament of intimate union with God and of the unity of the whole human race (LG 1:9). The universal Church is the ‘communion’ of the particular Churches. Without pretending to reconstruct the well-known debate about the ontological priority of the universal Church in relation to the particularly Churches, we think with K. Rahner that the theology of the local church or the ecclesiology of the communion of churches constitutes one of the great discoveries of the Second Vatican Council.

The Church of Christ, which in the Symbol we confess to one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church, is the universal Church that has the Roman Pontiff, as perpetual and visible unity not only of the Bishops but also of the multitude of the faithful and becomes present and operating in the multiple particular expressions, each entrusted to the pastoral healing of the Bishop, the principle and visible foundation of unity in their respective churches, assisted by their presbyters.

The universal Church is not a confederation of particular Churches and consequently, the power of the college of Bishops over the whole Church is not constituted by the sum of the powers which the various bishops have over their Churches. It is the same to say that the power of the Pope and the power of the diocesan Bishop, both characterized in Pastor Aeternus with the adjectives “ordinary” and “immediate” are not, in the Diocese two parallel powers which never meet, but rather, two realities that are intimately connected, in a mysterious relationship that surpasses opposition and juxtaposition, because they are guaranteed by the celebration of the Eucharist, rooted in the collegial nature of the Episcopate and assured by the ministry of unity entrusted to Peter and his successors.

Thus, synodality requires reciprocity between the exercise of the ´sensus fidei’ and the ministry of leadership of the college of bishops which has as its head the Roman Pontiff. This is a circular interaction (‘synergy’, ‘symphony’) between the “communio hierarchica” and the “communio fidelium”.

Therefore, the process of synodal conversion requires examining how responsibility and power are lived out in the Church, converting prejudices and twisted practices that are not rooted in the Gospel. (as are for example, ‘exaggerated’ clericalism).

In a word, the synodal process requires conceiving, from the Gospel, hierarchical ministry as an ordained ‘service’ to the Holy People of God, characterized by Pope Francis with the metaphor ‘Inverted Pyramid’ and the proposal of the exercise of a ‘Synodal and diaconal primacy’ at the service of communion and unity of the whole human race: ‘Ut unum sint‘ (cf. Jn 17:21).

The synodal journey of the Church in Benguela as part of the synodal journey?
As the Church of Benguela is a “portion” of the universal Church, the historic pastoral itinerary can be seen as an integral part of the synodal journey of the universal Church, whose driving force was the Second Vatican Council.

How can we describe this process of pilgrimage in Benguela, guided by the Holy Spirit under diocesan guidance? What theological ‘re-reading‘ can be done of the experiences of ‘communion, participation and mission’, lived during the diocesan programme (1970-2022), under diocesan Pastors, as members of the Episcopal College in hierarchical communion with the head, the Holy Father?

Without claiming to cover all the apostolic activity of the Popes of the post-conciliar era, we will highlight some aspects of the Pontificate of Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis which, in our opinion, can shed light on the process of pastoral conversion carried out by the Diocese of Benguela.
Before dealing with the pastoral particularities of each Pope, we will cover common aspects:
a. Pastoral program deeply rooted in the spirit and doctrine of the Second Vatican Council;
b. Concern for the inculturation of the Gospel in Africa;
c. The promotion of synodality in Africa;
d. Apostolic Visits to African countries for the purpose of ‘confirming in the faith’ and 5 promoting the synodality of Bishops, as was the case with the institutionalization of SECAM (1969), the First and Second Special Assemblies for Africa (1995, 2005), the Meetings of the Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, the Lineamenta and the signing of Post-Apostolic Exhortations.

In the context of synodality, it is important to highlight some events at the level of the universal Church that determined the identity of the diocese as defined by Bishop Óscar Braga, II Bishop, in the Diocesan Synod (1997- 2002), as being a “MOTHER” Church, that is, “Marian, Ad Gentes (Missionary) and Eucharistic “MÃE”:
i. Pope Paul VI, on June 6, 1970, in l ‘Omnimode Solliciti‘, created the Diocese of Benguela, naming Bishop Armando Amaral dos Santos (1970-1973), as the first bishop, five years after the solemn closure of the Second Vatican Council and five days after (June 1st, 1970) the historic meeting of the Pope with the main leaders of the liberation movements of three Portuguese-speaking countries: Antonio Agostinho Neto, MPLA Angola, Amilcar Cabral (PAIGC Cape Verde and Guinee Bissau) and Marcelino dos Santos (FRELIMO – Mozambique)

ii. The Diocese of Benguela is a Marian Church: Named first Bishop of Benguela, Armando Amaral dos Santos (1970-1973), strove to make Benguela a particular Church rooted in Christ and essentially Marian, by marking some of the tourist sites of the province with images of Our Lady (images of Our Lady of Aparecida, Our Lady of Lourdes), brought from Fatima and Latin America, blessed by him in the Capelinha das Aparições. In our view, this is a Marian spirituality that the bishop inherited from Pope Paul VI, who, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Apparitions at Fatima (1917-1967), on May 13, was in Cova da Iria to participate in the candlelight procession, a visit that was renewed by Benedict XVI in 2010, on the centennial celebration of the Apparitions.

D. Óscar Braga, the II Bishop of Diocese of Benguela, during the time of its episcopal ministry in diocese, made it possible to participate in almost all candlelight processions 13 May in Fatima. D. António Francisco Jaca, current Bishop of Benguela, as the pastoral project of the Diocesanity aims to invite all diocesans to recover not only the identity of the diocese to which they belong, but also to revive the feasts of the Of Our Lady of Grace, the festivities of Our Lady of Sailors and the traditional candle processions on the Eve of the Day of the Apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima. D. Oscar, throughout his episcopal ministry as second Bishop of the Diocese, never missed any procession of Candles, in the Sanctuary of Fatima. D. Eugénio, III Bishop is from congregation of the Poor Servants of the Kingdom, charism with reference to the Servant of the Lord, the One who is happy because she believed (cf….). An Indelible mark of apparitions is the Cathedral of Benguela, a Church built to commemorate the fifty-year-old Apparitions and consecrated to our Lady of Fatima. I believe that the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Nampula, diocese of our deferred moderator, Fr. José da Cruz Muluta

iii. The Diocese of Benguela is a Eucharistic Church. Two Eucharistic Congresses (1989, 1995) are part of the framework of the preparation for the Celebration of the Second Christian Millennium and the experience of the Jubilee Year of Redemption (1983-84), the publication of Pastores Dabo Vobis and Redemptoris mission, etc

iv. The Diocese of Benguela is a Missionary Church: In 1978, Bishop Oscar, newly arrived in the Diocese, in preparation for the Missionary Congress held in 2006, created the Minor Seminary of St. Francis Xavier (1978), in 1986, the Section of Philosophy, and in 1995, the Section of Theology, both sections belonging to the Seminary of the Good Shepherd to form missionary priests of the diocesan clergy. This missionary enthusiasm of Bishop Braga can be seen as an inheritance of the missionary spirituality of Paul VI. During the Council, on World Mission Day 1964, Paul VI canonized, in St. Peter’s Square, the Martyrs of Uganda. Soon afterwards (1965), on the feast of St. Francis Xavier, in order to participate in the closure of the International Eucharistic Congress in Bombay, he visited India. During the Mass, celebrated in the Siro Malankara rite, the Pope, to signify the missionary spirit of the Church, consecrated bishops from the five continents.

v. The Diocese of Benguela is a synodal Church: In preparation for the Jubilee 2000, the Diocese of Benguela crossed the threshold of the third Millennium in a synodal journey (1997-2002), under the motto: “Diocesan Family, with Mary toward Christ.”

vi. Finally, the synodal journey of the Diocese bears the indelible marks of the apostolic visit of John Paul II in 1992, held at a significant time of Angola’s history: the advent of peace, the realization of elections, the celebration of the five hundred years of evangelization and preparation of the First Special Assembly of Bishops for Africa.

The experience of synodality registered in the Diocese of Benguela, along its five-year historical-pastoral trajectory is the fruit of the experience of the mystery of the Church as communion’ and ‘family’ on the part of the entire Holy People of God, it is the consequence of the reciprocal interaction (“synergy”, “symphony”, communion eclesiorum) between the exercise of the “sensus fidelium”, strengthened through the consultation of the entire People of God before, during and after the Synod of 1997-2002, held under the guiding ministry of the diocesan bishops (Bishop Armando, Bishop Óscar, Bishop Eugenio and Bishop Jaca) in ‘communio hierarchica‘ with the Roman Pontiff (Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis).

The universal Church is communion, ‘in-existence’ of local Churches. The communion of Churches is the result of a mysterious circularity between the communio episcoporum, i.e., the mission of the Bishops and the service of the successor of Peter and the communio ecclesiorum, i.e., the unity of faith of the faithful who have as its principle and foundation the Pope, in the universal Church and the Bishop in each Diocese. Thus, pastoral dynamism of the Holy Father, head of the Episcopal College and the missionary enthusiasm of diocesan Bishops, are like two faces of the same coin, an inseparable bionomy. This mysterious communion, which image of Trinitarian communion, becomes sacramentally visible in the particular Church of Benguela, gathered around its Bishop, celebrating the Eucharist in a permanent ‘outward mission’
This deep experience of the spirituality of communion, this ‘symphony’ of lived synodality (“synergy”) demands a constant missionary conversion of everything (customs, styles, schedules, language, ecclesial structure)1 and of everyone (Laity, Pastors, Bishop of Rome). In this process of reform of the ‘modus vivendi e operandi‘ of the whole People of God, in this conversion of the whole People of God into missionary disciples, the example of Mary, the handmaid of the Lord (Cf. Lk 1:38) and the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima, is a determining condition.

Fr Dr. José Brinco
Professor of Fundamental Theology
Director of the Benedict XVI Research Center
( 1 Cf. Evangelii Gaudium,27)