Father José Joaquim, MCCJ, Mozambique
LISTENING WITH AN OPEN MIND AND HEART: THE CONTRIBUTION OF THE AFRICAN PALAVER TO THE PROCESS OF PREPARING THE SYNOD ON SYNODALITY
First, I would like to applaud this initiative of the Pastoral Department of the IMBISA Secretariat who give us the opportunity to deepen and share theological approaches and hermeneutic approaches to enrich the process of preparing for the synod on synodality.
The first part of the theme of my presentation (“listening with open mind and heart”) draws from the first words of the second core of reflection questions in preparation for the next synod: Listening is the first step, but it requires that the mind and heart be open. And the second part of the theme (“the contribution of the African palaver to the process of preparing the synod on synodality”) aims to stimulate the debate about contributions that African cultures can bring to the synodal process.
The main motivation to deepen the present theme lies in the importance of listening in a multi-contextual ecclesial life, indeed, a synodal life. Moreover, this reflection is justified by the tendency of Christians to being lukewarm and to indifference to the realities of structural sin, on the one hand, and on the other, to deafness and monology, which tend to characterize the presence of the Church in today’s world.
Regarding lukewarmness and indifference: On 8 October 2012, during the opening ceremonies of the Synod of Bishops for the new Evangelization, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI referred to warm and indifferent Christians as a real obstacle to the Church’s mission. This attitude of Christians is partly due to the lack of ad intra listening (among the various members of the Church) and ad extra (towards the other religions and the various areas of sociocultural life).
Concerning deafness and monology, Pope Francis, in his message for the 56th World Communications Day of this year, affirms that the Church is at risk of losing the ability to listen to the people in front of her, the ability to interact with her children, both in the normal web of daily relationships and in debates on the most important issues of civil and ecclesial coexistence.
Therefore, the Church tends to become deaf and monolog: deaf because we hear little; and monolog because we speak alone and about ourselves, with discourses that do not always interest our interlocutor. As a consequence to the lack of ad intra and ad extra listening, the Church runs the risk of becoming irrelevant, without a clear and strong role for people, because they consider her a voice that does not dialogue with the various contexts. In Africa, and in the world at large, there are groups that do not need so much argument about the Christian faith, but of listening, dialogue and relationships that indicate how and where they can find the meaning of life. And to this end, in my view, the African palaver can contribute with its methodology and procedures for the Church to embrace the spirituality of intra and ad extra listening.
My sharing is inspired by the African theological method of reflection which consists in the following:
1) Presenting the theme from a biblical or doctrinal point of view;
2) Exposition of cultural African elements that may assist in developing the theme;
3) Concrete proposals as to how African elements can be useful and concrete to the theme
1. Listen in Sacred Scripture
An in-depth study of listening in Sacred Scripture would lead us to develop a pragmatic theology understood as a reflection of the implications of listening or not listening to the Church. However, given the nature of this presentation, we take only THE SHEMÁ ISRAEL (Listen Israel) as the basis for our reflection, with the sole purpose of basing the theme from the biblical texts.
Shemá is a term of polysemic nature, that is, it can present several senses according to the context in which it appears in the Bible. Alonso Schökel identifies the following meanings: hearing, listening, attending, paying attention, obeying. For Yarden, SHEMA means: to accept, observe, to know, to comprehend, to understand, to accept, and to receive. The Greek version of the Old Testament (the LXX) translates the Hebrew term SHEMÁ by AKOUO, in the imperative (hear, listen, know). In addition, to AKOUO, SHEMÁ is also translated in the LXX by its compounds, especially HYPAKOUO (give attention, obey) and EPAKOUO (listen, grant). It should also be noted that, both in the Masoretic biblical text and in the biblical text of the Septuagint, the verb “listening” was used in the imperative to signify that, for Israel, listening is an order, not a simple invitation. Therefore, it is imperative that Israel listen so that it can continue to be the People of God.
The ear and the heart are the privileged organs for people’s relationships with each other and with God. These organs exercise a religious and social function. So, for the Israelite to relate well to God and others, he is exhorted to give his ear (Hebrew: ARELÁ AZNAM, Jer 6, 10) and to circumcise the heart as well (in Hebrew: UMALTEM ET ARLAT LVAVKEM, Dt 10, 16). In this context, circumcise the ear and the heart means listening with open mind and heart.
In the Old Testament, the space reserved for listening to the people in relation to the life of the community was called KAHAL (the Hebrew term meaning assembly). KAHAL was characterized by free and open interaction between the Israelites about their religious and social life (Gen 49:6; Dt 9, 10; Pr 26, 26).
As for listening in the NT, it should be noted that just as God called all the people of Israel to listen, in Jesus all generations are called to live the SHEMÁ as a first commandment. In the NT listening is the path that leads to mercy, one of the main characteristics of God’s relationship with people and among themselves. It is only by fulfilling the SHEMÁ that one can incarnate the same attitude of the Lord in the practice of mercy (In Greek: ÉLEOS THELO KAI OÙ THUSIAN, mercy I want, not sacrifice, Mt 12:7). Moreover, it is important to note that in the NT listening is centered on the person of Jesus, who is at the same time object and model of listening for the assembly of baptized (EKKLESIA).
2. Listening in the context of African palaver
2.1. Overall note
In this presentation the term palaver is used to designate a family or tribal gathering that traditional African societies hold with the aim of dealing with important issues in community life. By way of example, to the Makhuwas of Mozambique, palaver corresponds to muthukumano wananlokoni, a family meeting convened and moderated by the humu (head of the family) or by the mwene or mpewe (head of the tribe). Within the same tradition, the Bakongo from Congo and Angola have a hut (mbongi) reserved for mutual listening meetings and resolution of family conflicts, moderated by nzonzi (tribal chief). The Borana of southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya have the hayu, the moderator of the process of listening and family discussion. In all these ethnic groups, palaver serves to restore harmony and consolidate the community based on ancestral values.
In my view, the listening dynamics present in the African palaver can be useful for the process of preparing the synod on synodality. The example of the Makhuwa from Nampula, Mozambique, 7 will be referred and conform to four pertinent elements to the theme of listening: the speakers, matter for debate, the moderator and the language used
2.2. Listening dynamics in the palaver between the Makhuwas of Nampula (Mozambique)
2.2.1. Speakers in the process of listening
In the palaver of the Makhuwas (muthukumano), only the initiates intervene. Everyone actively participates in the debate with reality, experiences and the future of the community in mind. Stakeholders feel they are entrusted with the task of ensuring the continuity of the traditional values of the community. For young people, the muthukumano is an opportunity to learn to think, to address debate and to better know the life of the family or tribe, listening to the interventions of the elders. For the Makhuwas, to involves young people in muthukumano is to guarantee the future of their traditions and the legacy of the ancestors.
2.2.2. Subject of debate
Any subject matter relating to the life of the community is a matter of debate in the Muthukumano. However, the head of the family helps prioritize the issues, according to the needs of the community. It is important to highlight that the subject of debate is never theoretical, it is always pragmatic; the theory serves only to substantiate or clarify the subject, but never as a starting point for debate or sharing.
The moderator of the muthukumano is the head of the family (humu) or the king (mpewe). These, with a few exceptions, cannot delegate their role as moderators to others, not due to centralism, but because they have an overview of the life of the whole family or tribe. It is interesting to note that there is also team moderation: two or more people, along with the humu (head of the family) or mpewe (head of the tribe), moderate the muthukumano (meeting) ensuring that the theme is exhausted, and conclusion is reached. Team moderation means that everyone’s interventions are heard and considered when drawing conclusions and guidance. There is also the possibility of listening to the reactions of those present regarding the conclusion made by the moderator. For overly complex issues, several discussion sessions are expected to take place.
The style used to tell and expose subjects is narrative: proverbs, stories, metaphors and other types of comparison predominate the discussion. In addition, it is frequent to refer to ancestors to sustain some points.
In summary, listening in the palaver of the Makhuwas is characterized by:
1. Good word management, use of vocabulary accessible to all participants and use of powerful words from a persuasive point of view.
2. Respect for the perspectives and experiences of the other;
3. Strong sense of belonging to the family: only serious issues that affect the life and collective destiny of the people are debated;
4. Contextual and pragmatic themes: the points of debate concern the community and concern the day to day of the same.
5. Active participation of initiated young people.
3. Application of African listening to the process of preparing the synod on synodality
a. The Makhuwa palaver is characterized by listening to God and the ancestors. In the Church, listening by the people of God should be accompanied by the process of contextualized reading of the Word of God. Therefore, the preparation phase for the Synod should identify a process of reflection of inspired biblical texts.
b. The Makhuwa palaver prioritizes a holistic listening of internal and external reality of community. A synodal Church must listen to both the realities of the people: the socio-economic and the religious. It is necessary to listen to experiences not only those relating to the socio-economic field, but also to the experiences as members of the Church, that is, how Christians feel in the parish and in the Church in general. It would be very fruitful if episcopal conferences, dioceses and parishes produced diagnostics about the degree of satisfaction of Christians, refining listening and feedback mechanisms with questionnaires and interviews;
c. The Makhuwa palaver can persuade all present and other members of the community thanks to the knowledge that characterizes the intervention and orientations taken. Synodal listening in Africa cannot dispense with African wisdom. The guardians of African wisdom must be summoned and listened to by the Church with open hearts and ears;
d. In the Makhuwas communities, listening permeates relations with God and with others. In the Church it is appropriate to foster the spirituality of listening at the diocesan and parish level, with the animators of the group. This would boost the listening process and ensure that the attitude of listening is transversal to all parish pastors, movements and religious communities;
e. The use of adequate language in each group is demanded amongst the Makhuwa. In a truly synodal Church, it is not enough to identify groups and realities that need to be heard; it is imperative to delineate the modalities and dynamics of listening and the language used. A simple questionnaire addressed to the various groups is not enough: the youth, laity, consecrated persons, politicians, the elderly, etc. It is necessary to define for each group not only the questions, but above all the dynamics of listening and the appropriate language so that they can express themselves. And such modalities and dynamics should be permanent in the life of the Church, and not only with a view to drawing up a report on synodality.
f. The Makhuwa palaver aims to identify the possible solutions to the problems of the community, it is not a mere auscultation. In the Church, the perspectives and experiences of auscultated groups must be enhanced and taken as tools for solving the problems facing the Church in different cultural contexts;
g. The process of listening of the Makhuwas is pragmatic, not based on theories. The questions for synodal auscultation and discussion during the synod celebration phase should be pragmatic, addressing concrete realities of the Church’s life and mission today;
h. The young Makhuwa is considered by the elders as a guarantee of continuity of the values that pass from generation to generation. For our listening process, young people cannot be taken as an object of listening or mere interlocutors, but as collaborators in the listening process (co-listeners).
i. In the digital age, you must ‘unlock’ your ears to be able to listen and feel the digital man with love. That is why we need to update both African listening processes and the synod processes of auscultation so that we can listen to the new generations and take their feedback seriously.
To conclude: I find the words of Pope Francis illuminating:
“In pastoral action, the most important work is the “apostolate of the ear” – to listen before speaking, as the Apostle James exhorts: “Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak” (1:19) … Let us pray that the synodal process will be a wonderful opportunity to listen to one another… As in a choir, unity does not require uniformity, monotony, but plurality and variety of voices, polyphony. At the same time, each voice of the choir sings while listening to the other voices and in relation to the harmony of the whole. This harmony is conceived by the composer, but its realization depends on the symphony of each voice.9 For this to happen in the Church in Africa, we must welcome the African cultural richness in terms of listening., opening our minds and hearts to listen to all people and to all the realities in this continent.
9 Pope Francis, Message for the 56th World Social Communication Day.