The Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) is preparing to celebrate its 13th Plenary Assembly from 22 to 27 September 2022 in Windhoek, Namibia. The theme is: Building forward together-Reimagining the Church’s Engagement with young people in the IMBISA Region in light of Pope Francis’ exhortation Christus Vivit.
This Plenary will have the participation of representatives from the young people in the nine countries that are part of IMBISA region.
The Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium defines the Church as the people of God on the move by stating that “Thus the whole Church appears as “a people united by the unity of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (LG 4). The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa also defines the Church in Africa as the family of God (EA 63), a thought taken up in the Kampala Document.
In the family everyone is important, in fact this is the spirit of the Synod on Synodality convened by Pope Francis under the theme: For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission, whose preparation process aims to involve everyone. Walking together has been the spirit of IMBISA since its foundation, which is now growing towards its Golden Jubilee.
Guided by the same spirit of the Church as a Family and seeking to consolidate the synodality the bishops in the IMBISA region have thought of inviting young people to their next Plenary Assembly in Windhoek. It is typical of a good family that all members are involved in the events that concern the family, each member according to his or her place. Like the Holy Trinity, where there is no confusion or overlapping of roles, as the three divine persons interpenetrate each other in a harmonious relationship. In the Holy Trinity the Father relates to the Son with the paternal spirit and the Son with the Father with the filial spirit. Therefore, the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is always present.
The same is true in the family, parents act as parents. They interact with their children with the paternal spirit, in turn, the children act as children, that is, they interact with the parents with the filial spirit. What unites parents and children, or what is always present in parents and children, is the family spirit, expressed mainly by listening, valuing points of view, concerns and sharing good times and also the challenges of all the members of the family.
Young people in IMBISA region during the pre-synodal meeting that took place from 19 to 24 March 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa, expressed in their message the desire to be consulted on decisions and issues that affect young people, as well as to be guided in the performance of responsibilities and tasks. They asked that they be given the opportunity to express themselves in the Church.
It is a source of joy that young people are clamouring for inclusion or for a greater role in the life of the Church. They are not only abiding or consumers of adult decisions. They want to be an integral part of the Church today and not just in the future as is often heard. In fact, we are all the Church today, from children to adults. No social strata or age group is waiting for its turn to be the Church. Young people, with their physical vigour, their imaginative and innovative capacity can further strengthen their family, the Church because there are jobs that only adults can do and there are also those that only young people can do. There are things that adults know but, given their physical fragility, they cannot do and, in turn, young people, there are things that they do not know, but with their physical advantage knowing they can do. In general, the combination of efforts or synergy results in the strengthening or consolidation of any undertaking, in this case it is the strengthening of our family, the Church.
This unity makes us strong and as the African proverb says ‘the unity of the herd forces the lion to sleep hungry’. The letter of Saint Peter in the bible warns us to: “be sober and vigilant. The devil, your adversary, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour; resist him steadfast in the faith” (1Pt 5:8-9). Our society is called to face the demon that walks free like a roaring lion and the best antidote to this constant threat is unity, each according to their strengths.
The invitation by the Bishops of IMBISA to the young people of the southern region of Africa for the Plenary, does not only expresses their high spirit of family and synodality, but also is evidence that they are in united with Pope Francis, who, with his great spirit of pastor, set a great example of consideration for the young people, by convening a Synod for Young People, which gave rise to the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christus Vivit. The Magna Carta for Youth Ministry and the IMBISA Secretariat, inspired by the same document, created a manual entitled Manual for Pastoral Care of Young People as an instrument of communion for this region, seeking to give their contribution to the call to synodality.
In his document, the Holy Father points out to a synodal ministry for young people. Pope Francis defends a youth ministry that relies on young people, in fact, they are the protagonists.
In Sacred Scripture there are passages where young people are protagonists. As is the case of the young man who turned to Jesus concerned with eternal life, or in other words with his salvation, and Jesus interacted with him patiently and considerately (Mt 19:16-30), setting an example that everyone follows.