On the 24th of April 2023 the Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) in Portuguese called Associação Interregional dos Bispos da África Austral, which includes South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, S. Tomé and Príncipe and Zimbabwe, will be celebrating 48 years of its journey. IMBISA was founded on April 24, 1975, in Pretoria, Republic of South Africa. Undoubtedly, it is a long journey in the experience of synodality.
On the occasion of the 46th anniversary of IMBISA, I wrote that the literature concerning the life of IMBISA indicates that the search for communion and pastoral cooperation between its members and beyond (cfr. Statutes of IMBISA) is at the origin of the creation of IMBISA. I also wrote; that this purpose meets the prayer of Jesus in the Gospel of John; “that they may be one” (Jn 17,21) so that the world may believe. This had as a galvanizing factor in the Second Vatican Council and the 1983 Code of Canon Law that encourage the union of efforts to spread the Good News and fight against the evil one. Because with Vatican II, the ecclesiology of communion gained a great impetus. Pope Francis never ceases to insist on Synodality, moreover, our Catholic Church is committed to the process of synodal listening, which will have its moment of final discernment in October 2024.
The current stage of the association encourages the assertion that the purpose has taken shape, and that IMBISA has reached a certain maturity. And I posed the challenge of reflecting the communion of the members, therefore, at the base, the communion of the local churches. The fellowship enjoyed by IMBISA members should ideally also be experienced at the level of their local churches.
This time I am pleased to say that this step is beginning to be taken. What encourages me to say this is the desire and request expressed by the young people of IMBISA Region. The IMBISA Plenary held from 22 to 27 September 2022 in Windhoek, Namibia which had as its theme Building Together – Reimagining the Church’s Engagement with Young People in the IMBISA region in light of the Exhortation of Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, the Bishops invited two young people from each IMBISA member country, who had a very active and suggestive participation. This experience had an impact on the young people’s lives and deeply moved them. By way of illustration, let us hear what two young people, who participated in the Plenary, express:
Kelly Mureme, a young woman from Namibia
“During the 2022 IMBISA meeting, the idea was born to make a regional youth day similar to that carried out by the Universal Church around the world. There is a proverb in my Gciriku language “Omu lya yenda likuru Ndjovhu Ka ndjovhuwena nako mo ngaka pita”. This is often used to describe how children tend to inherit traits from their parents or how they follow in the footsteps of their leaders or people they look up to with admiration.”
It simply relates to the behaviours of the Elephants, the “Calves” the Young Elephants always follow the path that was/is taken by the older Elephants. Therefore, if you listen to the purpose of our youth day, you will notice that these are the same reasons why IMBISA was formed in the first place, we follow the same path, as we have seen that it is a good and worthy path. Therefore, we encourage other young people to join us in imitating our Bishops, as their unity imitates the unity of the Universal Church which is founded on the Unity of Christ.”
Thamsanqa Shongwe, a young man from Eswatini
“Young people in the region experience many common challenges, joys and opportunities that have an impact on their spiritual and social lives. This impact can be positive or negative. Through IMBISA’s Youth Day, young people in the region will have the opportunity to share their faith and life experiences. This is also an opportunity to pray together, reflect on our faith, catechize young people, as well as motivate and empower young people through interactive discussions about the Catholic faith and personal development. Finally, this will be an opportunity to integrate young people from the region to create unity and fraternity.”
The example of children who imitate what comes from their parents and young elephants who follow the path of older elephants, reported by Kelly, that we young people at IMBISA want to follow the example of our Bishops is simply eloquent and moving. Young people are clamouring for an opportunity to be together as young people of IMBISA, the fellowship of the members of IMBISA is reaching out to young people. The young people who were in Windhoek already interact, they set up a WhatsApp group, they feel like family and they want that family spirit to extend to other young people. This is typical of the African who is not confined to the nuclear family, he has a very broad view of the family because in addition to the family of father and mother, there is the family of the clan, the tribe and the family by affinity in short the extended family. By the way, it is what Pope Francis asks right away in number 1 of Fratelli Tutti, that humanity manages to live a universal fraternity as can be read: “FRATELLI TUTTI“: wrote Saint Francis of Assisi, addressing his brothers and sisters to propose a way of life with a flavour of the Gospel. From these pieces of advice, I want to highlight the invitation to a love that goes beyond the barriers of geography and space; in it he declares happiness to the one who loves the other, “his brother, both when he is far away and when he is close to you”. In a few simple words, he explained the essentials of an open fraternity, which makes it possible to recognize, value and love all people, regardless of their physical proximity, the place on earth where each one was born or lives”.
In general, the friendship of the parents is usually also experienced by the children. In this context, the desire and request of young people is of great importance, and even more so at a time when we are all invited by Pope Francis to embark on a synodal Church, because in the Pope’s vision, expressed in his Speech at the Commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops on October 17, 2015, “The path of synodality is precisely the path that God expects from the Church of the third millennium”.