Document of the African Synodal Continental Assembly

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 

1st– 6th March 2023 

  1. Introduction 

From 9th– 10th October 2021, the Holy Father Pope Francis officially launched the Synod on  Synodality and on the 17th of the same month the initiative was launched in all the Dioceses of  the world. This first phase of the Synod was experienced in the local Churches. This involved  consultations, seminars and sensitisation activities at the various levels of the Dioceses.  Different religious bodies and groups in the local Churches were organised to express their  views on the new initiative. The results of these consultations were brought together by each  Diocese and were, further, collected at the national levels. The National Episcopal Conferences, finally, produced the national syntheses of the lived experience of Synodality which contains  the expectations of the people of God concerning the Synodality initiative. These syntheses  were sent to the General Secretariat of the Synod in Rome. 

In September 2022, the Secretaries General of the Regional Episcopal Conferences in Africa  submitted the syntheses of the contributions of the National Episcopal Conferences of their  regions to the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).  From these, SECAM produced a document that recapitulates the expectations of all the regions  in Africa. 

Having gone through the syntheses of the Episcopal Conferences from all the countries of the  world, the General Secretariat of the Synod on Synodality produced a universal synthesis from  what was received from the local Churches called “Working Document for the Continental  Stage” (DCS). From 5th-9th December, 2022, and from 22nd-26th January, 2023, SECAM  brought together the members of the Continental Team for the Synod on Synodality, namely:  Secretaries General of the Regional Episcopal Conferences, members of the African Synodality  Initiative, theologians, religious and some lay faithful, numbering 28 and 20 persons  respectively, to receive the Working Document for the Continental Stage and to familiarise themselves with the practice of the Spiritual Conversation method towards the Continental  Assembly.

The final phase of the continental celebration of the Synod on Synodality took place in Addis  Ababa in Ethiopia from 1st to 6th March 2023. This event brought together about 209 people  made up of Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, Religious men and women, and lay  faithful, with the lay faithful being in greater number. It was an occasion for an inclusive listening where, using the Spiritual Conversation Method, everyone was given the opportunity  to express his/her views about Synodality, guided by the Document for the Continental Stage.  For five days, the Church Family of God in Africa through the continental representatives  prayed, listened and reflected on the new way of being a Church today, i.e. the Synodal way. It  was a spiritual Synodal journey of the Church Family of God in Africa, an opportunity to  practise Synodality in reality. At the end of the session, the assembly went through the Final  Document and officially adopted it as the Document for the African Church. 

In the spirit of collegiality, all the Cardinals and Bishops sat together in another meeting on the  last day of the Assembly to evaluate the whole Synodal process. They expressed satisfaction  about the process, especially about the family spirit that prevailed throughout the Assembly.  They, equally, went through the Final Document and unanimously adopted it as the Final  Document for the African Continental Synodal Assembly. 

These meetings became the basis for the elaboration of the present document which took into  consideration all the main ideas raised during the discussions. 

At the opening of the first working session in Accra, the purpose of the session was given as  follows: 

  • To come to know one another better, a way of living the Synodality in a concrete  manner. 
  • To enter into communion with the universal Church in the process of deeper prayer,  listening and discernment to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church.
  • To listen to what the people of Africa said during the first year of the Synod.
  • To reread the Document for the Continental Stage in the context of the Church in Africa. 

The method used in the work is the Spiritual Conversation Method. The method was not  familiar to most of the participants. It was, therefore, taught to the group.

Having learnt the method, the group practised it for the remaining days of the working session  starting from the first day. The evening session of the first day was devoted to the practical  aspects of the method. Five groups were constituted and asked to give their “personal  impressions from the regional summaries and synthesis: What have the people of God from the  Church in Africa said in the first year of the synod?” The session ended with the reports of the  various groups on the outcome of their reflection on the question. 

The second day of the session was devoted to the study of the Document for the Continental  Stage. This was done with two presentations on the major outlines and logic of the document.  After the exposé, the participants were given time to pray, reflect and study the document  individually. The evening session was, then, devoted to group study of the documents focusing  on: 

  • Intuitions that resonate most strongly with the lived experiences and realities of the  Church on the African continent. 
  • Questions or issues that should be addressed and considered in the next step of the  process. 
  • Priorities, recurrent themes and calls to action that can be shared with other local  Churches around the world and discussed during the first session of the Synodal  Assembly in October 2023. 

At the end of the first working session in December 2022, each participant was asked to practise  what was learnt, especially the use of the Spiritual Conversation Method, with the people of his  or her faith community or Regional Conference as the case may be. This was meant to be a way  of renewed listening to the people at the grassroot levels and a way of mastering the method  which would be used in facilitating the continental event in March 2023. 

The working session in Accra was followed by another in Nairobi, Kenya, from 22nd– 26th January, 2023. The aim was to continue deepening the knowledge of the Document for the  Continental Stage and training members of the working team to help them in facilitating the  planned Continental Assembly to be held in Addis Ababa from 1st to 6th March, 2023.  

The working session of Nairobi was an opportunity for members of the team to share their  experiences with regard to the use of the Spiritual Conversation Method in the study of the  Document for the Continental Stage with their various communities after the Accra session.  The sharing of the experiences exposed some difficulties that occurred while listening to others  in the spirit of Synodality. These difficulties include:

  • Listening to the other was not easy, as most people wanted their positions to be taken  into account. 
  • Some people were not happy that they were not consulted at the initial phase of the  consultation only to be invited at the continental phase. 
  • There was a sort of reticence from some people who felt that having worked at the  Diocesan phase, they should not start the same work all over again. 
  • The time was too short to reach out to the right persons to deepen the understanding of  the document and obtain the desired result.  
  • It was difficult to apply the Spiritual Conversation Method to a big text like the Document for the Continental Stage. 
  • There was difficulty in meeting people physically and the alternative means which was  that of telecommunications also met with the problem of insufficient resources.  Those who were not in an official position in the Church found it difficult to bring people together to study the Document for the Continental Stage using the Spiritual  Conversation Method because people listen more to those in authority in the Church. 

The general experience of the participants was that people were eager to be involved in the life  of the Church and that the Synod on Synodality has awakened a new desire for a Church that  takes into account the thoughts, concerns and feelings of every member. They were ready to  make contributions and wanted to be sure that their expectations would bear durable fruit by  bringing lasting changes in the life of the Church and her institutions. 

The two previous experiences of Accra and Nairobi formed the basis for the Addis Ababa event  which involved representatives from all the countries of Africa and the Islands. The group used  the same method of prayer, silence and Spiritual Conversation. They worked in plenaries and  in small groups and were able to discern the Synodal Priorities for the Church in Africa. 

The choice of Addis Ababa as the venue for the Continental Assembly was conditioned by a  number of factors: it is the seat of the African Union (AU), a body that unites all the countries  of Africa; it is a country that has the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and  Islam; it is a country marked with a welcoming culture.

  1. The Synodal Experience at the Continental Stage 

The encounter as a concrete experience by Africans of Synodality by working and journeying  together for five days helped us to become aware of some intuitions that generally resonate  from one country to the other and raised some pertinent questions concerning Synodality. 

2.1. Intuitions 

Our prayer and reflection on the Document for the Continental Stage gave rise to the following  intuitions from our African background: 

  1. The Church in Africa has lived out Synodality from the time of the Second Vatican Council. The fruit of this is seen in the formation of SECAM and other Regional  Episcopal Conferences during and immediately after the Council.  Some important documents on and from the African Church are also fruits of  Synodality. They include Ecclesia in Africa (1995), Africae Munus (2011) and the  Kampala Document (2019). The Small Christian Communities are the fruits of Synodality at the grassroot levels where people live and act together with common faith concerns.
  1. The image of the tent as the principal image for Synodality “enlarge the space of  your tent” (Is. 54:2) was heavily contested by many, who associate the image with  warfare, displacement and refugee situations. The assembly preferred the image of  the Family of God where everyone has his or her place and responsibilities according to  ‘family values’ (though there is no homogeneity on what the latter includes in all countries).
  1. Listening is an attitude of the Synod and the Church must be a listening Church if  it is to remain Synodal. However, the realities listened to are not always the same:  family, church, national issues, social problems, spiritual problems, etc., often vary  in interpretation or social importance. Listening helps to bring healing to those who are wounded. Listening invites us to  another way of celebrating our liturgy in a culturally authentic manner. Applying the  culture of listening to the liturgical celebration will help to put the people at the  forefront, enhance their active participation and make them more actors than spectators. The Church listens to all, but the listening disturbs in such a way that the Church is, sometimes, so overwhelmed that some persons feel that the Church does not listen, or  at least is selective in whose voices matter. Many would want the Church to listen to all  and bring solutions to all problems of the society, thus confusing the role of the Church  with that of the State and government. Listening is not only listening to people. It involves listening to the local culture with  the dynamics of co-responsibility and with the consciousness that culture is dynamic  and evolving. The Church in Africa is a fruit of the endeavours of Western missionaries.  The Church came with a culture into another culture. Synodality should help to listen to  the cultural practices that have been either ignored, condemned or suppressed by the  Western culture through which the Gospel was preached to Africans. These cultural  practices, some deeply influenced and changed by Western and Christian cultural  influences, continue to affect the way Christians live out the Gospel. They should, therefore, be listened to in view of either integrating, purifying or collectively rejecting  them based on a clear understanding of the exigencies of the Gospel.
  1. The need for the participation of women, youth and physically challenged persons  in the life of the Church is another intuition that comes out strongly in the  Document. Women form a greater percentage of active members of the Church. They make  meaningful contributions to the life and mission of the Church. Many of them feel that  they are not given a sufficient place in the decision-making structures of the Church.  There is a call to create more opportunities and structures for women to do more in the  Church. The youth also complained that they would like to be more visible in the life of the  Church. An idea that was strongly felt was that of a preferential option for the youth.  There is a call to adapt the activities and celebrations of the Church to styles that will  attract and maintain the youth in the Church. The need to enhance the participation of persons with disability in the life and mission  of the Church also came out clearly in the Document. The Church should guard against  the way the society tends to cast them aside. They are often considered as not having  much to offer based on the false idea that their lives are worth less than others. If the  appropriate opportunity is created, they can feel at home in the Church and can  contribute towards the progress and growth of the Church. This calls for special initiatives, formations and structures that will help them to have a prominent place in  the Church.
  1. It is evident that there are mundane forces that are opposed to the mission of the  Church. Such forces include ideologies and economic or political policies that are  prejudicial to the doctrines of the faith. Some of these forces influence Church leaders  and put pressure on theologians with the intention of diluting the content of the faith.  There is a call for the Synodal Church to be awake to such influences and remain  focused on the Word of God and the firm tradition of the Church. 
  2. Synodality draws everyone’s attention to the need for co-responsibility – making  it relevant to learn to walk together through listening, discernment and dialogue. Many expressed the view that decisions in the Church are sometimes taken without  sufficient dialogue, but Synodality requires taking everyone as important and  responsible. The recognition of the value of everyone in a Christian community imposes  the necessity of taking their opinions into consideration for proper discernment and  decision-making. 
  3. The Synodal Church should seek to balance her efforts in addressing the concrete  issues in people’s lives with the spiritual aspects. This idea comes from the experience  of some people who believe that the Church seems to concentrate more on their spiritual  needs than on concrete material needs. Just as Jesus fed the hungry, the Synodal Church  should learn to balance her care for spiritual issues with her care for material problems. 
  4. A sensitisation on Synodality as tied to evangelisation: from the image of the Church  as a Family of God where efforts should be made to accommodate everyone who so  desires and even those who are deliberately outside comes the intuition that inclusivity  should be harmonised with conversion, since walking together in communion,  participation and mission cannot be divorced from evangelisation. The mission of the  Church to spread the Gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth should be based on the  need to help people abandon their old ways that are not in conformity with the Word of  God and embrace the truth of the Gospel. 
  5. There is the need for openness of all Catholics to continuous formation. The  understanding of the Synodal Church as one that walks together with everyone calls for  the formation of the clergy and the laity on this new consciousness. Pastors who lead  the people of God should be the first to imbibe the Synodal mentality and apply it in  their life and ministry. There is an urgent need for educational and formational programmes for the clergy and the lay faithful to initiate the necessary conversion to  imbibe the new culture of walking together as a Synodal Church, especially at the local Church level. This formation should touch on the formation received in the seminaries, so that future pastors are prepared to embrace the new culture of walking together and  acquire the capacity for listening to the Spirit of God and to the people.
  1. Some feel that the Synodal Church should be less conservative and have the  courage to do a self-examination on how she has accepted new ideas. The new  culture of the Synodal Church would demand a lot of openness and a learning attitude  from the Church, in order to remain relevant in the world. However, some feel that the  Church must not be too open to every new idea since some ideas are perceived as not  for the betterment of the world. In such cases, the Church should even have courage to  go against certain currents of thought. Much depends on Christians’ perception of new  social forces – some well-informed, others less so – and the degree to which such ideas that challenge the Church’s official positions might have valid points should be  discerned more openly and thoroughly. 
  2. The care and protection of children and vulnerable persons was also invoked as an  integral aspect of the mission of the Synodal Church. 
  3. To open the family means accommodating those who feel marginalized, for  example, people in polygamous marriages, divorced and remarried, and single  parents. Many people expressed the desire to revisit the position of the Church on those  that considered themselves officially marginalized due to irregular family situations.  How does the openness of the family apply to such people in the spirit of Synodality  that encourages the Church to walk together with all believers? And what domestic  arrangements have we overlooked? 
  4. About clericalism, there is a new awareness that clericalism is even present among  lay people who give credence to or accept without question what the priest says. Inasmuch as some priests could be accused of being closed and authoritative, the  internalised clericalism of laity is also seen as promoting such a culture by not playing its proper role in the Church and by deferring to priests to carry all the burden of leading,  teaching and making all the decisions. This deference is seen as another form of  clericalism. 
  5. There is the need to deepen reflections on no. 35 of the Document for the  Continental Stage about the youth with regards to real accompaniment and the  need to help the youth and be close to them in their crucial moment to help them rediscover the value of marriage. Give more attention to the youth in the Church by  providing more formative programmes to deepen their faith, give them a voice, and create opportunities (through structural changes) that allow the youth to bring  innovative ideas to the Church today. Without attending to the issues faced by the youth, we cannot walk together. The issues of the youth go beyond religion. We need to reflect  on contemporary political and economic systems like new capitalism that will not only  lead to unemployment but also to redundancy (caused by lack of jobs through  technological advancement).
  1. There is the need to keep alive the Synodal spirit in the Church beyond the  Continental Assembly in Addis Ababa. Many issues that are local to Africa came up  in the discussions and such problems can only be treated locally. Based on this, there is  a call for each local Church to continue deepening the experience of Synodality in order  to evolve a more dynamic Synodal Church that goes beyond the Continental Synodal  Assembly. 
  2. Give Stage and make deliberate efforts to overcome cultural marginalisation of  minority groups, especially the indigenous peoples. more attention to cultural  issues as in nos. 55 and 56 of the Document for the Continental There is the need to  reread the history of the indigenous people and then recover, promote and integrate their  cultural practices into the liturgy. This is a proper inculturation which enhances  diversity, moving from multi-culturality to inter-culturality where different practices  complement and enrich one another. 
  3. To deepen the study of no. 88ff of the Document for the Continental Stage on  Liturgy which seems more theoretical. This process could help to make it more  practical and sensitive to cultural differences. The emphasis here should be on getting  people to participate more actively in Liturgical and community prayer gatherings. This  will require getting in deep contact with the people’s cultural ways of worship. There is  the call to make Liturgy more contextual. 
  4. Liturgically, the Church should find a way of doing things differently, so that those  who come to Liturgical celebrations should feel that they are actually considered and given an opportunity to express themselves and participate actively. 
  5. African Unity: To be able to ask questions and try to resolve problems without  removing our capacity to reflect and achieve what we need by ourselves. Undertaking a  deep evaluation of all the documents, for example, the Kampala Document, so that we  do not look for answers outside us. At the level of Solidarity, we are weak: a problem  in Uganda should be of concern to Algeria. A Synodal African Church should be able  to unite Africans.
  6. The need for Church authorities to engage the political leadership of the society in  advocacy for Good Governance and Justice. This is to be seen as part of the  missionary mandate of making Christ known to the world. A Synodal Church should, therefore, be a Church in continuous mission in all the dimensions of human existence.

2.2. Questions or issues 

A careful study of the Document for the Continental Stage raises a number of questions and  issues that need to be clarified. They include: 

  • What mechanism do we put in place to cater for the respect for diverse cultures? 2. How is the Synodal Church more empathetic and what are her means of promoting  concrete Solidarity? 
  • There is a tension between a strong understanding of truth and the principle of mercy (particularly the accommodation with difference, minority views and dissent), between  belonging to the Church and not living as a full member of the Church, between  autonomy and co-responsibility. How do we deal with it? 
  • Where is Synodality taking us as we listen to the voices of diverse people? Is this not  leading us to democracy? Thus, there is only a thin line between dialogue, listening and  decision making and the rule of the majority. 
  • Everything we have raised is important. How would the local Church make use of all  the points that are being raised in our discussions? 
  • In listening to others, to the Holy Spirit and to the Word of God, what are the criteria  for discernment and judgement? 


Having listened to other Churches and to the experience of Africans, we consider the following  eight points to be recurrent and urgent priorities on which it is important to continue  discernment at the level of the universal Church. These points are directly related to manner of  living out the Synodal spirit of Communion, Participation and Mission. 

  • To deepen Catholic Synodality according to the values of the Church as Family of  God, nurture life from conception to natural death, based on co-responsibility,  biblical hospitality (Eph. 2:19), dignity of children, women and men, and reaching  out to the entire human family and all creation, from the Small Christian  Communities to the Vatican level. The Church is built on the Word of God, Tradition and the Magisterium. The Synodal  Church style should be founded on the Traditions and teachings of the Church through  which the Church has engendered values that have stood the test of time. Synodality should  stand on such values to be able to have a firm foundation that could lead the Church to the  desired renewal, even as we draw on Reason and the lived Experience of all the faithful.
  • African voices and values should be taken into consideration when elaborating the  doctrines and teachings of the church, values such as family, solidarity,  communitarian life, reverential dialogue, hospitality and co-responsibility. Africans have equal responsibility for the doctrines and teachings of the Church in  collaboration with other local Churches (Eph. 2:19). Accordingly, it is paramount that their  experiences and ever-evolving cultural values be taken into consideration and their  problems be always equally considered. This will help them to own the teachings and to be  committed to living them out.
  • The commitment of the Church, Family of God (Africae Munus, 1) to conflict  resolution, to fight against economic colonialism and illegal exploitation of  resources in Africa, and the promotion of Good Governance, Justice and Peace. Peace has become so fragile in our time that sometimes, securing an end to conflict is difficult because of the vested interests of the intervening powers. In such situations, it has  become necessary for the Synodal Church to get involved in advocacy and concrete  negotiations for peace, especially among warring nations and communities. The Synodal  Church should make more effort to devise effective mechanisms for active engagement in  peace making at the international and local levels in the manner of Christ, the Prince of  Peace (Is. 9:6).  Religion is, equally, a cause of conflict in Africa. The desire to promote peace should also  lead the Church to promote ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. There is need for the  Synodal Church to work together with other faith communities in the promotion of peace  and conflict resolution in building the kingdom of God on earth. It is clear that one of the major causes of conflict in Africa is the manipulative attitude of  the exploiters of natural resources. The Church should stand with the people and ensure that  there is no exploitation without free, prior and informed consent of the population. The Church should equally foster good governance in African countries, including the  pastoral accompaniment of the faithful engaged in social, economic and political life. 
  • The process of synodality must also involve inculturation and liturgical renewal in  order to respond to the aspiration, participation and overall growth of the African  faithful. Inculturation helps the faith to be rooted in the life and practice of the people. Worship in  Africa is an integral experience involving the whole person: mind, spirit and body. The  current ways of celebrating the liturgy sometimes leave many Africans unfulfilled. A  synodal Church should take into consideration the nature of Africans to have a more  participatory liturgy, in line with authentic liturgical theology and doctrine.
  • Synodality is the way of being Church and hence the necessity of formation as a  means of making the synodal model a pastoral model of the Church’s life and  practice. The new understanding about the synodal Church would lead to a new way of understanding  and exercising authority in the Church like Jesus (Lk. 22:27). This new understanding will  necessarily demand the formation of the clergy, consecrated persons and the laity in the  practice of synodal leadership. An African proverb says “crops are to be cultivated whereas  weeds grow on their own.” The synodal model needs to be planted in the life of the people  of God. Each group must be open to ongoing formation in the synodal way of being Church,  including bishops, clergy, lay women and men, young people and consecrated persons.
  • Synodality should strengthen subsidiarity on all levels of the Church’s life so as to  promote the inclusion, participation and communion of all the members, especially  women, the youth and persons living with disability. The principle of subsidiarity helps each group to autonomously contribute its quota in the  development of society and to deal with local pastoral challenges. This should apply to the  activities of the synodal Church in all its dimensions. Women form the greater percentage of active members of the Church. They continue to  make enormous contribution to the Church in Africa. However, there are not enough  structures to encourage and enhance their participation, especially in the decision-making  processes and platforms of the Church. The Church in Africa wishes that, following the  principle of subsidiarity, formal forums for women participation in the Church be enhanced. The above is also true of young people who form the greater percentage of the African  population. They have creative ideas and desire to take initiatives in the Church and in  society. Often they do not find enough space to exercise their initiatives in the Church. In Africa most young people are faced with the difficult decision of remaining Christians in  the face of many competing options. For persons living with disability, there is need to offer them opportunities to feel at home  in the Church. This will demand putting in place structures that should be concerned with  them at the highest level of the Church. The Church should not only listen to the challenges  of the people but also, based on the principle of subsidiarity, find ways of creating  opportunities for them to contribute to the life of the Church.
  • The family is an important structure in the promotion of the synodal Church and  demands pastoral care that focuses on marriage and family and their challenges in  the present-day Africa, especially situations of polygamy, divorced and remarried  people, single parenthood and child protection. In Africa we are faced with the challenges of broken marriages based on traditional practices  that have been difficult to transform through Christian values and other socio-economic  factors, including polygamy which is still imposed by some social conditions in African  societies. Divorce is also becoming a common occurrence. There is equally the situation of  elective and circumstantial single parenthood, widowhood and cohabitation. We equally  note the necessity of protecting children from abuse. People involved in these still want to  remain practising Catholics. There is a need to develop an evangelising family pastoral care  and catechesis that will make it possible to help them to live their faith with confidence and  joy.
  • Ecological justice and stewardship should become a way of life of the synodal  Church. Climate change is an existential threat to the whole world and the Church is not separated from the world. Africa bears the brunt of the current climate crisis, although it contributes  the least to it. The Church ought to continue to do more in finding solutions and developing  innovative strategies to respond to this urgent crisis as an integral part of her mission.

To conclude, Synodality, founded on love, inclusion and respect for all, particularly those who  are marginalised, has engendered a new dynamism through the synod on synodality. This dynamism should be sustained so that synodality becomes a Christian identity (Jn. 13:35), a  way of being Church from the grassroots to the highest level. This can only happen if everyone  sincerely opens up to the gospel and to the Holy Spirit who has enkindled this synodality as a  new way of Christianity in our time. 

Adopted Unanimously by the African Continental Synodal Assembly, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: 05 March 2023 

Adopted Unanimously by the Bishop Delegates to the African Synodal Continental Assembly Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: 06 March 2023