Synodality and spiritual conversation in seminaries

The rectors of the seminaries in the IMBISA region met at Padre Pio Centre in Pretoria, South Africa, from 8-12 April 2024 for a workshop. The workshop was organised by IMBISA in collaboration with African Synodality Initiative (ASI). There were 3 bishops, 22 priests and 3 laypeople present. The theme of the workshop was “synodality and spiritual conversation in seminaries”, inspired by the spiritual conversation method, based on the ongoing synod on synodality.

Workshop objectives

  1. Engender a profound understanding of the spirit and practice of synodality and the use of conversation in spirit as a habitual way of proceeding in the church among the participants.
  2. Enrich participants’ leadership skills by exploring the principles and practices of synodal leadership and addressing issues of clericalism and abuse of power.
  3. Promote dialogue and sharing of ideas among formators from different seminaries within the IMBISA region.
  4. Publish a document based on the workshop presentations for use in all seminaries and theological faculties within the IMBISA region.

Various presentations
The workshop saw presentations on understanding the meaning, practice and significance of synodality in priestly formation; introduction to the spiritual conversation method and pastoral synodal leadership by Fr Marcel Uwineza SJ, rector of Hekima University College in Nairobi, Kenya, and Sheila Pires, media coordinator of SACBC and of the current synod.

As far as introduction to the spiritual conversation method is concerned, the starting point was gratitude that the Spirit of God is at work in me, others and the Church. We began by acknowledging God’s love for us. We must be attentive to verbal and nonverbal communication. Synodality is not about making statements, says Pope Francis, but it is about listening to one another. There are two fundamental attitudes here: active listening and the conversation of the heart. The goal of the conversation is to create an atmosphere where everyone can speak without fear and be listened to without prejudices. Synodality is the life of the Church.

On pastoral synodal leadership, we learnt that leadership is the capacity to make a difference in our lives and in that of others. The role of a leader is very important to help the group to be effective. A leader must have courage to decide but this must be done after consulting all the stakeholders. A leader must create an environment where every member of the staff can speak without fear. S/he must also not be afraid of conflicts because conflicts help us to grow and find solutions to our problems. S/he must have a clear and objective vision.

On the second day, we reflected on the need “to cultivate and lead synodal pastoral communities and spirituality of journeying together” by Fr Marcel, and “the value of collegial bodies in the church” by Bishop Masilo Selemela, auxiliary bishop of Pretoria, himself former rector of St. John Vianney Seminary in Pretoria, South Africa.

Fr Marcel looked at the spirit of the synod inspired by the method of conversation in the spirit. We have realised that the leader must take inclusive decisions that can be far and broad, not only including the formation staff but even the outsiders. The leader must be accountable and responsible.

Bishop Masilo took us through the study of ecclesiology beginning from the foundations and development of ecclesiology leading to the synodal church where everyone feels welcomed in the church, the church that lives the spirituality of communion. This communion can be visible and concrete only when we realise that the local church is in the universal church and the universal church is in the local church. This communion is a reflection of the Persons of the Trinity who exist in communion. We cannot speak of the local and universal church while ignoring the collegial bodies because these also contribute towards the ecclesial communion.

On the third day, the IMBISA team asked what each rector will do when they return to their respective seminaries. They also asked what they will do with the information they have acquired as the IMBISA region.

The rectors undertook to share with their fellow formators what they learnt during the workshop. The working together in the region will be strengthened by a seminarian exchange programme. We will also create online platforms for networking. Dioceses with more than one seminary can meet at their own level so that the vision may be shared by all. All of us can accomplish this need and we acknowledge that we can work together. The sharing of experiences is important and annual meetings will also help us to have uniform formation as the region.


  1. The formators are encouraged to use the method of conversation in spirit to develop a culture of listening.
  2. The inclusion of women in the formation of future priests.
  3. Two experts will reimagine a curriculum that would include course/s on synodality in the region.
  4. The rectors and formators meet alternately within the IMBISA region.

From the first to the last day, the participants had the opportunity to reflect on the various themes in groups using the method of the conversation in the spirit.