IMBISA anniversary day 2024

24 April is IMBISA anniversary day. In 2025 IMBISA celebrates its golden jubilee. Fifty years’ existence on the horizon. For all this time the bishops of our region have continually shown their care for the Church beyond the borders of their dioceses.

Solicitude for the whole Church
One of the tasks of a bishop is to act in solicitude for the whole church, to use Vatican II language (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 22-23). Simply put, a bishop, through his attitude and actions, cares for all the people of God. Stated negatively, he does not pay pastoral attention only to those members of the flock whose care he received in episcopal consecration.

There are many ways which facilitate the bishop’s solicitude for the whole church.

Synod of bishops
The synod of bishops, created in the wake of Vatican II, is one such avenue. Through this “council in miniature” as the press office of the Holy See described it in 2001, the bishops from the whole world gather to discuss matters affecting the Church and advise the pope accordingly.

A bishop participating in a synod sweats it out, in a manner of speaking, in discussion and prayer in the synod hall. Sitting in yet another meeting, again and again, is tiring, even if it is a synod. He left behind the care of “his” diocese to show that he cares for the Church beyond the borders of that diocese.

The most recent synods, especially the current one, show that the synod of bishops is no structural fossil, it develops still.

Bishops’ conference
Another avenue through which the bishop shows solicitude for the whole Church is the bishop’s conference. It is not strictly a creation of Vatican II but was acknowledged and formalised there as a legitimate and useful gathering of bishops.

Accordingly, the bishops’ conference is “an assembly in which the bishops of a certain country or region exercise their pastoral office jointly by devising forms of the apostolate and apostolic methods suitably adapted to the circumstances of the times” (Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church Christus Dominus, 38).

Again, the bishop leaves his diocese behind and pays attention to the needs of the Church beyond the borders of his judicial territory. The bishops’ conference is yet another structure that lives through meetings. It literally forces the bishop to look up and see that there are others, too.

Imagine what a painful exercise its meetings must be for a bishop who finds it difficult to sit through meetings. When he does, he shows solicitude for the whole Church. God bless him for it!

Another way of showing solicitude for the whole Church is through participation in interregional or international gatherings of bishops. For our continent, the first such body was formed spontaneously by bishops from Africa and Madagascar who gathered during Vatican II to bring African perspectives to bear in council deliberations. Eventually, by the intervention of Propaganda Fide, as the Dicastery for Evangelisation was called in those days, bishops from Africa and Madagascar formed the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, SECAM, to exchange information that would help each bishops’ conference to act according to the needs of its own location.

IMBISA is a body like SECAM, only on a more immediate regional scale. Through IMBISA, a bishop meets with other bishops from the region to consult with them on pastoral issues and matters of common concern such as migration and refugee movement in their region, for example. Now he goes outside of his own bishops’ conference and encounters bishops of another conference, getting to know what and who the Church is elsewhere. He lifts his eyes even further, to see someone who appears to be different and yet live only beyond that river or those mountains, in the same Church.

In this way an overall picture of the important pastoral and socio-political issues in the region emerges for every bishop in the region. By sitting with his peers around one table in the same room, he is not left to the most likely narrow-minded mercy of his favourite source of news through his social media groups or his preferred TV news channel. He gets the lay of the land from warm blooded persons who live and lead there as shepherds of God’s people.

In a region where there may be a deficit of leadership, so to say, or put differently, where fragile democracies and even totalitarian regimes ‘govern’, or to put it plainly, where a state or government fails to serve the citizens of its country, a body such as IMBISA becomes indispensable. The reason for this is that outsiders can often say a thing as it is. In this way, temporary relief comes to the individual bishops or bishops’ conferences of a country through the regional voice.

Of course, there are many other ways in which a bishop expresses his solicitude for the whole Church in and through a regional body such as IMBISA. Those will surely be listed during the Jubilee celebrations. All that remains to be said is:

To all the bishops of IMBISA, happy anniversary, ad multos annos!