“The True Image of the Church”

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The World Synod on Synodality is a process initiated by the Vatican intended, in part, to invite Catholics to better discern the will of God in their own dioceses and parishes, through conversations focused on the life and ministry of the Church.

Prof. Hilary Longs with priests from the Diocese of Bauchi. Credit: Fr. Justine Dyikuk/Le Pilier.

For an overview of the synod process in Nigeria, one of the most populous Catholic countries in the world, The pillar spoke with Fr. Hilary Longs, Director of Synods, Pilgrimages and Congresses of the Diocese of Bauchi, in northeastern Nigeria.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

In the diocese of Bauchi, those who participated in the conversations of the synod are about 20,000 – which is not the entire Catholic population, but it is because most Catholics are more or less peasants who are so absorbed through their agricultural business.

[Editors’ note: According to GCatholic, there are roughly 95,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Bauchi.]

For in-person meetings, we have decided to group attendees according to their various pious societies, tribal groups, and also across major Church organizations – such as the Catholic Men’s Organization, Catholic Women’s Organization, the Catholic youth organization, and also the Holy Childhood Association, which primarily caters to children.

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Youth from St. Joseph the Worker parish in Yelwa, Nigeria. Credit: Diocese of Bauchi Catholic Youth Organization.

In all of the synod’s discussions, what comes first are the efforts of the faithful to promote the Church, its doctrines and beliefs, even in the face of challenges, ranging from insurrection that wreaks havoc on lives and property challenge of poverty. and illiteracy.

They want to build an inclusive Church: for men, women, children, young people, widows, orphans, priests and laity. A Church sensitive to some of their major needs.

For them, when the Church lives out its missionary mandate of evangelization, bringing them closer to the Gospel…the Church will grow.

They are ready and willing to keep the faith uncompromising and they will crane their necks to see it grow. Thus, the synodal process gave them a sense of belonging and deepened their faith, a faith that made them resolute even when fear should have overwhelmed them.

In the Diocese of Bauchi, we appreciate the process because it has brought a real recognition of the status of the laity and the importance of their involvement in the life of the Church.

It has also brought back trust in the hierarchy of the Church, contrary to the perceived notion that the hierarchy seems to be the only one in control when it comes to suggestions and policy making. This has given the faithful the opportunity to express their views on some of the challenges that baffle the Church, though particular to their situations.

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To some extent, bishops have the ability to meet challenges. Remember when the missionaries came to evangelize [in Africa]they considered all of these challenges and in their enormous sacrifice they tried to overcome these challenges by bringing in schools, hospitals – and some went as far as physical empowerment, a wonderful step they took, which, I would say, helped them in their missionary endeavors.

Yes, since the early missionaries did all of this through the support they got from abroad, some even got support from their various governments, but at least the Church grew to become self-sufficient to a certain extent. measure, especially in Nigeria. Some areas are so well educated on the value and gain of supporting the Church while other areas – especially the northern part of the country, in which our diocese is located – are not, due to poverty, insecurity and the domination of the Islamic faith.

So I think the synod of bishops has the capacity to strengthen the unity of the solidarity fund. I know of the solidarity funds that pass through the office of the Pontifical Mission Societies, which is a unit of the universal Church that cannot respond to all the challenges. If the synod of Nigerian bishops tries to strengthen this unity, they will know how to meet the challenges.

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A priestly ordination in 2021 in St. John the Evangelist Cathedral, Bauchi, Nigeria. Courtesy picture.

Ethnicity and tribalism mean a lot in Africa – this is not an assumption but an observation.

I will build my position according to our situation here in Nigeria. Nigeria is a multicultural country. Besides the three main languages ​​- Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba – there are other languages, there are so many that I cannot say the number with certainty.

We have become so self-centered that we base our relationship on ethnicity. That is why I agree that ethnicity is thicker than the waters of baptism here in Africa.

The church is not immune to the politics of ethnicity or tribalism; it is subtly in play, and if we don’t immediately guard against it, it will consume us all.

Right from the synodal process, we see the issue of ethnic tribalism at play, based on the perception of some of the participants. Whatever contributions they made, they did so with some sense of tribal sentiment.

It is good that these things come out of this process, because it is a threat that the Church should examine and correct. The church has the great task of correcting this challenge.

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The genocide in Rwanda in 1994 is very sad; we see where Church members get involved in the politics of racial and tribal affiliations, contrary to the biblical principle that we are all one in the eyes of God.

If tribalism is not checked in the church, it will destroy early evangelistic work. This can cause mistrust and racial antagonism and these can bring the Church to its knees.

I believe the essence of the synodal process is to grow us above our personal inclinations, above our ethnic and tribal affiliations. Remember that our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for all to be one.

The Synod should bring out the true picture of the Church so that even the grassroots people can understand it.

The greed of the elite and politicians is a serious blight in our society and unfortunately it has entered into the fabric of the life of the Church — And it does not give the Church a good image of itself .

I want to believe that what causes this threat is fear of the unknown – the feeling that I don’t know what the future holds for me and my loved ones; it is unfortunate that when it comes to the distribution of the public good, even within the Church – which is supposed to be the vanguard of social justice and the equitable distribution of public goods – is at the vanguard of unequal distributions, all because of greed.

So for me, the synodal process can be an avenue that can overcome these challenges.

First of all, since it is a process of communion, participation and mission, they have a correlation with the mandate of our dear Lord Jesus Christ.

The first Christians, more particularly those of the apostolic era, met in their different houses to break the bread recommended by Jesus, in his memory, they gathered their goods and shared them equally among themselves.

This kind of spirit has become so alluring even among unbelievers. And that is the kind of communion that is emphasized in the synodal process—reviving the community life of the apostolic era.

This can help remind the Church of the need to consider the importance of sharing and appreciation of the divine commission given to all the baptized.

A crucial effort must be made to confront the challenges of greed and self-aggrandizement.

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Everything in the synodal process aims to bring every Christian – regardless of social class, age, intellectual capacity – into one family of God.

As human beings, we have this innate quest for a higher life, a complex that informs the mind that we [person] must be higher than the other. Everything I said is in a human person; it is something that can be verified.

First, the Church should be able to maintain that all humans are made in the image and likeness of God, that we are all equal in his eyes, and as Christians, just as St. says in Galatians 3:28, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.

It is in this context that the synodal process relies to make Christians aware of their common identity. Through participation, fellowship, and mission, Christians are instructed to look above their social norms and inclinations.

Second, the Church should be able to state in clear terms the divine mandate given to all the baptized. One who is baptized should be able to know that the commission to preach to the whole world, not just to certain parts or particular groups. All of this can be achieved through compulsory participation in the synodal process.

According to Catholic teaching on divorced-remarried couples, communion is not open to divorced-remarried Catholics.

The directive makes it clear that this can only happen if the divorced Catholic, in addition to being in good standing with the Church, who has not remarried or who remarried following an annulment, the Church is so clear about it.

As someone who has studied pastoral theology, I know there are times when you can apply pastoral consideration, but not in this area.

The synodal process which involves the participation of all Catholics concerns matters of faith only, and not the sacraments, more particularly the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Insofar as the Church has opened this way of inclusive discussion, it cannot compromise the essence of its unity and what constitutes its dignity.

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The synodal process gave the diocese a new understanding of being a Church after the heart of God.

The involvement of all has really made it clear that missionary efforts are not reserved exclusively for the clergy, but for all Catholics.

Full sisters have enormous contributions to make to the life of the Church, as do lay people.

It is there that we see religious occupying positions within the chancellery which were previously intended only for the clergy; some lay faithful too.

Those who are incapacitated due to a challenge to another are now the focus of great pastoral care.

Lay leaders have taken it upon themselves to visit those facing challenges; the time has passed when they feel that such pastoral care is reserved only for priests, or in some cases for religious, but since their involvement and participation in the synodal process, they have better understood the clarion call of s engage in bodily works of mercy.

Thus, a sense of inclusion and walking together has entered into the life of the Church in Bauchi Diocese and it is through this synodal process that we are able to achieve this.

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