The Church is not the hierarchy’s private property, says African theologian Sr. Christiane Baka
Cover photo: Sister Christiane Baka (DR photo)
LA CROIX INTERNATIONAL
Sister Christiane Baka, a leading theologian in Ivory Coast of West Africa, has hit the Synod-2023 nail on the head. She did not need to recite the prescribed Synod-2023 prayer or `Discernment' to declare that the Church is not the private property of the Hierarchy. She believes through one common baptism, lay people have the right and duty to be concerned about the good health of the Church. To her, it is crystal-clear that Synod 2023 will be an ornate empty hall without its audience, if there is no sizeable representation (not namesake as secretarial staff and filing clerks) of the Laity who, in the eyes of the Church, particularly the Indian Hierarchy, is mute and meek sheep meant for fleecing and amorous self-gratification (a la Bishops Franco Mulakkal, K.A. William and their ilks) as and when convenient.
With the establishment of Syro Malabar eparchies of Shamshabad and Hosur in October 2017, the Catholic Church in India includes 174 dioceses, of which 132 are Latin Catholic Church, 31 are Syro-Malabar, and 11 are Syro-Malankara.
Interestingly Bishop Stephen Lepcha of Darjeeling Diocese and Chairman of Bengal-Sikkim Laity Commission, stated in one Regional Laity Conference in Bengal, that the Laity comprises 99% of the Church. So how can 1% sitting in Rome in October 2023, decide the fate of the 99% Laity on whose donation the church hierarchy runs? How can there be a Synod without a lay representation? Based on this 1:99 ratio of clery:Laity, the minimum lay representation from India to the Vatican should be four representatives from each Diocese. Larger dioceses like Calcutta should be allowed to send up to ten representatives. So should be the lay representation from Dioceses across the world.
There is an attempt to summarise Laity feedback and their expectations of Synod-2023 into a 10-page summary. It is not known whether this summary is for each parish or for each diocese. Will it be further consolidated (read: watered-down) into an all-India summary? How will the Laity of 174 dioceses know what summary their Bishops have sent to the Vatican or are carrying with them? These areas have been deliberately kept hazy by the 173-strong cartel of Bishops and also the Vatican. There are so many grey areas. For example, the Questionnaire to be filled up the Laity: (1) Will it be uniform across all dioceses worldwide? (2) Will the Vatican go in for online survey through Google Form Questionnaire instead of allowing laity feedback to be diluted or doctored by Bishops? The Family Survey in India conducted by the Indian Bishops on behalf of the Vatican was a one such experience – a baby thrown with the bath water! No one knows what happened to the baby (survey)!! (3) Will financial accountability and transparency be one of the top priority areas? (4) Will other forms of corruption viz. financial and sexual in our institutions and parishes be covered and documented parish-wise and institution-wise? In India, the Missionary Educational and Health institutions consider themselves a law unto themselves. Will their role and deliverables form part of the Synod coverage? In India they are availing all tax benefits by using Minority Institution tag. If not, then the Synod will be totally meaningless, except for the 173 Indian Bishops who will be having a holiday in the Vatican and tours elsewhere at Laity's expense? Isaac Gomes, Associate Editor.
A leading theologian in Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire) has warned Catholics against the temptation of thinking that the Church is the private property of the hierarchy."Although it is called the Synod of Bishops, in order for this synodal assembly to be an event for the whole Church and not only a matter for "clerics", it is important to ensure… the real and effective involvement of the laity in its preparatory phase and its implementation," said Sister Christiane Baka, professor and the dean of philosophy at the Catholic University of West Africa in Abidjan (UCAO-UUA).Baka, who belongs to the Sisters of Our Lady of Peace in Côte d'Ivoire, holds a doctorate in philosophy from the Institut Catholique in Paris and a master's degree in theology from the University of Poitiers.She was recently appointed a member of Côte d'Ivoire's national contact group for the preparatory phase of the Synod of Bishops' assembly on synodality.In this interview with La Croix Africa's Lucie Sarr she sheds light on this ecclesial event. La Croix Africa: The diocesan phase of the Synod assembly on synodality began on October 17 in the local Churches. What are the stakes of this process?Sister Christiane Baka: Convening a Synod assembly on the synodality of the Church is to make Christians aware of the very nature of the Church: to make a real body by giving importance to all the members.This Synod invites all Christians to no longer remain in the situation of passive consumers, but to resolutely commit themselves to the joint action of proclaiming the Good News of Christ. The stakes are set by its very theme: to journey together in communion and with the participation of all. Although it is called the Synod of Bishops, in order for this synodal assembly to be an event for the whole Church and not only a matter for "clerics", it is important to ensure — and this is the objective of the general secretariat of the Synod — the real and effective involvement of the laity in its preparatory phase and its implementation. The Church is not the private property of the hierarchy, even if it is the hierarchy that is responsible for its proper functioning. We must all be aware of this! Proclaiming the Good News is not the prerogative of ordained ministers alone. Through baptism, lay people have the duty to be concerned about the good health of the Church, which requires the sharing of experiences of communion. Of all the challenges, communion presents itself as an inescapable requirement for achieving a synodal Church, as Pope Francis has called for with all his heart.A Church in mission is a Church that remains attentive to the calls of its members while at the same time refusing to be compartmentalized.Intra-religion communion is important, but it also calls for inter-religion communion. It is important to be open to others.This is the meaning of Pope Francis' invitation to leave our places of comfort and go to the peripheries.What avenues could you suggest to promote synodality in the Church, especially in Africa? How can we ensure that this synodal process is truly inclusive?Attention and fidelity to the Vademecum proposed by the general secretariat of the Synod of Bishops can promote inclusion for this synod.Annex A of the document is precisely very programmatic and invites us to give prior and primary interest to listening to and consulting the People of God in the local Churches.In Africa, the diocesan and national contact teams will have to be inventive in reaching out to all parts of the Church, both in urban areas (where information can find its way more easily) and in rural areas.All channels of information are to be employed: modern as well as traditional. Here we could mention the griots [poets and storytellers who pass on the oral tradition]. Their role is tending to disappear and it is a pity.I remember in my childhood, in the village, these messengers who, like sentinels, woke us up from our sleep some mornings.In the service of village authorities, they were in charge of announcing to everyone the information they carried. They were the holders and heralds of tradition.In the parishes, it is necessary to involve all the movements (the service of catechesis, prayer groups, women's associations, new communities, etc.).And in regard to ecumenical dialogue, we must also encourage the participation of other Christian movements.These movements, as well as all other religions (African traditional religions, Islam, etc.), have something to tell us about communion.With African traditional religions in particular, the time may have come to undertake and/or strengthen dialogue. Both ignorance and mistrust of them are detrimental to the mission of evangelization in Africa.Synodality is presented as a way to avoid abuse, especially of authority. There are mechanisms to combat all types of abuse in religious communities. What could religious congregations contribute to the Synod?In the Church, abuse of all kinds is indeed proof of the lack of communion and equality among the members. Above all, it is important to understand what the service of authority is in the Church.And in this, we have failed to contemplate Christ exercising his authority with the Twelve: for him, being a leader consisted above all in loving his disciples and listening to their desire for life and holiness.In religious congregations, authority is understood in this sense: to be at the service of communion — communion among the members, communion with the Church.The way in which responsibilities are organized, for example (by limited mandates, or co-responsibility), can limit the risks of abuses, it is true, without excluding them.In other words, because they give fraternal communion in community a central importance, religious congregations will be useful in contact groups.Their experience of general chapters — where the grassroots are involved and where all the living forces of the congregations are called upon — can be of appreciable contribution.