FROM CLARICE AZUATALAM, in Kigali, Rwanda
Rwandan government has hailed the Catholic Church for its efforts in helping to build peace in the country since after the 1994 genocide which claimed about 250,000 lives of the people.
The commendation was given by Hon. Jean Marie Vianney Gatabazi, the Minister of Local Government Administration, Rwanda during the opening ceremony of SIGNIS Africa Congress and Delegates Assembly which took place in Kigali, Rwanda from July 11, 2022-July 15, 2022 with theme: “Communication, Synodality and the Church in Africa.”
Gatabazi who said that the government of Rwanda was impressed with the theme of the congress also pointed out that “you cannot build unity without communication and the help of the Church.”
The minister also noted that “at a time when some media organs are promoting conflict, the Catholic Church is working for the unity of Rwanda.”
While listing the media organs in the country which the Church is using to promote peace such as Pacis TV and Radio Maria, he also expressed gratitude to the Church for choosing Rwanda for the 2022 SIGNIS Africa Congress pointing out that his country “is one of the safest place in the world because since after the genocide we have chosen unity so that we can work for the development of our country.”
Gatabazi who further said that the government of Rwanda has put a lot of strategies in place for obtaining visa on arrival for visitors coming to the country urged people to always bring in sporting fiestas and even political activities, like the recently-concluded Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) conference to his country.
Declaring the congress open, Antoine Cardinal Kambanda, Archbishop of Kigali also expressed joy that SIGNIS Africa brought the congress to Rwanda at this auspicious period of the Church in the country.
Kambanda who also said the theme of the congress was apt urged the delegates to the congress to always listen to the Holy Spirit first before communicating with the people because the Holy Spirit is the chief communicator.
“It is after listening to him that we can share the inspiration with the people and therefore we can journey together” he said, adding that social communication is very important in the society these days.
Going further, he recalled how COVID-19 pandemic made people to be locked in but “the ICT came to the rescue of the people, showing the importance of the social media.”
He also recalled that during the lockdown Pope Francis was communicating with the people through social media but expressed happiness that the youths today who are the future of the Church are in the social media as well..
While recalling the 1994 genocide that engulfed Rwanda, Kambanda lamented that the media was used to spread the unfortunate incident.
Helen Osman , President of SIGNIS World Board of Directors who was unavoidably absent, in her address of welcome which she sent to the congress said that the message of the Pope for this year’s World Communications Day makes it imperative for us to listen to one another to ensure that sincere, honest, charitable and fulfilling communication occurs.
Osman who also said that “listening is a key attribute of the synodal process introduced by Pope Francis for the synod on synodality” urged all to enter into the synodal process with a deep desire to listen to the Holy Spirit who speaks through all people of goodwill.
She also reminded the congress that at this critical moment, the Church must understand how to adapt to the needs of the world suffering from ecological degradation, a pandemic, wars and other severe matters.
She further stated the need to listen to one another and to discern what we are called to be, based on Biblical injunction which says “See, I make all things new” as listening closely is the only way we can see this life.
In an address to the congress, Rev, Fr. Prof. Walter Ihejirika, President of SIGNIS Africa said that despite the constraints of COVID-19, the association has succeeded in bringing Catholic communicators from across the globe together to celebrate common vocation as communicators.
Ihejirika also said that the vision for SIGNIS Africa is to make it a strong Catholic communication association which will be able to “harness the mental and physical creativity of her members for spiritual and social development as well as provide propositions to the hierarchy of the continental, regional and national levels.”
The President of SIGNIS Africa also said that the strong belief of the association is that the communication apostolate is like the hub of a wheel and so “with good communication, the wheel of communal life of the Church in Africa will move faster towards her set destination.”
The gathering, he further noted would help to celebrate not only “ our common faith and pastoral calling as communicators but also deliberate on some of the fundamental questions proposed by the Church to guide the consultation of the people of God in preparation for the synod on synodality.”
This, he further noted would at the end help to “formulate concrete proposals for the Church’s hierarchy on how to enrich the processes of the synod with our African traditional means and processes of interaction.”
While noting that the strong presence of the hierarchy of the Church in Africa at the congress is an eloquent testimony of the premium which the Church places on communication today, Ihejirika who is from Nigeria also stated that SIGNIS Africa was “very optimistic about the future of the continent, of her teeming population, especially the youth” adding that “the congress would help the church to soar to greater spiritual and social heights.”
During the inaugural Mass conducted by Kambanda at the Regina Pacis Parish, Kigali, he basically charged communicators to realize that their mission on evangelisation to the world is to communicate love stressing depicting love in all messages as well as making it timely is important because good news delayed is no longer a good one.
Communications should be mutual and have understanding in every relationship-family, community, local and international even as he enjoined people to always have faith and trust in God.
In a keynote address titled:”Communication, Synodality and the African Church: Enriching the Synodal Process with African Traditional Means and Process of Interaction” and presented by Most Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Badejo, Bishop of Oyo Diocese, Nigeria, he said that the coming together of SIGNIS Africa in Kigali would help to focus the attention of all Catholic media institutions and Catholic media professionals on issues of actual importance to the mission of the Church in the continent and through them focus the attention of the wider world on those same issues by ensuring that Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), the coordinating platform for the Church’s mission in Africa is better known and better enabled to serve, especially through its regional structures.
Badejo who is also the President of Pan African Episcopal Commission for Social Communications (CEPACS) recalled how communication was in the past and now noting that digital communication has now overshadowed and permeated the world of communication.
While pointing out the importance of internet in communication, Badejo also stated that it has created a newer generation in the new communication world who understand it as second nature, otherwise known as the digital natives and those who because of age and formation are having to learn how to navigate the waters of new age communication, in their turn, known as the digital migrants.
Taking a doctrinal panorama on communion, he stated that “communication is more than the expression of ideas and the indication of emotion” and at its most profound level, it is the giving of self in love.
The Cleric also pointed out that Christ’s communication was in fact spirit and life as seen in the institution of the Holy Eucharist where Christ gave us the most perfect and most intimate form of communion between God and man made possible in this life.
Out of this, the deepest possible unity between men and in which “Christ communicated to us his life-giving Spirit, who brings all men together in unity.”
Going further, Badejo who stated that “communication mirrors the Church’s own communion and is capable of contributing to it” also recalled some themes of the World Communications Day from the Pope since 2009 which bordered on communication while adding that the one for this year 2022 themed: “Faith comes through listening” (Rom 10:17) Listening with the ear of the heart” were meant to eliminate structures of exclusion and promote inclusion.
“They show an unrepentant consistency of the Church in making communication to serve the purpose of communion within the Church so that no one is left at the margins and this explains why the Pope has consistently pushed the boundaries of communion in his magisterium and actions to make it possible “for us to dream and work as a single human family to build a more just and fraternal world without leaving anyone behind.”
He further said that the recent call of Pope Francis to the Synod on Synodality is a different kind of Synod which brings every voice including those of Bishops to the family of God.
While explaining the Synod on Synodality, he noted that it is “a qualitative jump in the quest for communion” and enjoined SIGNIS Africa to help in reviving “all potential components of collegiality in the Church for the purpose of increased participation and effectiveness in Church life.”
The synod on Synodality, the Bishop said takes on a special character for a group like SIGNIS Africa, because it addresses the very process of being Church rather than just a segment of her activity and life which ensures that everyone has something to learn and share in the Church as “a synodal Church is a listening, learning and sharing Church” he posited.
Stressing the importance of communication on synod, he enjoined communicators and the Catholic media professionals in the synodality to conceive ways they could help the Church to better experience collegiality and communion according to the mind of the Pope.
To him, SIGNIS Africa should do more in giving visibility and weight to the authentic experience of the local church and peoples in Africa as well as do more “to improve networking between the Catholic media institutions, programmes and professionals within Africa and with counterpart realities in the world, especially the Pontifical Dicastery for Communications.”
In his paper titled “ Journeys Together”: Delineating our Journeying Companions’ in Africa” Monsignor Janvier Yameogo, Dicastery For Communication, Vatican City stressed the importance of working together in the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ.
Yameogo who stated that “no pastor is above the community” also urged journalists to bear in mind that the community matters most adding that “even when we write, we should make space for God’s grace and be able to lead the people to greater heights as this does not mean “you are afraid.”
The Monsignor who also enjoined everyone to reflect on personal weaknesses before criticizing further pointed out the need to bear the burdens of others by applying the spirit of gentleness and love.
Others who presented papers at the congress are: Rev. Sr. Prof. Dominca Dipio of Makerere University, Uganda with the title: “Communication and the Listening Church: Enhancing Ecclesial Outreach to Young People, Women, Consecrated Men and Women and Those Who Are Discarded or Excluded ” while Mr Peacemaker Mbungiramihigo, the Director, Media Policy, Ministry of Local Administration, Rwanda’s own paper was titled “ Synodality, Dialogue and Conflict Management: Strategies for Overcoming Ethnic and Racial Difference for Enhanced Ecclesial and Social development.”
However at the end of the deliberations on the papers presented, the congress in its communiqué recommended that “in the spirit of Synodality, all Catholic communication structures in Africa need to make it their priority to introspect and bring about a more inclusive and participatory Church” which implies bringing more women and young people on board our governance structures.
It was also recommended that all Catholic communicators on the continent must constantly be aware that listening is essential and that walking together in synodality entails listening at a deeper level to all people without biases.
Furthermore, the communiqué recommended “that all national Episcopal conferences adopt the Nigerian and Burkina Faso model of commemorating World Communication Day for a whole week instead of celebrating one day” and make the week-long commemoration spread out in parishes “for media education and various awareness creation activities in Church communications.”
The communiqué which was signed on behalf of SIGNIS Africa by Ihejirika, stated that “social communications is the handmaid of the Church’s evangelising mission” and therefore as Catholic communicators in Africa, we renew our availability as communicators at the parish, diocesan, national, regional and continental levels to further the Church’s mission” appealing for the wider Church to embrace and incorporate social communications in all pastoral activities.”
It was also recommended that “Synodality is about respectfully reaching out to the others” and based on this, Catholic communicators in Africa were urged “to learn more than one international language and cultivate the spirit of networking” to help build bridges, encourage sharing of media projects and ensure efficient engagement in our services to the Church and humanity
On issues directly affecting the African Churches, the Congress stated “with
angst and total disapproval the unprovoked, incessant and mindless attacks, abductions and killings against defenceless citizens and in particular, Christians in many African countries such as Nigeria and Burkina Faso -in fact, the entire Sahel region” and strongly urged African governments to bring about sanity and security.
Continuing, the congress stated that “in building new Africa that we want , African governments, groups, and individuals should strive to transcend the artificial land boundaries to which the legacies of colonialism have subjected the continent” adding that now is the time “to pursue all the lofty ideals of connectedness that the African Union has often spoken about but rarely implemented.”
It was further stated that “as Africans, we are proud of our identity, celebrate and promote our values, and esteem our dignity as a people of noble heritage” and that this mantra is worth promoting in our schools, churches and communities.
In an election that took place during the Congress, the following officers were re-elected in a secret ballot for the next term of four years based on the new constitution for SIGNIS Africa board and they are: Rev. Fr. Prof, Walter Ihejirika, Nigeria – President; Rev. Fr. Alberto Buque, Mozambique-Vice President; Rev. Fr. Dieu-Donne Kofi Davor, Ghana – Secretary General/ Treasurer; ; Rev. Fr. Webb Amouzou, Côte d’Ivoire – Member (RECOWA Region); Sr. Adelaide Ndilu, Kenya – Member (AMECEA Region); Rev. Fr. Fidele Mutambazi, Rwanda – Member (ACEAC Region) and Br. Alfonce Kugwa, Zimbabwe – Member (IMBISA Region). ENDS