By Chishimba Chishimba
All was well and set for the 18th AMECEA Plenary in Lilongwe the capital city of Malawi under the theme: “New Evangelisation through True Conversion and Witnessing to Christian Faith.” The city was decorated in the AMECEA colors of chitenge as early as 16 July, 2014. It is indeed the country of warm hearts for I could not avoid but notice the smiles on so many Malawians I met. The plenary officially opened on 17 July with Mass at Civo Stadium presided by Cardinal John Njue with concelebrants that included the Patrons of AMECEA and Archbishop Vincenzo Pagli, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Family. The celebration was honored by the presence of the Head of State President Arthur Peter Mutharika, the First Lady dressed in the AMECEA chitenge, Honorable Saulos Chilima, the Vice President of Malawi, the Apostolic Nuncio to Malawi and Zambia Archbishop Julio Murrat, the President of SECAM Bishop Gabriel Mbilingi (Archbishop of Lubango, Angola), leaders of other churches and many other dignitaries. The celebration is one never to be forgotten for it was colorfully flavored with so many dances and songs.
In an opening presentation of the study session Archbishop Paglia emphasized the need to acknowledge the family as the beginning of the New Evangelization in Africa. He mentioned that the church should encourage family evangelization because it is in the family where the church is built. It is from families that Small Christian Communities are developed and built — hence the need to honor and acknowledge the importance of the family in the New Evangelization.
“New Evangelization as an Opportunity to Work towards True Conversion and Witness to Christian Faith (Emphasis on the Role of Family and Small Christian Communities),” a topic presented by Rev. Clement Majawa, was very interesting. He noted the importance of family in the New Evangelization. New Evangelization should begin from the homes where Christians live. It is these families that form Small Christian Communities. Small Christian Communities should therefore be forums of New Evangelization through discussing the realities of life such as unemployment, violence, war, injustices, HIV/AIDS, poverty, etc. and finding ways in which to solve them. SCCs are not lecture theaters where Christians sit quietly and listen for a long time. It is a participatory environment. It is in these SCCs that parents ought to accompany youth into adulthood by giving them proper guidance on the various ways of life.
Sunday, 20 July was among the most interesting days of the plenary. The Zambia Episcopal Conference joined Sacred Heart Parish (Mtima Woyera) in the Eucharistic Celebration which was presided by the Archbishop of Lusaka Archdiocese, Archbishop Telespore George Mpundu and concelebrated by Bishop Benjamin Phiri of Chipata Diocese who in his homily acknowledged the oneness of the Catholic Church despite different countries. He encouraged the church to maintain the solidarity which has existed since time in memorial.
The youth, a major component of the church, was another great topic discussed in the plenary and was presented by Bishop Martin Mtumbuka, Bishop of Karonga, Malawi. Mtumbuka noted that chaplains play a vital role in the formation of young people in institutions of learning — hence the need to have chaplains who have a heart for the young people. He encouraged and urged all Episcopal Conferences to ensure that higher institutions of learning have chaplains so as to ignite the faith of young Christians in such institutions as well as to keep the Catholic identity in existence. These institutions should not only be places of academic excellence but places of formation of intellect and character. Institutions of higher learning should be used as a means of New Evangelization to the young people.
Bishop Bernadini Francis Mfumbusa, Bishop of Kondoa, Tanzania elaborated on “The Role of Chaplaincies and Institutions of Higher Learning in Enhancing New Evangelization and the Influence/Impact/Role of New Digital Technology (ICT) and Social Media in the Evangelization Work of the Church.” Bishop Mfumbusa emphasized that there is need for digital migration in order to meet the young people. It is observed that young people are moving with the new technology and if the church is to enhance new evangelization then the church has to migrate to the use of ICT and Social Media for this is where the young people are. Archbishops and Bishops in Eastern Africa were urged to encourage and enhance the use of ICT and Social Media by advocating for and providing training.
The study sessions closed on Tuesday, 22 July with a topic presented by Bishop James Maria Wainaina, Bishop of Murang’a, Kenya. His presentation was on “Liturgy and Inculturation as Channels of New Evangelisation.” It is time for the church to bring Christ closer to the people by using local aids which will make the Christians feel Christ is within them. He emphasized the use of local hymns and dances in liturgy so as to incorporate the liturgy and culture. The church cannot sideline culture hence the need to incorporate the cultural aspect of life.
Without a doubt the 2014 AMECEA Plenary yield great rewards and was of vast benefit to the entire region of Eastern Africa. The participation was overwhelming and every session was one to look forward to.
Albina Chishimba Chishimba
Member of the Eastern Africa SCCs Training Team