Why the 18th AMECEA plenary assembly in Malawi is important

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AMECEA Plenary Assemblies are always an impressive affair to behold. To see close to 200 African Catholic Bishops in procession at the opening or closing Eucharistic celebrations, all gathered in one place is truly an inspiring sight that speaks volumes of an African Church that is coming of age.

The 18th AMECEA Plenary Assembly of Bishops is this time being held in Lilongwe, Malawi from 16 to 26 July 2016 under the theme “New evangelization through true conversion and witness to Christian faith.”

The Plenary Assemblies take place every three years. Topics be discussed at the Lilongwe Plenary include early missionary work of evangelization in terms of challenges faced and success stories; the context of evangelization today; new evangelization as an opportunity for better Christianity in Eastern Africa with focus on family life and Small Christian Communities and how houses of formation can contribute to the process of new evangelization. Other topics to be covered are the role of the institutions of learning in the work of evangelization, with particular focus on the role of chaplaincies and how new evangelization can help deepen liturgical celebrations, especially the Eucharist and how these celebrations can enhance conversion and the witness to Christian faith. It is a loaded package but one that has been carefully prepared and the Bishops are ready to study and deliberate on these matters. But first, what is AMECEA after all?

WHAT IS AMECEA?

AMECEA stands for “Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa”. The association encompasses countries in Eastern Africa.

When the national Episcopal Conferences of the eight countries in Eastern Africa, namely Tanzania (1961), Zambia (1961), Kenya (1961), Malawi (1961), Uganda (1961), Sudan (1973), Ethiopia (1979), and  Eritrea (1993) came together, they formed what is known as AMECEA. The original members are Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and Malawi who formed the association in 1961. The Sudanese Episcopal Conference joined AMECEA in 1973, Ethiopia in 1979, Eritrea in 1993. The two affiliate members of  Somalia and Djibouti joined in 1995 and 2002, respectively.

The Episcopal Conference of Seychelles was once a member of AMECEA.

EARLY BEGINNINGS

It is quite a historical and remarkable feat that a motley gathering of some Bishops in Africa, before even the Second Vatican Council was called could have been so bold as to think of such an initiative. There was hardly precedent for something like that.

AMECEA was founded in 1961 and its first Chairman was then Zambian Archbishop of Lusaka who later became Cardinal Adam Kozlowiecki, S.J. Cardinal  Kozlowiecki died in Zambia in 2007. Fr. Killian Flynn, OFM Cap, also of Zambia was AMECEA’s first Secretary General.

When AMECEA was formed, it was known as ITEBEA standing for Inter-Territorial Episcopal Board of Eastern Africa. ITEBEA  was the brainchild of the Catholic Bishops of Tanganyika (today’s Tanzania).  In 1960 the Bishops of Tanganyika proposed, through the then Apostolic Delegation (today’s Nunciature) in Nairobi, that there be collaboration among Catholic Bishops in the region.  At that time countries that were under the Nairobi Apostolic Delegation are Kenya, Nyasaland (today’s Malawi), Uganda, Sudan, Tanganyika (today’s Tanzania) and Northern Rhodesia (today’s Zambia).  When their respective Bishops’ Conferences agreed to the necessity of working together, the then Apostolic Delegate Monsignor Guido Del Mestri consulted Rome and Rome gave its approval.

WIND OF CHANGE

The formation of AMECEA came at a time when the wind of change in both the Church and society was sweeping the African continent. In 1959 Pope John XXXlll (now Saint John XXXlll) announced the convocation of the Vatican II Council which ushered in a number of changes aimed at renewing the Church. On the other hand many African countries were campaigning and struggling for self-rule and political independence from colonial regimes such as that of the British.

REASONS FOR SOLIDARITY

Originally, AMECEA (ITEBEA) was not meant to be a permanent structure but rather a study forum where Bishops could meet time and again and together reflect on pastoral issues of common interest within the region. This was why the first Secretary General, Fr. Killian Flynn, was elected on a part-time basis. The first Chairman of AMECEA was Archbishop Adam Kozlowiecki; the late Laurean Cardinal Rugambwa of Tanzania was the President of ITEBEA. Today in AMECEA, all the Cardinals are designated as  Patrons of AMECEA.

By coming together, under the AMECEA banner, the various Episcopal Conferences engage in joint action on common programmes and common problems affecting the region. The AMECEA Plenary Assemblies provide an opportunity for Episcopal Conferences to co-operate and collaborate in many areas of Evangelizaion.

It is also important for Bishops in the region to meet with their brother Bishops in order to affirm one another as brother-Bishops,  speak and study issues of common pastoral interest together. AMECEA also serves as an agency of coordination in organising important themes of study. The Secretariat of AMECEA (situated in Nairobi) serves as a focal point through which joint programmes and projects are implemented. Similarly, the Bishops of AMECEA jointly run a number of institutions. One such famous institution is the Catholic University of Eastern African (CUEA).

ORGANISATION OF AMECEA

With the passage of time, it soon became clear to the Bishops of AMECEA that a vast geographical area such as the one covered and brought together needed the establishment of a full-time secretariat. Thus in 1964, a permanent office was established in Nairobi, Kenya and a full time Secretary General was appointed. As a consequence, ITEBEA changed its name to AMECEA and the first constitution of the Association was approved.

The mandate of AMECEA is of a pastoral nature. Through the Plenary Assembly, decisions and policies are made and entrusted to an Executive Board, AMECEA Secretariat and then National Episcopal Conferences.

From its founding the AMECEA Bishops decided that they were not going to be mere spectators while society fell apart.  They would therefore engage society and meet all the challenges head-on. A major responsibility of AMECEA and its Plenary Assemblies therefore is to find common strategies and seek for pastoral solutions to the challenges facing the African Continent. 

Through studying together and undertaking research in areas of common interest, the Bishops become better informed and are therefore in a position to provide sound pastoral direction to the flock. The Bishops of AMECEA always have at heart the promotion of human rights, justice and peace, Evangelization and the growth of the Church, freedom of religion and advocacy for the oppressed. Good governance and HIV/AIDS, preferential option for the poor and the marginalized are also areas that preoccupy the Bishops. In recent years, the AMECEA Bishops have increasingly become concerned with issues of self-reliance, prudent fiscal management, transparency and accountability. In moving with time, the Bishops have also embraced new communication technologies as an important aspect of communicating the Gospel of Christ. For this reason, AMECEA dioceses today own many Catholic radio stations and the Church in the region is exploring new ways of communicating using social and new media.

There is also a new focus area of advocacy particularly in matters of poverty eradication and sustainable development.

 IMPACT OF AMECEA PLENARY ASSEMBLIES

If one wanted to gauge the impact of AMECEA Plenary Assemblies on the region, one needs  to look at the 1976 AMECEA Plenary Assembly which was held in Nairobi at St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary from 13 to 23 July. This Plenary Assembly had as its theme “Building Small Christian Communities.” At this Plenary Assembly, the AMECEA Bishops decided to make Small Christian Communities as the Pastoral Priority of the work of Evangelisation in all AMECEA countries. This decision has had far-reaching consequences and today, Small Christian Communities are to be found in almost every parish within the AMECEA region.

Whenever the Bishops meet for these Plenary Assemblies, it is usually over a period of 14 days. The first day is dedicated to prayer and recollection. The second is the opening public Mass. The first week of the Plenary Assembly is usually known as the ‘study session’ of the Conference. During the study sessions position papers are presented by experts on various topics in line with the main theme. Bishops sometimes go into study groups which are then followed by open discussion and debate. The final session would  then adopt resolutions which would be shared in a communiqué at the end of the  two-week Plenary Assembly.  The second week of the Plenary runs as a business meeting for the Bishops. During this business week the Bishops listen to reports from the AMECEA Secretariat staff and AMECEA institutions such as CUEA and make any major policy decisions that may arise from the reports. It is also during this business session that appointments to vacant positions of their institutions are made.

AMECEA INSTITUTIONS

The authority of all activities of AMECEA rests with the Plenary Assembly of all the Bishops of the AMECEA-member countries. Between the Plenary Assemblies, the Executive Board makes the necessary decisions according to the AMECEA priorities. The day to day decisions are taken on behalf of the AMECEA Chairman by the Secretary General. The present Secretary General is Fr. Ferdinand Lugonzo of Kenya.  He is based at the AMECEA Secretariat in Nairobi.

The AMECEA Secretariat in Nairobi has a number of key departments such as the Social Communications, Justice and Peace and the Pastoral Departments.

The Social Communications Department aims at fostering the growth of Social Communications for Evangelization in the region. Among other priorities, the AMECEA Pastoral Department incorporates the Apostolate to the Nomads of the AMECEA region. The Apostolate to the Nomads was established in 1976 and aims at Evangelizing the Pastoralists, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic people.

AMECEA prides itself of key institutions of learning for its members. Foremost of these institutions is the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA).  As an academic organ of the local churches in the AMECEA region, this institution carries out Christ’s mission of Evangelisation through research and teaching. The University was formally inaugurated by the late Pope John Paul II in August 1985. The University is continually working to make itself relevant to key stakeholders.

The accountancy course at St. Augustine University of Tanzania (SAUT) was established to train accountants who would work in Church-related institutions of AMECEA-member  countries. 

Blessed Bakanja AMECEA College in Kenya was established in 1998. It is a regional Theological Seminary and House of Formation for Seminarians drawn from the eight AMECEA-member countries.

The AMECEA Pastoral Institute (API/GABA) was one of the earliest AMECEA institutions. Established in 1967 and originally situated at Gaba, Kampala in Uganda,  the Institution was forced to move to Eldoret, Kenya in 1976 because of political insecurity in Uganda, at the time. The AMECEA Pastoral Institute is a Catholic pastoral institute which offers  an opportunity for ongoing formation, pastoral study and renewal to Priests, Sisters and lay people. Today the Institute is part of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA).

AMECEA-GABA PUBLICATIONS

AMECEA -GABA Publications is a publishing department of AMECEA under CUEA. Among its notable publications have been AFER (African Ecclesial Review) Magazine and Spearhead Magazine. AFER was designed to be a scholarly journal distinguished for open discussion on pastoral issues affecting the Church. Spearhead Magazine instead would offer monograph series which evolve from pastoral research by various AMECEA Scholars.

Source: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/07/16/why_the_18th_amecea_plenary_assembly_in_malawi_is_important/1102949

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