VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The solemn yet exuberant liturgies of African Catholic churches are a model for other Catholic communities seeking to invigorate their parishes and reach out to lapsed members, a Nigerian bishop told the world Synod of Bishops.
The celebrations of the Eucharist and other sacraments must be “more efficacious moments of faith impact,” Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of Oyo told the synod Oct. 15.
Bishop Badejo was one of dozens of synod members who spoke about enlivening parishes as the primary agents of the new evangelization.
“This can be done if we continually update homiletics and sacramental procedure with engaging art, language, idioms and imagery, which can better communicate their power and meaning,” the bishop said.
“The solemn, but exuberant multimedia liturgy” found in many African parishes also helps people focus on the action of the Holy Spirit, he said, and gives them the strength needed to stand up against “consumerism, corruption, materialism and relativism.”
Bishop Badejo said church leaders need to leave the “catacombs of fear and self-consciousness” and go where people spend their time, including “the streets, town squares, market places, nightclubs, shopping malls, even pubs and the slums.”
“Priests and bishops may not get the ‘high table’ treatment in these places, but just a word or gesture from us” could be the first encounter leading to a life of faith, the bishop said.
The bishop also told synod members that the Catholic Church must establish a new relationship with today’s media-savvy youths.
“Millions of youth all over the world are sharing the same stories, experiences and challenges — irrespective of their location — thanks to the new social, personal and digital media,” he said. “The church must humbly seek their confidence and trust, knowing that youth prefer a co-communicator relationship to the old teacher-learner, speaker-listener model.”
When young people and their talents are recognized and welcomed, he said, they can bring their faith and values to Catholic social media “with the right format and language.”
Nigeria has been the scene of violence sown by terrorists claiming to act in the name of Islam. The bishop said that while dialogue with Muslims can be difficult at times, is necessary, especially for Catholic communities like his that have faithful who grew up in Muslim families.
South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban told synod members that several dioceses in southern African, including his own, have experienced a blossoming of faith and a revival of parishes by using small-group faith-sharing programs like RENEW, which brings parish members together in each other’s homes for six to eight weeks twice a year to focus on specific themes of discipleship or church teaching.
The new energy, he said, led parishes to realize they must provide adults with continuing education in the faith; become more serious about preparing couples for marriage and offer support to newlyweds; and offer specific catechesis to those who have just received the sacraments of Communion, confirmation or matrimony.
For Ugandan Bishop Sanctus Wanok of Nebbi, the church must improve its efforts to help Catholics understand the Bible, something which Catholics actually want to do, as seen in the growing interest in retreats and prayer meetings.
The thirst to know the word of God is even clearer among youths and young adults of his diocese who, he said, go to Mass on Sunday morning, “but later go to listen to evangelical preachers at their gatherings” or on the radio and television.
Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad, Iraq, also emphasized the importance of the Bible for strengthening the faith of Catholics. “Without the word, we cannot encounter the Word in person,” he said, referring to the Bible and to Jesus.
Christianity, he said, faces the serious obstacle of a “widespread mentality which scorns religion, considering it an obstacle to social and scientific development,” creating a “fatal indifference, a type of masked atheism.”
Unfortunately, he said, the public image of the church is worsened by “disagreement within the church. A church which often finds itself defending, rather than witnessing to Christ,” is one that weakens the faith of the simple and fails to attract, he said.