By: Sr. Nkhensani Shibambu
On 17 August 2021, six conferences of Major Superiors in the Southern African region met together on Zoom for the first time in their history heeding the call of the Conference of Major Superiors of Africa and Madagascar (COMSAM) for the conferences to form the Southern African regional conference of COMSAM. The six conferences making up this new region are South Africa which includes South Africa, Eswatini and Botswana; Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, Lesotho and Zimbabwe. COMSAM had previously written to the Presidents of these conferences advising them to form themselves into a regional conference.
The meeting was facilitated by three presidents of Religious Conferences of Major Superiors- Sr Nkhensani Shibambu CSA, Leadership Conference of Consecrated Life (LCCLSA), Fr Constantino Bogaio, MCCJ Mozambique, and Fr João Fernandez CSsR Angola.
The purpose of the meeting was to formally begin the process of forming a Southern African Regional Conference of Major Superiors and to give an opportunity to the members of the 6 conferences to get to know each other.
Present in the meeting was Fr Agostinho Maholele from COMSAM who is the Southern African Focal Point. Fr Maholele gave a presentation on what COMSAM is and what their expectation about the new regional conference is. He highlighted that the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, (CICLSAL) expects COMSAM to animate religious life in Africa and Madagascar. However, COMSAM can only achieve this when there are national and or regional conferences in the continent. This is the reason why COMSAM wants all the national conferences to organise themselves into regional conferences. This ensures collaboration and communion amongst the different conferences. Fr Maholele went further to say that individually, the conferences will not achieve much but can achieve more when they work together. He highlighted the advantages of collaborating together but warned that advantages also have disadvantages and that there will always be challenges in collaboration; nonetheless the gains far outweigh the challenges. Language for instance, will be a challenge but the Bishops through IMBISA have shown that it is possible, it just needs creativity. He concluded by saying that this meeting will be written in history as the birth of COMSAM Southern Africa and the participants will be referred as the pioneers thereof.
Fr Dumisani Vilakati the Director of the Secretariat of the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) also graced the meeting with his presence and gave a brief overview of what IMBISA is and how it functions. He highlighted that it is important to be a sharing Church and that it is out of collaboration that our resources can be utilised optimally because we need to share the limited resources at our disposal. Most importantly, he emphasized that it is through this collaborative venture that we can grow together.
After the 2 presentations, the 6 conferences were each given an opportunity to present their conferences, highlighting their achievements, challenges and how they think they can make the collaboration work. From the sharing, the participants reflected that it was striking to learn that a lot of the conferences had commonalities such as their prioritisation of formation. They found it inspiring to witness the vitality of religious life and the works and contributions of each conference and heart-warming to see the attendance of the members from the different conferences. This was said to be proof that everyone is keen on moving ahead with the establishment of the regional conference.
Br Kipoy Pombo, President of COMSAM was also in attendance. He congratulated the members and encouraged them to continue with the good work. He also expressed gratitude to the organising team – Sr Nkhensani, Frs Constantino and João. He concluded by stating that he hoped the members will join COMSAM’s General Assembly to be held in February 2022.
An opportunity was given to the participants to get to know one another where they were divided into groups and went into break-out rooms. They were given questions for reflection after which they came back into plenary and gave feedback. From their reflections, the members were very excited about this initiative and felt called to unity and collaboration in the region. They expressed hope that this initiative will give the conferences space to work together especially in the area of formation of formators and leaders as this is a priority for all the conferences. They further reflected that this initiative will provide a platform for the conferences to support and learn from each other, deal with common problems, share resources, share ideas on how to deal with current challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic etc. They also saw a need to continue with communication to improve collaboration. All the members present voted in favour of the establishment of the Southern African Regional Conference.
As a way forward, the meeting resolved that each conference will appoint a member to form a steering committee whose responsibility will include the development of statutes for the newly formed region. The statutes will then be presented to the assembly before COMSAM’s General Assembly in February 2022. The gathering was adjourned with new bridges built, barriers dissolved and friendships made.