The SACBC plenary meeting is underway at the Mariannhill Monastery in Pinetown. The meeting started the afternoon on Monday the 1st of August with the Admin Board meeting as usual, and it will also end with the admin board meeting of Friday Morning.
Compared will the previous plenaries this will be a shorter one as it will take only five days in total. The afternoon of the 1st August was basically the board meeting and the reflection to open the plenary session, instead of the Opening Mass like in the previous plenaries. Then the everyday programme starts with the Mass and morning prayer before they get to the business of the day. The opening reflection, done during the Eucharistic Adoration, focused on the three themes of the synod; communion, participation and mission, and it was concluded with the Synod Prayer.
On Tuesday morning the Secretary General of the Conference gave his report. He, Fr. Hugh O’Connor, congratulated the Auxiliary-Bishop-Elect of Pretoria, Mgr John Selemela on his appointment to the Archdiocese. He also expressed his condolences to Archbishop Jwara, Bishop Risi, and Bishop Phalana on the passing away of the priests in their dioceses. The secretary General touched on various issues concerning the secretariat including the issue of property rates that seem to now affect the Church properties. The issues here is that some municipalities have now removed the Place of Worship designation from their rates policy categorising all non-residential church property under Business and Commercial. The policy is in force already for instance in the City of Cape Town and the feeling is that other municipalities may follow suit and that calls for a challenge.
After the Secretary General’s report the discussion was on the boundaries of the dioceses. The discussion is basically about the realities of small dioceses or communities which are not economically viable. And whether there would be a need to suppress some of the dioceses or not, or creating new dioceses. So, this discussion is about the challenges brought about by these ideas and how they will affect the people of God. Another issue in deliberation is whether it’s necessary to change the names of dioceses when there are political name changes since it might change again with a new political party in charge in the future.
A summary of the Synod of Synodality was also discussed in the morning session. This is a summary that was compiled from the reports which were submitted by the dioceses to the secretariat for collation. In general, the summary shows that there are areas of convergence from all dioceses in certain areas in terms of what they think about certain issues in the church, but also as to be expected there are areas where there is a wide divergence of ideas and feelings.
In the afternoon the focus was on the department of Christian Formation and Apostolate of the Laity presented views from the three bishops of the department regarding issues around celebrating mass and other sacraments in the post-covid restrictions period. They looked at factors like the use of masks, communion of concelebrants, communion from the chalice and sanitising. It was concluded on the note that whatever the diocese decides it will be important to communicate these things to the priests and the faithful. The department also led a discussion on the ministry of instituted catechists. The department provided some proposals for ongoing discussion and planning in regard to this ministry of catechists. In the end it was felt that the matter needs further consideration from the diocesan levels.