Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo, the Catholic Bishop of Oyo Diocese and President of CEPAC, was in Lagos last week for the 50th anniversary of the assembly of the Pan-African Episcopal Committee for Social Communications (CEPACS), with the theme, CEPACS at 50: Promoting a Synodal Church in Africa through Social Communications. CEPACS is the French acronym for: Comité Episcopal Pan-Africain Pour les Communications Sociales, established in 1973, the Bishops of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM). He spoke on the new vision for CEPACS and the church. Excerpts by SEYI JOHN SALAU:
What is the vision driving this Synodal church initiative?
Communications, over these 50 years, has been like “the seasoning in a family dinner”, largely invisible but nonetheless reasonably effective. Established in 1973 at Ibadan, Nigeria by the assembly of Bishops of Africa to bring together communication committees from different regions of Africa and explore ways of effecting the instructions of the document Communio et Progressio (Unity and Advancement), the committee has fared fairly in carrying out its mandate. That mandate consists in addressing the challenges that concern church communication, the Catholic press, information, training of personnel, cooperation and financing of projects as concerns the catholic media institutions and professionals. Vision of the Catholic Church and the vision of this assembly of bishops and priests, and religious and laities, is that the church might be able to communicate better than it is doing now to help people communicate better with one another. We live in a period of synodality and you may have heard in the hall now; one of the bishops saying synodality is synonymous with church – which the church has to be Synodal. What does it mean to be Synodal? It is to listen to everybody; carry everybody along. Make everybody feel welcome in the church and comfortable. Now, that does not mean we lose the tenets of faith; it does not mean we lose the commandment of God, but that we express ourselves in a manner that people dont feel alienated in the church. So, if you ask me where the dream will be in the next 10 years, it will be to see a church that listens more to people. A church that is less bureaucratic, a church that helps people to want to belong, and to work towards unity and communion because the only thing that can save the world of today is communion, is unity, is reconciliation that is borne out of love. In fact one of the most important things that will come out of this assembly and that has come out is that communication is not just about instruments. Many people when you talk about communication, they think about the phone, thinking about television – the instruments is just a small part of the equation. The purpose of all communication as the church has said is the unity and advancement of human beings. And, advancement of humanity is not just about money, it’s also about finding their true destination and destiny in God, and in one another.
Will this help to prevent the issues around parting ways in the church like what we experience with the Protestants?
Well, you said to prevent it; this question should be really asked to those who went away. One thing I said the other day I was giving a press conference; I said, “When you said God is far from me, who moved? So, you are asking me why the Protestants moved – ask them. However, what the protestants at that time understood as a problem in the church; today they don’t look at it in the same way anymore. That may have been possible because of faulty communication. Some of them talked about status, but the church has always defended that it was images, and that doesn’t mean that they are gods. They simply remind us of who we are and where we come from. Everybody put the photograph of his father or his mother in his room – they don’t worship them. But you will not let anybody go and crash those photographs; why? Because it’s the face of somebody you admire, somebody that is dear to you. So, doctrine or doctrinal differences sometimes with better explanations they disappear. Unfortunately when human beings are configured in groups it’s not so easy to bring them back together again. That’s why the Synodal church is important at this time because the Synodal church is the one that works towards communion and unity, and advancement of humanity.
Earlier in your presentation, you spoke about youth participation in the church; can you explain further?
Well, the summary is that when CEPACS – this committee of bishops was formed 50 years ago, the dominant media of that time maybe was newspapers and the radio. From that time we have gone through television, we have gone through film, we have gone through video, we have gone through all sorts of things. Now we are in the digital era; we are going into the artificial intelligence era, we are talking about robotics. Now, the communication of that time fitted the time, the era; today that kind of communication does not fit this day anymore. So, the church has to move with the times if it wants to keep the attention and the faith of the young people who are in the church today. Most of our young people probably have never picked up a newspaper to read in the last one year but at every minute they are with their phones – its digital communication. Some of these communication are only a sound bite – short, sharp, but no depth sometimes. Short, sharp, but no feelings. But human beings are people with feelings. Human beings are people who think deeply about issues. So, the church has to find a way of communicating – for example, the dignity of every human being to the heart of young people who are not used to the media that communicate that. So, the church must improve its own communication; it must upgrade its own method of communication with the same focus of bringing Christ to people, with its own focus of evangelizing, with the same focus of bringing people more together. If you look at our society today, there is a lot of communication that is divisive – a lot of communication that emphasised tribal differences, that emphasised political differences, but the church has a duty to bring people more and more together. You will see that our differences fade away when we realise that we are all human beings made in the image and likeness of one God. During the mass yesterday I quoted the example of the Good Samaritan as a model, which has been quoted by the Pope as somebody everybody should follow. The Good Samaritan has no affiliation with the man who was attacked but he did all he could to bring him back to life. Why? Because he felt the same humanity as that person. So, a Synodal church will help us to feel more with one another and work together towards our salvation and our destiny.
Not much is known about CEPACS outside the church; what can you tell us about the assembly?
The CEPACS Golden Jubilee assembly being rejuvenated in Lagos, Nigeria, is thus an opportunity for stocktaking and strengthening of existing social communications structures and for designing new infrastructure for a truly Synodal Church. It is a chance to enhance Christian witness in a world fully engaging with more diverse and contemporary digital culture, align strategies with the youth and at the same time explore the intrinsic effectiveness of African culture and communicative elements for evangelization. The participation at this assembly, of the President of SECAM Fridolin Cardinal Ambongo with the SECAM standing committee and other eminent international stakeholders in church communications underlines the key role which CEPACS is now called to play in becoming the link coordinator with the dicastery of communications for the church in Africa and a catalyst of evangelization for the future in Africa and the entire world. Though CEPACS has had strong and weak moments and lacking visibility at times its effect remains unmistakable in the development of pastoral communications all over Africa. These include: the basic establishment and coordination of regional communication offices and contact persons, the collaboration with associations of communications professionals, from the defunct UNDA/OCIC/UCIP arrangement to the Signis/UCAP platforms, organizing of scholarships and training, evaluation of project funding, assisting in the implementation of the “Guide for the training of Future Priests”.