Speech of His Lordship, Most Rev. Peter Ebere Okpaleke on the First Meeting and On-going Formation of the Zonal Leaders on October 24, 2020 at the Maranatha House, St. Vincent’s Parish Amesi
This vision and mission are not new. The First Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, among other things, reminded Africans of the centrality of the image of the Church as family. Recently, the Congregation for the Clergy, published a document The Pastoral Conversion of the Parish Community in the Service of the Evangelising Mission of the Church on June 29, 2020 – the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul.
The title of this document says it all. It calls for a conversion of the parish and pastoral care as we know them today so that the potential of the parish community for evangelization will be unleashed. These emphases shape the vision and mission that we have adopted in our diocese.
It is with joy that I welcome you to this meeting which I called because you, as zonal leaders, are particularly important for the realization of the vision and mission of our new diocese. That vision is that of a diocese that is the family of the families of God; where everyone feels at home, is supported to encounter the Lord and grow in love and fellowship with others.
This family of God also reaches out to others in love; sharing the Good News of salvation with them. That is why our emphases are on grassroot evangelization, systematic catechesis, human promotion and preferential option for the poor. We must go out into the world to share the Good News, making disciples of all peoples and be like salt to change our environment.
By the title of this presentation, I want to draw attention to the fact that the waters of baptism are as thick as the blood of birth. I know that often the waters of baptism are presented as thicker than blood to emphasis the radical change and reconfiguration of identity that result from baptism.
Those baptised become brothers and sisters in Christ. They become members of a new family of God with Christ as the firstborn of many brothers and sisters (Rom 8:29). However, because this new family does not necessarily repudiate the bond created by blood and indeed because of the call to evangelize all other created reality, I want us to feel challenged not only to strengthen the bond of love between those baptised, but to take seriously the mission of evangelizing our roots – those we share blood relationships with.
That is why I want us to take seriously the fact that the waters of
baptism are as thick as the blood of birth.
The bottom line of what I want you to take home with you is that we are committed to charting new ways of being parish community. We know that presently, the zones are smaller units of the parish community that are mainly for administrative purposes – such as fundraising, collecting dues, clearing people for burial etc.
The zones will still be involved in these activities but we want the zones to become indeed families of God within the bigger parish family of God so that the parish may be a family of God within the larger diocesan family of God. This implies that the zones have to become spaces where Christians encounter God and each other in a smaller face- to-face context of warmth and love; a space where they feel like brothers and sisters called together by God, nourished and led by God through the pastor in collaboration with the zonal leader.
In that sense, as zonal leaders, you are leaders of the Christian community entrusted to your care. You are lay leaders. Ours is not uka fada. It is uka anyi. You have a responsibility and are called to collaborate with the priest. Before coming to reflect on how the zonal system can work best in our diocese, I want to take you down the history to see that before the emergence of the parish as we know it today, there were house churches.
I will also show that when the missionaries came, the communities were taken care of by lay leaders – the catechists. You are called upon to stand on the shoulders of these forebears, so that we can make the waters of baptism as strong as the blood of birth.