IDC IMBISA region
Deacon Greg Garnie, board member of IDC, gives an overview of the diaconate in the IDC IMBISA region
There are 9 countries or territories that comprise IMBISA, the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa. They are Angola, Sao Tome & Principe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Having established an IDC affiliate in the IMBISA region in 2009, the first formal meeting of the IDC IMBISA committee took place in Johannesburg in September 2013. The plan of action that developed out of that meeting set the first priority as that of seeking approval from IMBISA to become a registered association of the Diaconate for our region under the IMBISA Pastoral department.
In my own observation of our region there are bishops in IMBISA who are very happy to promote the diaconate and are extremely supportive of the restoration of the order. Geographically and from a conference perspective, the greatest support for the diaconate can be found in South Africa and Namibia. At diocesan level, the greatest support stems from religious congregations and missionaries. Each diocese has its own level of resistance and of support. The Archdiocese of Johannesburg and Durban are, arguably, the most supportive and pro-active of the South African Conference. The Archdiocese of Bulawayo remains the sole supporter of the diaconate in the Zimbabwean conference although the promotion of the diaconate appears to have taken a back seat in recent years. Of the two dioceses in Botswana only the diocese of Gaborone is actively supporting and promoting the diaconate. The Bishop of Gaborone has gone so far as to include the deacons in the Council of Priests meeting now known as the Council of Clergy. A deacon from Zimbabwe, who is now based in the
diocese of Windhoek in Namibia, is making efforts to help the deacons there in their on-going formation and networking. Up to now the only contact person in Windhoek has been Fr. Mereck Fischer who is the responsible person for the diaconate in the diocese of Windhoek. At this time I have not engaged with contacts in the other IMBISA areas e.g. Angola, Sao Tome & Principe, Swaziland or Lesotho.
Since 2008, we have tried to get the support of St. Augustine’s College (Catholic University) in Johannesburg, to develop a regional standard formation programme for aspirants to the diaconate, on an education by extension basis. The Jesuit institute in Johannesburg had been running a diaconate formation programme for some years but in 2014 they gave over that responsibility to the Theological Education by Extension College (T.E.E.C.), an ecumenical distance learning facility. The Jesuits in turn have become markers and consulters for the T.E.E.C. and tutors for diaconate formation. St. Augustine’s College has introduced a complimenting 2 year theology course which is an on-line programme including but not limited to diaconate formation. In 2015, the combination of the St. Augustine’s programme and the T.E.E.C. programme will become the new 5 year formation model for aspirants to the order of deacons. The Archbishop of Johannesburg will present this programme to his fellow South African bishops in due course that may see this programme become available nationally and regionally. Bishops in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique would have access to this programme, although the language medium may limit it to countries where English is a major language. All in all a very positive development. It is still our hope that St. Augustine College will be able to offer a full 5 year programme in due course. A key component and challenge, besides the funding, will be to attract the right person/s to help St. Augustine’s to set this up and manage it. Perhaps the board and delegates may wish to discuss this in greater detail.
It is my firm belief that the positive developments seen thus far in Johannesburg and South Africa as a whole, will have far reaching consequences for the region in the coming years. There has always been the need for a catalyst in our region to drive the aims and objectives of the restoration of the order of deacons. The recent Ad Limina of the bishops of South Africa saw the Holy See commend the bishops for promoting the diaconate and continuing to improve the formation model. The bishops were encouraged to continue promoting and supporting the diaconate. The desire to have a national and regional standard formation programme has been taken up by the bishops. The influence of the Jesuits in mentoring and assisting in the establishment of distance learning and internet based learning is beginning to bear fruit. St. Augustine College and Sr. Edith Raidt (President Emeritus) who remain firmly engaged in the vision of IDC IMBISA and their collaboration with the Jesuits and other stakeholders.
All these efforts provide the catalytic components needed to push us in the right direction.