The opening Mass of the 16th Plenary Session of ACWECA took place on 17th August 2014 at the Cathedral of the Child Jesus, Lusaka, Zambia under the theme: “Go out, be not afraid, and serve”. Prior to the Mass the Cathedral grounds were filled with women religious from all Dioceses of Zambia, along with women religious from each of the countries of East and Central Africa: Eritrea, Ethiopia, Republic of Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi.
There was a long, ceremonious procession as Bishops Evans Chinyemba and Patrick Chisanga (OFM Conv), alongside ten local and visiting concelebrants, entered the Cathedral.
After introductions and opening remarks, including the welcome by Sister Margaret Mary RSC, Chairperson of National Zambian Association of Sisterhoods (ZAS), the lovely liturgy began, supported by the choirs and their keyboards and drums.
Bishop Chisanga preached on the readings of the day, the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time, concentrating mainly on the Gospel. He brought out the fact that the Canaanite woman had great courage, despite Jesus’ apparent ignorance of her first cry for help, perhaps because she was a woman, or perhaps because she was a foreigner. Despite being publicly humiliated she was insistent. However Jesus’ message nevertheless was clear – that we are all members of the house of God, and God does not have favourites and that we are all acceptable to Him. The message we have to send to our world today is, as the theme of the meeting suggests – “Do not be afraid…” to challenge the falsity, even among those in high places.
At the Offertory, each ZAS branch, one from each Diocese, brought symbols of their ministries. As each symbol was brought – banners, a large basket of fruit, seeds, a broom, a citenge, calabash and a lamp were brought forward, an explanation of it was given.
After the symbols, and perhaps stealing the show, came nine little girls, dressed in the National Costumes of the participating countries, and carrying flags of the ACWECA countries. Everyone who had a camera used it at that moment!
Towards the end of the Mass, Professor Nkanda Luo, Minister for Chiefs and Traditional Leaders, addressed the Congregation. Her message was clear. As a former, (and troublesome!) pupil of Roma Girls Secondary School and Dominican Convent she spoke of her appreciation of the Sisters in her formative years, although she did not appreciate them at the time. She praised the way that the Sisters work in places where Government officials refuse to work. She said, “They run away, but you stay”. Referring to those working in hospices and on Home-Based care projects, she said, “Civil Society largely will not do what you do”
Bishop Chisanga’s few words at the close of the Mass were stimulating. He said that the Gospel has not found its place in our country and culture. He therefore encouraged the Sisters by reminding them that they, by their prayer, community and apostolate are the backbone of the Church. He said that just as there are many attacks on the validity of the Church, there are as many attacks on the validity of Consecrated Life. Thus he advised them to adhere to their vows, and to carry on their apostolates with smiles on their faces. Finally he wished all a very fruitful meeting so that as a result of it, glory will be given to God and the sanctification of God’s people.
Finally, Bishop Evans conveyed the message from Pope Francis that the ACWECA meeting would bring ‘fresh impetus’ to Consecrated women; and he offered his blessing that the beauty of the Gospel would shine forth with renewed splendour.