Strong Enculturation in Liturgy of 1980s “has not developed”: South African Bishop

Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of South Africa’s Umtata Diocese. Credit: SACBC

Initiatives towards enculturation in liturgy witness in the 1980s in Southern Africa eclipsed, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of South Africa’s Umtata Diocese has been quoted as saying.

In an interview published Tuesday, January 24, the Bishop who is at the helm of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) underscored the need to distinguish between cultural aspects that can be integrated in the liturgy and those that need to be discarded because they are “contrary to the faith”.

“Enculturation in terms of the liturgy was stronger in the 80s, then it stopped; we are doing liturgy as enculturated from those experiences, it has not developed,” Bishop Sipuka told South Africa’s Radio Veritas

He added in reference to enculturation, “We are trying to understand it in its traditional context so that we can see how we merge it with faith.”

“The principle is that, in culture, there are a lot of things that are good; so it is not in our view that anything cultural must be thrown away, but we also know that there are elements in the culture that are contrary to the faith and so we shall see how to deal with that,” he said.


Bishop Sipuka highlighted Ubungoma, divination in the Zulu culture, as one of the traditions that the Church is looking into. 

“Now we are dealing with Ubungoma, which we hope to complete the research by the end of this year and then hopefully by next year maybe we can be able to give some direction,” the South African Catholic Church leader said.

In the interview with Radio Veritas that was conducted on the sidelines of the SACBC Plenary Assembly, Bishop Sipuka said Catholic Bishops are looking into the participation of the Laity in the Church and the progress of Catholic schools, among other issues.

He expressed concern about the dwindling numbers of the youth and their passiveness in Church activities.  

“If I go according to the Synod report, I can say that the youth are not active; so this year we are struggling to get them organized because when they are disorganized at the Diocesan level, then they will also be disorganized at the national level,” said the South African Bishop.

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Because of the inactiveness and dwindling numbers of Catholic youths, Bishop Sipuka said it is difficult for Dioceses to send representatives to the World Youth Day (WYD) celebrations in Lisbon, Portugal, in August this year.

“Of what use will it be to send someone to Lisbon then he/she goes there when there is no constituency to report to?” he posed, and added, “However, there are some Dioceses that will be sending their young people; unfortunately, it’s much less than we did last time.”  

He said the SACBC Plenary Assembly that concluded on January 24 sought ways to make the youth active in the Church.

The 62-year-old Bishop also lauded women for their active participation and positive contribution to the life of the Church.

He said the Church in South Africa will embrace more women in leadership positions “because, from the experience we have had of women in these higher positions, it has been positive.”


Regarding Catholic schools, the South African Bishop said, “We have lost and are losing some of our institutions; I think that is what we need to strengthen.”

He said there is a need to strengthen the learning institutions because “our schools are the remaining major platform of influence by the Church.”  

Silas Mwale Isenjia is a Kenyan journalist with a great zeal and interest for Catholic Church related communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communication from Moi University in Kenya. Silas has vast experience in the Media production industry. He currently works as a Journalist for ACI Africa.