, 15 May, 2020 / 4:27 AM
The members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) have, in a pastoral letter, expressed solidarity with their laity who they say are experiencing stress owing to the COVID-19-related restrictions in Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland.
In the collective statement, the members of the three-nation conference noted that in a bid to defeat the pandemic through such measures as social distancing and avoiding public gatherings including the celebration of Mass in public, people continued to be “physically cut off from consolation, companionship and joy” and that the parishes were now “lonely.”
“Dear Brothers and Sisters the parishes are lonely for you, you are missed. We will meet again; He is risen, He is beside us,” the Bishops said in their Wednesday, May 13 message.
In the letter penned on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, the Bishops of various dioceses in the three countries noted that it was not helping that people who were locked away in distress could no longer find consolation from meeting fellow Christians.
“As the Catholic Bishops of Southern Africa, we are concerned in a particular way for our many brothers and sisters who are experiencing stress at this time of lockdown. To defeat the pandemic and protect our neighbors we are physically cut off from consolation, companionship and joy,” they said.
“We all go through times of distress in life; funerals, divorce, poor relationships, poverty, insecurity, financial breakdown, poor housing and hopelessness. Normally we can call on friends, sit with neighbors around a table, visit relatives, go shopping, visit a church and kneel before the Lord and on Sundays enjoy the companionship around the priest, the Word and the Eucharist. Isolated we feel our humanity is diminished,” the heads of the Catholic Church in Southern Africa said.
They added, “Deprived of social connections we find ourselves feeling helpless and incapacitated. Life is by-passing us. In the past we have been able to rise and respond to challenges but now we sit behind closed doors. One may feel of no use.”
This, the Bishops said, should not be the feeling out there since “we are of use, we are valuable in the very sight of God, our Father, valuable for ourselves. He has no one else unique like each one of us.”
In their hope-inspiring message in the hardships brought about by COVID-19, the members of SACBC say that God has never loved people for their usefulness.
God is love and He rejoices in our very existence, the Bishops say, adding, “As a mother simply rejoices in the presence of her baby, so God rejoices in us. The child’s smile and love is the mother’s reward.”
“Locked inside we await,” the Bishops said, and added, “The agony of waiting now weighs heavily upon us. Our modern lifestyle does not appreciate waiting. But there are signs that waiting and hoping are productive of great fruits.”
Alluding to the Biblical narrative of waiting in faith, the three-nation Church leaders said that the children of Abraham waited forty years in the desert to enter the Promised Land. They also hinted on other Biblical examples including Jesus, who lived hidden from the world as a carpenter in Nazareth for 30 years.
Again, Mary Magdalene waited outside the tomb and the disciples in the upper room. What came from this waiting in the time of God, the Bishops said, was the transformation of life.
“At Fatima, today’s feast, Mary requested the little children to pray and do penance. She showed that many were lost to God because they have no one to carry them in spirit, nobody to pray and do penance for them,” they said in their two-page letter.
Encouraging the culture of praying for one another especially in the time of the pandemic, the Bishops said, “We are inter-connected in a very deep way spiritually. Even now we can do wonderful things for others and for the world by our prayer and by enduring with faith the penance of helplessness.”
“We are woven into the body of Christ; we are not alone, and everywhere holy people are praying for us. Around the world devout children offer up prayers and sufferings, the old bearing their old age with faith are praying, the contemplative Nuns and Brothers have dedicated their lives to pray for us; Mass is being offered every moment of the day uniting us in the Lord.”
In the pastoral letter, the Bishops sought to reach, in a special way, those who had been affected by COVID-19.
“Our hearts go out to all who are depressed,” they wrote, adding, “We understand the fear. The Church sees each as infinitely precious. We are living branches of the Vine. He is intimately within for He cannot be locked out.”
Alluding to the disciples of Jesus who were fear-struck in a shipwreck, the Bishops urged for calm.
“Let us hand over our fears to him so that He can conquer them. Like the disciples in the storm in the lake we will experience that with him on board, there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength – turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies,” the members of the three-country Conference said.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa