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New Catholic Bishop in South Africa Urged to Foster Unity amid “felt polarization”

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The new Catholic Bishop of South Africa’s Queenstown Diocese has been urged to work toward uniting the people of God who will be under his pastoral care amid cases of divisions characterized by “name-calling and demeaning labels.”

In his homily during the episcopal ordination of Bishop Siphiwo Paul Vanqa Saturday, May 29, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of South Africa’s Umtata Diocese appealed to the new Bishop to exercise wisdom in his episcopal ministry.

“Bishop Vanqa, you are becoming a Bishop at a time when there is felt polarization in the Church where there is name-calling and demeaning labels among its members,” Bishop Sipuka said, and added, “Your wisdom is needed to unite us despite our differences.”

“We belong to one Church. We are one body,” the Local Ordinary of Umtata Diocese who doubles as the President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) further said.

He highlighted a couple of groupings among church members and forewarned the new Bishop that as he begins his episcopal ministry, he is “being watched by the conservative and liberal factions, which side you will be taking.”

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“It is not a question of being a conservative or a liberal because both of these factions are good. It requires wisdom from you as a Bishop to take and synthesize and choose and feed the sheep that is entrusted to you,” Bishop Sipuka said, adding, “Help us not to be locked in the past that does not give life, but please help us also not to be swayed by false teachings.” 

He encouraged the new Bishop to pray for wisdom in view of helping the people of God “appreciate the foundation revelation of Christ in which the Holy Spirit who takes from what belongs to Christ develops and continues the presence and work of God among us.”

Bishop Vanqa, a member of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (SAC - Pallottines), was appointed as the Local Ordinary of Queenstown Diocese in March after serving as Diocesan Administrator since 2019. 

He has Jesus’ prayer for unity, “That they may be one,” as his Episcopal Motto.

Making reference to the motto during his homily, Bishop Sipuka told the new Local Ordinary of Queenstown Diocese, “Bring us together both at the level of the Diocese, the Conference at the Universal Church together with other Bishops.”

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The South African Bishop also noted that Bishop Vanqa is set to be the first native Local Ordinary of Queenstown Diocese and cautioned, “Getting one’s own can be both a blessing and a curse because while it brings joy and appreciation to get one’s own, it can also bring to disdain.”

“We know from the Bible people are rejected not because they have nothing to offer but because of who they are known to be,” Bishop Sipuka remarked and posed, “Was Jesus not rejected by his own?”

Addressing himself to those who will be under Bishop Vanqa’s pastoral care, Bishop Sipuka said, “You know this man too well. Yet he is at this time your Bishop. Let us avoid the temptation to occupy ourselves with the knowledge about him and focus on the life and work we are called to do with him as a Bishop.” 

He further advised the members of the Church in Queenstown to “make good use” of their time with the new Bishop “and build a foundation that those who come after us will stand on. Focus on what is important, good for the Diocese and not on the man.” 

Speaking about obedience to the Local Ordinary, Bishop Sipuka remarked, “Catholics are good at ritualizing things but sometimes we engage in these rituals without even thinking about them. And one of those is the lining up of Priests, Religious and Laity lining up to the Bishop as an expression of commitment to work with the Bishop.”

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“As we do that, let us mean it that when we go to him, we are not just fulfilling one of the rituals done at the ordination of the Bishop, but in honesty, we are coming to express to work hard with him in order to build this Diocese. Let us not just do a ritual,” Bishop Sipuka emphasized. 

In his speech at the end of the Eucharistic celebration May 29, the new Bishop of Queenstown encouraged vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life, appealing to families to nurture faith among their members because vocations come mainly from families who practice their faith. 

Bishop Vanqa also called on the people of God in the Diocese to support him in his episcopal ministry.