Pope Francis “has shown extraordinary interest” in South Africans’ Lives: Apostolic Nuncio

Apostolic Nuncio in South Africa and Archbishop Siegfried Mandla Jwara visit flood victims in Durban Archdiocese. Credit: ACI Africa

Pope Francis “has shown extraordinary interest” in the lives of South Africans amid life threatening experiences, including last year's civil unrest and recent floods, the Apostolic Nuncio in South Africa has said.

In an interview with ACI Africa, Archbishop Peter Brian Wells recalled the Holy Father’s traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing following Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square on April 17 during which he offered his prayers for flood victims in South Africa.

“The Holy Father has shown extraordinary interest in what's going on here for some time now, especially regarding the problem with food insecurity, following the COVID 19 outbreak, and then the riots in July, but also he was very touched by what happened with the floods,” Archbishop Wells said.

Credit: ACI Africa

In the May 14 interview, the day the Nuncio, along with Archbishop Siegfried Mandla Jwara, Monsignor Dario Paviša, and Caritas Coordinators reached out to flood victims in Durban Archdiocese with food items, the representative of the Holy Father in South Africa recognized the Catholic Church’s financial assistance for various needs in Southern Africa in recent times.


“We have received over 3 million Rand from the Holy Father to offer food parcels”, Archbishop Wells told ACI Africa on the sidelines of his visit to Durban Archdiocese where he said he “had wanted to come down here for a while to show and extend the Holy Father’s solidarity.”

He added, “Through Catholic Charities, through our educational initiatives, also through the money that comes in from the Holy See and other international organizations, South Africa has received hundreds of millions of Rands worth of support, direct support, or of the work that has been provided for people.”

Credit: ACI Africa

“We think it's important for people to know the interests of the Catholic Church, especially in Southern Africa, especially in these times of great difficulty,” the Apostolic Nuncio in South Africa who also represents the Holy Father in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, and Namibia told ACI Africa.

He went on to acknowledge with appreciation initiatives undertaken by Caritas among the people of God in Southern Africa, including recent floods that affected the Southeastern Province of KwaZulu-Natal and parts of the Eastern Cape.

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“We really want to show what Caritas is doing on the ground here, because it is doing extraordinary work with very limited resources, but they're doing extraordinary work,” the 59-year-old Apostolic Nuncio said.

Credit: ACI Africa

In the May 14 interview, the American-born Archbishop recalled Pope Francis’ spiritual solidarity with the people of God in South Africa. He said, “The Holy Father mentioned South Africa in his address and offered his prayers and talked about his concern, especially for the people in this area of Durban and parts of Eastern Cape.”

Speaking to ACI Africa during the Apostolic Nuncio’s visit to his Metropolitan See, the Local Ordinary of Durban Archdiocese highlighted the needs of flood victims.

“It was heartbreaking to see the conditions that people are living in. Presently people need basic needs, children need clothes, especially school uniforms,” Archbishop Jwara said, recalling what was established during the May 14 visit to Lamontville in Durban Archdiocese.


Credit: ACI Africa

He added in reference to the pastoral visit to Nyuswa situated in the Valley of the Thousand Hills and Mzinyathi Traditional Authority in the North Coast, “We had to walk on very sloped areas, most places are not accessible by car because roads have been completely destroyed.”

“In Mzinyathi, people were grouped together in a town hall; they lost everything; it was very painful”, the member of the Congregation of the Missionaries of Mariannhill (CMM) who was appointed Archbishop of Durban in June 2021 said.

He added, “It's very clear that basic needs are so important right now; the last place we went, for instance, there were over 100 people living in a center together with more than 40 children. We distributed food parcels and gave a few words of encouragement and consolation; They were very grateful.”

Credit: ACI Africa

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On May 13, South Africa’s Police Minister Bheki Cele announced that  the death toll from the KwaZulu-Natal floods was at 447 and 89 people are reportedly still missing and that search and recovery operations were ongoing. 

A report published May 13 by the World Weather Attribution shows that human-induced climate change made the extreme rainfall that triggered last month’s deadly floods in South Africa.

"Without human-caused global warming, such an event would only happen once every 40 years, so it has become about twice as common as a result of greenhouse gas emissions," the report reads in part. 

Credit: ACI Africa

In the May 14 interview with ACI Africa, the Apostolic Nuncio in South Africa underscored the Church’s role in raising awareness about climate change and the need for proper housing.

“There's already been a multi-pronged approach,” Archbishop Wells said, and explained, “During his pontificate Pope Francis has on many occasions spoken about climate change, and has expressed his concern about climate change, because who does it affect? Principally, the people who are already marginalized, the poorest of the poor, are the first to suffer from climate change.”

Pope Francis “has talked many times on the need for proper housing, for the need to make sure that people have decent housing, a place to live,” the representative of the Holy Father in South Africa further said.

Credit: ACI Africa

“It's not just about building safe and secure houses, but it's also about building houses in a clean place, a place that is possible to bring up a family,” he continued. 

The Archbishop continued, “We were looking at the possibility of finding some assistance to help some people whose homes have been destroyed, but they cannot build again where they are now, it’s not safe … it would be irresponsible to build back there; we will not enter into this until we can ensure that we can get them to a different place.”

“We must always continue as a church to speak about these issues, to make people aware of this, and to make them realize that poverty at this level hits people at all different places. It's not just about not having enough to eat, it's also not having a decent place to live, it's also living in an unsafe place with no playgrounds for children”, the Apostolic Nuncio told ACI Africa.

He added, “We need to constantly be reminding people about this and trying to raise the level of consciousness of not just people here, but people all over within the church so that we can constantly be a voice for the voiceless, because these people do not have a voice.”

Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.