Be Available to Youth “in these trying times”: South African Bishop to Clergy, Religious

Bishop Sithembele Anton Sipuka of South Africa's Mthatha Diocese. Credit: SACBC

There is need for members of the Clergy and women and men Religious serving in countries that constitute the Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) to be available to young people, listening to them as they seek to surmount challenges of life, Bishop Sithembele Anton Sipuka has said.

IMBISA brings together those at the helm of Catholic Dioceses in nine countries, including Angola, Botswana, eSwatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, São Tomé and Príncipe, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

In his homily during Holy Mass with delegates of the IMBISA 13th Plenary Assembly on September 25 at St. Mary’s Cathedral of Namibia’s Windhoek Archdiocese, Bishop Sipuka appealed to Priests and women and men Religious in the region “who spend their time entertaining themselves and do very little, if at all, to be present to young people.”

“The providence of celibacy with no families of our own to take care of is that we Priests and Religious would be available for the young people in these trying times of today,” the South African Catholic Bishop said.

The Local Ordinary of South Africa’s Mthatha Diocese who doubles as the President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) added, “Many young people today have broken families and backgrounds with no one to turn to and listen to them.”


He acknowledged with appreciated members of the Clergy and women and men Religious “who give time to young people to know and listen to them” and added, “If I were to propose one resolution for this plenary, it would be to make sure that Priests and Religious are available to young people.”

The September 22-27 Plenary Assembly was held at the Safari Court Hotel Conference Center in Windhoek under the theme, “Building forward together-Reimagining the Church’s Engagement with young people in the IMBISA Region in light of Pope Francis’ Exhortation, Christus Vivit”.

Delegates of the Plenary Assembly discussed challenges the youth in the region face, including migration, unemployment, formation in the faith, entrepreneurship, gender-based violence, mental health, alcohol and substance abuse, and the impact of terrorism on young people.

In a September 24 statement, youth delegates who participated in the IMBISA 13th Plenary Assembly thanked Catholic Church leaders in the region for making Christus Vivit, the March 2019 Post-Synodal Exhortation of Pope Francis to young people and to the entire people of God, “a focal point of the Plenary Assembly.”

In his September 25 homily, Bishop Sipuka bemoaned the “structural or systemic factors that contribute to their (young people) waywardness.”

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“These structural factors include the wars that we adults induce and fight and force young people to be part of them, and after the wars, dump them,” the President of SACBC Bishop Sipuka said, and added, “Young people bear the brunt of our selfishness when they get used as drug mules and get addicted to the drugs with which we make money.”

He said he found it regrettable that the young “are victims of the depraved desires of adults and get used for prostitution by the old men.”

Young people, Bishop Sipuka further lamented, “are trafficked and sold for their youthful body organs and many other forms of exploitation and dehumanization.”

“In Church, we not only ignore young people, but we betray their trust and sexually abuse them,” the 62-year-old Catholic Bishop who started his Episcopal Ministry in May 2008 as Local Ordinary of Mthatha Diocese said.

He continued in reference to young people in IMBISA region, “We have the global economy that tantalizes them and gives them false promises that they can never attain while it uses them to maintain itself for the benefit of the few.”


“The shining gadgets we love as adults are allegedly produced from child labour, where children dig with their bare hands the minerals used to make cell phones and computers that we buy and use without thinking about where they come from,” Bishop Sipuka further lamented. 

The South African Catholic Bishop called upon young people in IMBISA region to “accept your responsibility and go to confession if you need to, and get on with life doing the right things, but do not wallow in guilt; move on.”

Reflecting on the Gospel reading of the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time about Lazarus and the rich man, Bishop Sipuka challenged young people to reach out to each other and cautioned them against the temptation to be “too self-focused” and instead be “outward-looking”.

He told young people, “Even though your life may be difficult, you still have your Lazarus to respond to. Part of the reason you are so morose and stressed is that you are too self-focused; everything revolves around you, you feel sorry for yourself, and you are not outward-looking.”

Bishop Sipuka went on to appeal to young people in IMBISA region to “search for your Lazarus and do something with your life instead of feeling sorry for yourself; there is so much you can do, and there are so many situations that need your help.”

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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.