, 30 January, 2020 / 3:47 AM
The newly-launched pastoral plan of the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) is expected to be “a light in darkness” for Botswana, Eswatini and South Africa, to guide the three countries on the path of evangelization in contemporary times, and possibly redeem the people of God there from economic instability, corruption and social evils to become, once again, “the model and envy of the world,” a section of SACBC members have said.
During the launch, SACBC President, South African Bishop Sithembele Sipuka expressed concerns that his country had, over the years, slid from a coveted destination to a host of some of the biggest social evils in the Southern region of Africa and considered the new pastoral plan as proving a path to the lost glory.
“In 1994 we were spectacularly moved from the oppression of apartheid with great promises,” the South African Prelate recalled during the Sunday, January 26 event and added, “We were the model and envy of the world; our economy grew, we won soccer cup, we won the rugby world cup, we had self-leaders like Mandela, Joe Slovo, Kada Asmal, dedicated government ministers, and good Church leaders.”
Referencing the Sunday’s first reading, Bishop Sipuka lamented, “Right now we are like the Israelites when Isaiah spoke this message of hope to them; local governments are grossly mismanaged and resources are looted resulting in desperate reaction by the poor people.”
He likened the people of God in Southern Africa to the Israelites who were “spectacularly liberated from the oppression of Pharaoh in Egypt,” saying, “with load shedding, we literary live in darkness sometimes and also figuratively, darkness has descended upon us.”
The Local Ordinary of South Africa’s Mthatha Diocese decried the deteriorating socio-economic status of the region saying, “unemployment is growing phenomenally, violence is becoming a culture, especially against women and children, crime is rampant, the economy is declining, (and) our credit ratings keep going down.”
According to the Bishop, state-owned enterprises that were meant to bring income for the country are instead “bleeding the national coffers, competing for funds that would be better used to improve the lives of the poor.”
Bishop Sipuka blamed the “darkness” in the countries under SACBC conference on corrupt leaders in government who, he said, were not concerned about the plight of the poor people but about their survival “so that they can continue to loot.”
“Their stomachs and not the common good are the main motivation of their actions that even among themselves they are prepared to murder if their survival is threatened,” the South African Bishop lamented in his homily during the launch of the new pastoral plan at Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto, South Africa.
The 60-year-old Prelate went on to bemoan the exploitation of desperate South Africans by rogue pastors saying, “As if this darkness brought about by political and business corruption is not enough trouble, our people are also abused and exploited at spiritual level. Our country is pervaded with mushrooming pastors and churches of all sorts who are in it for money.”
“These are some of what may be called institutional darknesses, darkness from the government, darkness from business and darkness from religion or Churches,” the head of SACBC said.
Bishop Sipuka also identified the challenge of “personal or cultural darkness” in the region and explained, “one darkness that is encroaching in our country and in the African continent is the culture of selfishness disguised as democratic right, which leads to a plethora of other forms of darkness.”
But all the challenges notwithstanding, the Bishop of Mthatha exuded confidence that with the new pastoral plan, there was light at the end of the tunnel for Botswana, Eswatini, South Africa.
“In the context of these darkness, institutional and cultural darkness, like Isaiah, the Southern African Catholics are proposing this pastoral plan as a tool that can contribute to bring light in this situation,” said Bishop Sipuka.
Bishop Kevin Dowling who was speaking at the start of the procession to the venue of the launch disclosed that it was in the context of the challenges that the three African countries were facing that consultations around the need of a new Pastoral Plan were initiated.
Some of the challenges, the 75-year-old Local Ordinary of Rustenberg said, include femicide and the HIV/Aids crisis.
“The Church cannot remain distant from these crucial issues, but also, significantly, a new sign of the times challenges us,” Bishop Dowling, a member of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (C.Ss.R), said.
Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Durban, Wilfrid Cardinal Napier, described the pastoral plan as “our chosen way of making sure that, like the River People, we have understood God’s will for us in our new circumstances.”
“In no way are we going to sin against the Holy Spirit by resisting this clear call from our Lord and Saviour, to become a new Evangelizing Community,” the 78-year-old South African Prelate, a member of the Order of Friars Minor (OFM) said Monday, January 28 in his homily at the ongoing SACBC Plenary Assembly.
Members of SACBC participating in the Plenary Assembly met with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at his official residence in Mahlamba Ndlopfa, Pretoria on January 23 during which the Prelates assured the Head of State of the Church’s commitment “to working with all people of goodwill towards the renewal of South African society.”
According to a statement signed by SACBC President Bishop Sithembele Sipuka and availed to ACI Africa, “The President and the Bishops shared their concerns regarding unemployment, homelessness, migration, youth and for integrity and honesty in all areas of public administration and delivery.”
The President appreciated the work of the Church saying he is “aware of the efforts of the Catholic Church over the centuries to serve the nation and especially the poor in worship, social care, education and also in its huge contribution in face of the scourge of HIV-AIDS.”
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