Bishops' plenary session (Manzini)


The Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference meets twice a year in January (in Pretoria) and July/August (in Mariannhill). For the first time in history, this year we are meeting in Manzini (Swaziland). We are 29 bishops coming from three countries (Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland) and 28 dioceses.

I am not sure how much it is known about what happens during our plenary sessions. We always start at 7 am with the celebration of the Mass but it is not unusual to find the bishops already in church before 6.30 for personal prayer. 

Each one of the Metropolitan areas (Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria) is in charge of the liturgy of the day.

Soon after breakfast we gather for the "business session". A timetable and the list of topics is always sent well in advance together with material that needs to be read before the meeting.

This working session starts at 9 am and finishes around 1 pm when we break for lunch. We continue in the afternoon from 3 pm to 6 pm.

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The plenary opens with Archbishop Brislin's address as president of the SACBC. This is part of his address which already sets the tone of the meeting:

"We welcome to the Conference Bishop Xavier Munyongani of Gweru, representing  the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference. We also welcome Bishop Hubert Bucher, bishop-emeritus of Bethlehem and thank him for the morning of reflection which he held. We also welcome Fr Oskar Wermter , so-ordinator of the Pastoral Department of IMBISA. Coming later during the plenary will be Fr Richard Menatsi, director of IMBISA, Msgr Stephen Rossetti, Chief Rabbi Goldstein and Rabbi Gideon Pogrund, and Mr John Bergin of the Bible Society. Bishop Mvemve, emeritus bishop of Klerksdorp, will join us on Sunday.

Msgr Kevin Randall, counsellor of the Nuncio, will be present and will address us. The Nuncio is unwell and is receiving medical treatment in Italy. How long that treatment will take and when he will return is uncertain.

On behalf of all I thank Bishop Jose Luis Ponce de Leon and the Church of Swaziland for the invitation to meet here and for their hospitality – it is good to be here. The opening liturgy of this Conference, held last night at the Cathedral, was vibrant and prayerful. The people of Swaziland have certainly made us feel at home. We also congratulate the clergy, religious and laity of this country on the occasion of the centenary celebration of the establishment of the Catholic Church. We anticipate Sunday's celebration with eagerness.

By the same token we congratulate Bishop Ponce de Leon on his appointment as bishop of the Diocese of Manzini – and for his appointment as apostolic administrator of Ingwavuma. He is well used to both dioceses by now but hopefully the reversal of roles will make his task somewhat easier.

We also congratulate Bishop Sithembele Sipuka on the occasion of his twenty-fifth anniversary of priesthood.

The death of Nelson Mandela became a “1994 and 2010” moment in the way in which it united people of this country in mourning for him. On behalf of the SACBC I wish to once again offer our condolences to Mme Graca Machel, his family, the government and the country. Numerous television channels played images and documentaries recalling the past. Seeing the conditions in South Africa in the 1980's and early 1990's was a reminder of how far we have come as a country and how much we have to be grateful for. Recalling the ideals of Nelson Mandela, particularly of inclusivity, reconciliation and democracy based on equality, not only makes us grateful for the role he played in setting the country on that course, but also has helped us realise to what extent we have failed to meet those ideals. Most especially unemployment, the massive gulf between rich and poor, underlying and overt violence, service delivery crises, the perceived threats to democratic institutions make us realise that there is no room for complacency. Some of these issues will be taken up in the pastoral letter on the occasion of 20 years of democracy. These major issues which affect South Africa also affect Botswana and Swaziland to a greater or lesser degree."

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Bishop of the Diocese of Manzini (Swaziland)

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