To all Catholics and all People of Goodwill
The current outbreak of Xenophobia.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
As a pastor, as a South African and as a resident of Durban, I am utterly shocked and filled with shame by the violence and intolerance that has overtaken our beloved city. It is truly sad to see brothers and sisters from Africa living in fear of their lives and desperate as they watch their homes and livelihoods destroyed by misguided and violent groups and individuals. With other religious leaders of our city and province, I have repeatedly condemned such behaviour as well as attempts to incite or justify it.
First let us remind ourselves that this is contrary to the values enshrines in the Constitution of South Africa, expressed in these words of the Preamble: “We believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in South Africa, united in our diversity.” We should be justly proud that this value of Ubuntu is enshrined in the highest document in the land.
Secondly, it is contrary to the values of the Church. The Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes, issued by the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago, also reminds us that as followers of Christ we are called to share in the griefs and anxieties of all other human beings; if there is any preference it should be for those who ‘are poor or in any way afflicted’. We are to look out for those who are marginalised not to target them with violence, but rather with our love.
And thirdly, this is contrary to our values as human beings. In my work with people of other religions, I see how they each tradition teaches unity of and respect for all human beings. This is also seen in the way that people from all communities have been outraged by the violence and have responded by saying: ‘Not in my name!’
The xenophobic behaviour we have seen and the attitudes that lie behind it do not reflect the majority of people. We must not allow a few bullies to change how we, as people living in South Africa, see each other and see ourselves.
As a Catholic community we need to make a meaningful response. Many, many people now need our help as they have had to leave their homes and their jobs and seek safety for themselves and their children.
Our Catholic organisations have been responding round the clock in the areas most affected. But every Catholic can make a contribution. The Refugee Pastoral Care Commission of the Archdiocese is asking especially for donations of food, both that can be cooked and tinned (perishable and non-perishable), blankets, toiletries, baby food and disposable nappies and clothes. Donations of items can be dropped off at the Chancery or St Joseph’s Church, Florida Road, Morningside from where they will be distributed to people in need. Donations of cash (to help pay for emergency accommodation) can be made through your parish and sent to the Chancery clearly marked for Refugee Relief.
This sad and traumatic time is also an opportunity for us as a Catholic community to work out a longer-term response. We need to make sure that the areas in which we live are places where all feel welcome and safe. If people have fled our neighbourhoods because they felt unwelcome, we need to help them to move back and rebuild their lives. And if we know people who do not share our values, we need to challenge them to a ‘conversion of heart’ in which, like the Good Samaritan, we see every person as our neighbour, especially those who are different from us.
South African politicians are troubled about how we can build community in our country. As Catholics we have the chance to provide a model of good community-building in every part of the land. We can show that we are willing and able to live in harmony with others. To use the words of Pope Francis: “We need to build bridges not walls. Christians who are afraid to build bridges and prefer to build walls are Christians who are not sure of their faith, not sure of Jesus Christ.”
With the Holy Father I urge you and all residents of South Africa to build bridges and to help move our country forwards.
May God bless you for your care and concern for the least of the brethren of Jesus and our brothers and sisters!
+ Wilfrid Card Napier OFMArchbishop of Durban