PASTORAL LETTER OF THE SOUTHERN AFRICAN CATHOLIC BISHOP’S CONFERENCE
THE YEAR OF CONSECRATED LIFE
30 November 2014 – 02 February 2016

I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your generous will. (Matt 11:25)

Brothers and Sisters in the Consecrated Life, Priests and the People of God,

Speaking these words aloud, Jesus rejoiced immensely in the activity and wisdom of the Holy Spirit as he thanked and praised his Father whose mission he himself had come to accomplish.

We rejoice in a similar way in the lives lived and the wonderful activity and service carried out by so many consecrated men and women in our country and in our world. We welcome the invitation of Pope Francis to make this a year of thanksgiving and of deeper reflection on the calling of the consecrated men and women among us.

We think of all the consecrated men and women who have laboured in our countries, from Bishop Griffith, the first Vicar Apostolic of the Cape and Fr. George Corcoran, both Dominicans; the Missionary Sisters of the Assumption and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, to mention a few of the first ones, up to the most recently consecrated persons from within our countries and those who have come among us from elsewhere. Consecrated men and women established the local church in our dioceses and most of our parishes, schools and hospitals, and still today they minister in the local church and outlying communities, serving people of every background in countless ways. We pay tribute to all deceased Religious who have served in our countries and are buried in our soil, sometimes in obscure or forgotten graves. We appreciate all those Religious who have grown old among us, who have given courageous witness and led exemplary lives.


We ask that in our dioceses and parishes we celebrate the precious gift of consecrated life together with the contemplative and active Religious among us, also by visiting and supporting the sick and aged among them.

Click HERE to download the full text in PDF

The first plenary session finished this morning. The day started with the celebration of Mass presided by Archbishop William Slattery OFM, archbishop of Pretoria on today's readings which all underlined "doing the will of God"

"The mother and brothers of Jesus arrived and, standing outside, sent in a message asking for him. A crowd was sitting round him at the time the message was passed to him, ‘Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.’ He replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking round at those sitting in a circle about him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.’" (Mk 3: 31 - 35)

Click below to listen to his homily:



After breakfast there was a short session to finalise the resolutions taken during these days.

I thought of sharing previous homilies of this plenary session. You might need earphones as the sound might be a bit low. It is the first time we do this...!


Bp Frank de Gouveia's homily





Bp Abel Gabuza's homily




Card. Wilfrid Napier OFM's homily


As I shared the other day, last Sunday we had an accident on our way to Klerksdorp. Just a few km before Orkney the place where the ordination would take place there was a four-way stop. We did stop but the vehicle behind us did not.

This is not about the accident but about what happened after that. It was very interesting.

As we were close to Orkney, many of those passing were Catholics on their way to the celebration and many of them slowed down or stopped to ask if they could help in any way.

Some also thought they had arrived to the place where the ordination would be and I was the priest in charge of telling the people where to park their vehicles...

But others... others were coming too fast and I feared they would just go against our vehicle. It seemed they were not looking at the road because I was there making sure they would slow down and avoid the accident site.

I became convinced of that when two of the drivers drove over the triangle!!! Not the "stop" sign, my presence or the triangle made any difference...

In fact, as soon as the police arrived and all the details were taken, the towing company removed the vehicle from the road to avoid another accident...

Today was our last full working day. Half of the morning was dedicated to an "ecumenical gathering" as we do every year at our "January meeting".  Led by Bishop Graham Rose (bishop of the Diocese of Dundee) and following the example of Pope Francis last year, we welcomed a delegation from the "Ark community" (http://thearkcommunity.org/who-we-are/) and from "The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa" (TEASA) (http://www.teasa.org.za/)

Sr Marie Andre lead us in prayer reading from John 17: 20 - 23. "I pray not only for these but also for those who through their teaching will come to believe in me.  May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.  I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so perfected in unity that the world will recognise that it was you who sent me and that you have loved them as you have loved me. 


Luciano Caoli from the Ark Community spoke about Bishop Tony Palmer who died last year. Bp Palmer came to know Jorge Bergoglio while he was archbishop of Buenos Aires. When he became archbishop of Rome and Pope Francis, bishop Palmer believed it would be difficult to meet again but he was then surprised by a call from Pope Francis asking him when he would be going to Rome. 

Meeting in Rome, bishop Palmer asked Pope Francis to record a video for the evangelical community. It can be seen as part of the video below.


The sharing was very positive and more coming together like this or at local level were seen as a possible way forward. When we trust each other, we are more ready to listen to each other and to understand each other. 
Photo: Gaborone Diocese Web

The ordination of a new bishop is always a very special event in the life of a diocese. Much more when the diocese had to wait for some time before the new shepherd is appointed. Archbishop Mario Cassari, apostolic nuncio to Southern Africa, apologised for making the Diocese of Klerksdorp wait more than a year and a half (Bishop Mvemve - his predecessor - had resigned in 2013). At the same time he explained there are more than 1200 dioceses under the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, in charge of leading this process. 

The ordination of the new shepherd of the diocese: Bishop Victor Hlolo Phalana was, as expected, very joyful with thousands of people joining the celebration. Bishop Phalana had been the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Pretoria and with his appointment to Klersdorp, it is the third Vicar General that the Archdiocese gives to other dioceses. First it was Bp Abel Gabuza, now bishop of Kimberley followed by Bp Dabula Mpako now bishop of Queenstown.

Photo: Gaborone Diocese Web

In a short and moving speech the new bishop having thanked the Apostolic Nuncio, the Cardinal and the bishops for their presence. He joked saying “I used to be intimidated by you... especially by the hats you are wearing... but I think I will get used to it and become a brother and not to fear you anymore. I need you to hold me by your hand as a 'baby bishop' still crawling. I still have a lot to learn..."

He also thanked the people of Klerksdorp for the warm welcomed. "I know that Klerksdorp is now home away from home" and asked them to give themselves wholeheartedly to the diocese "as I did myself today".


Below, the moment when the new bishop of Klerksdorp blessed the people of the diocese



Listen to the address of the new bishop of the diocese of Klerksdorp, Victor Hlolo Phalana



It was a wonderful day though it had not started in the best possible way. Just a few kilometres before Orkney where the ordination took place, three bishops (from the archdiocese of Bloemfontein, the diocese of Tzaneen and the diocese of Manzini) had a car accident. Thank God no one was injured.


Bishop Barry Wood OMI

Pope Francis announced that 2015 will be a year dedicated to the promotion of consecrated life, and is asking the church's religious sisters, brothers and priests to "wake up the world" with their testimony of faith, holiness and hope.

At this morning's Mass, Bp Barry Wood OMI, auxiliary bishop of Durban, linked today's Gospel to the year of consecrated life. 

He said that in today's Gospel we see that Jesus "irritated his relatives and friends ... Pope Francis has told us that the purpose of consecrated life is to wake up the world, shake up the world ... Many don't like to be woken up..."

Clicking below you can listen to Bp Barry Wood's homily on Mark 3: 20 - 21

"Jesus went home, and once more such a crowd collected that they could not even have a meal. When his relatives heard of this, they set out to take charge of him, convinced he was out of his mind."





Some might not be familiar with the term "indaba". It is used to mean a "gathering" or "meeting" and many times to talk about a problem or to find common ground on a matter. It was in this sense that our program said we would dedicate this day to the "seminaries indaba"

We were joined by the staff of our formation houses: St Francis Xavier (Cape Town) and St John Vianney (Pretoria) but also by a delegation from St Joseph's Theological Institute (Cedara). 

The purpose of the day was to engage with each other on a fruitful conversation and find common understanding regarding seminary formation.

Aware that seminary formation can be very broad, we worked on three topics: 
  • Coordination of bridging year centres (these are the places where new seminarians are sent by the dioceses before joining the "propedeutical" year in Cape Town);
  • Human formation in seminary training;
  • Discernment through screening and ongoing evaluation of seminarians
A brief introduction on each one of these topics were made and we then dedicated the next hour to work in groups on one of these topics. Each group had a 50/50 of bishops and priests. We were basically asked to share on:
  • what our concerns are regarding that specific area,
  • what it is we would like to see (... the ideal!)
  • what practical suggestion we had to move from our concerns... to the ideal!
The spirit was very good, the sharing open. 

The rest of the day was dedicated to listen to the different groups and to take some decisions in this regard.

Though these kind of gatherings had been done in the past, this one was the first after many many years and we do hope they will be done regularly from now on. 


In the afternoon we received great news: Pope Francis has authorized that the decree of Benedict Daswa's martyrdom be promulgated (Tzaneen Diocese). It is another step to the proclamation of the first South African blessed. 





Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC)

"The Roman Catholic Bishops meeting in Pretoria condemns the wholesale looting, burning of shops and businesses in Soweto and call on the people involved not to allow themselves to be incited to such destruction.

To those who encourage and benefit from such looting we say that you are not only destroying buildings but the moral life of young people and the very name of our country. It is tragic that people have lost their lives and we extend our prayers to their families. To our brothers and sisters whose businesses and livelihoods have been destroyed we reach out to you in sincere sympathy. What has happened to you deeply disturbs us and we call on all Catholic and Christian communities and leaders to offer you all the practical help which they can muster.

We call on all parents in a special way to step in and offer guidance to their children and to all young people involved.

We call upon all our faithful to offer full support, co-operation and information necessary to the police and community leaders in their defence of those who have been victimised.

We assure the victims of our prayers. We want to say that this behaviour is not typical or acceptable by the majority of the Southern African people."


Issued at Pretoria, St. John Vianney Seminary, 23rd January 2015

Enquiries: Archbishop William Slattery OFM
Contact Number: 083 468 5473
Archbishop Mario Cassari (Apostolic Nuncio) and Cardinal Napier OFM
During our plenary session in Pretoria the Apostolic Nuncio to Southern Africa always invites us one evening for supper at his place. We were all there this evening.

As it was pointed out by Archbishop Brislin, we were grateful because the invitation was not just to the bishops but also to our closest collaborators: Sr Hermenegild Makoro (the Secretary General), Fr Emmanuel Grant (the Associate Secretary General), Fr Gordon (newly appointed PMS director), Sr Jordana, Fr Sean O'Leary (director of the Dennis Hurley Peace Institute).

Bp Jan de Groef and Fr Sakhi
It had been the end of a long day. During the day we had worked on around twenty different matters which included the Aids office, our finances, the laity council, the inter-diocesan consultation, family life, youth, media, consecrated life, the celebration of the World Youth Day in Poland and a national one to be held in December in the diocese of Bethlehem (South Africa)...

This not only points to an intense day but also to the amount of work being done before the plenary session so that, by the time we come here, we have already been updated through reports on the progress of the different areas and the matters expecting us to make a decision.

Two important matters were also considered in the afternoon: the beatification of Benedict Daswa (we hope and pray it will be during 2015) and the 51st Eucharistic Congress to be held in the Philippines in one year time (http://iec2016.ph/).


Sr Hermenegild Makoro, SACBC secretary general

The day started with the celebration of the Mass, presided by Bishop Sandri (Diocese of Witbank). Being the feast of St Agnes a girl born in the year 291 and martyred at the age of 12 or 13, Bishop Sandri said: "What amazes me is that we still remember Agnes, this small girl, after so many centuries and many people are still inspired by her. Indeed God uses the simple and the small to make the Word present and alive in our world". 


Then, sharing on today's passage from Mark 3: 1 - 6 where Jesus is grieved to find the Pharisees so obstinate he commented: "I pray that we, Bishops, may be responsible, firm, strong, clear and perseverant, but not obstinate"

To download Bishop Sandri's homily, click HERE

Archbishop Mario Cassari (Apostolic Nuncio) and Archbishop Stephen Brislin (SACBC president)
The working session started after breakfast and we welcome the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Mario Cassari. He spent a couple of hours among us. He addressed us and answered our questions. As usual, some of them concern the appointment of new bishops. Once a new bishop is appointed to the Vicariate of Ingwavuma all the dioceses would have a shepherd and, who knows, the time might come to appoint very much needed auxiliary bishops. 

His addressed was followed by the one of the SACBC president, Archbishop Brislin (Cape Town) and the one of Sr Hermenegild Makoro, our Secretary General.

All the reports celebrated the appointment of Fr Victor Phalana as bishop of Klerksdorp and the appointment of Sr Makoro as member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. We are all very proud of the fact that Pope Francis has chosen our Secretary General to be a member of this Commission. She will be attending her first meeting at the beginning of February in Rome.

In the second half of the morning we shared on the coming Synod on family. Together with Cardinal Napier OFM, the conference sends two other delegates. Archbishop Brislin and Bishop Mpambani (Kokstad) were elected by us. Bishops Mpako and De Groef were also chosen to be on "standby" in case any of the two is not able to attend. 

Having chosen our delegates we discerned on ways to prepare our contribution being aware that "the episcopal conferences are asked to choose a suitable manner of involving all components of the particular churches and academic institutions, organizations, lay movements and other ecclesial associations" (Lineamenta Preface).

The report of the Secretary General included a number of issues this plenary session is asked to reflect upon. Part of afternoon session was dedicated to that and to consider possible pastoral statements. 
 

The Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC) plenary session has started. Like every year, our first session is celebrated at St John Vianney (Pretoria). There was though one exception! Last year it was held in Manzini (Swaziland) as the bishops chose to join the Swazi nation as they celebrated the centenary of the arrival of the first four Catholic missionaries in Swaziland.

Nearly all of us are present, together with the - still today - Bishop-elect of Klerskdorp Victor Phalana. His episcopal ordination will take place next Sunday.

Bp Wustenberg (Aliwal North diocese) was supposed to preach at the opening Mass but he is not well and had to remain in his diocese. Bp Sithembele Sipuka, bishop of Umthatha, was asked to take his place. 




"From today's first reading we heard these words 'We earnestly desire each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfilment of hope until the end'" he said at the beginning of his homily. 

After reflecting on this he added: "While talking about this hope may make sense, if it does not translate into concrete hope for dire life situations of people, it remains only a theory."

Then, he pointed out four ways in which this hope is made concrete:
  • The first thought is that as a Church the ultimate hope we are called to offer is the union of humanity with God, which is the final purpose of our being as humans. The assistance that Church offers in terms of development, solidarity, support, education, material assistance etc, are only means to this end of being united with God. True to the sacramental principle of material things pointing and leading to the bigger reality they signify, our efforts of offering hope must not be ends in themselves but must lead to God.
  • The second consideration about our evangelical efforts of offering hope is that unlike in the past, these efforts are no longer the responsibility of the hierarchy and the religious alone, but also and more importantly the responsibility of the laity. We are busy now trying to establish a laity council department which will hopefully see the laity being significant partners in the Church's task of giving hope to our Church and society today, but there are still problems that we need to face about our laity.
  • The other consideration in bringing hope is to work with the government because they manage the resources and formulate laws and policies. In my experience, we have tended to be more prophetic against the government, and sometimes rightly so, than engaging with it. In addition to being prophetic when the situation calls for it, we also need to engage with the government and to commend and support it where it is bearing signs of hope for the country. Did not Jesus sometimes pass endearing comments about scribes and pharisees and told them "you are not far from the Kingdom of God" when they have done well?
  • The last consideration in our effort as Church to offer hope is to have a balance between the dogmas of the church and the pastoral needs, between law and mercy. In the Gospel that we have just read from Mark, Jesus while not disdaining the Sabbath invites his audience to consider the Sabbath in the context of his disciples who were hungry. Elsewhere in the Gospel when he cured a sick woman on the Sabbath and got accused of breaking the Sabbath, he confronted his accusers with this question, "and ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day? (Lk 13:16). 


Download the homily in PDF by clicking HERE



Slowly, people start to accept that I appear anytime... anywhere... unannounced! It is something I learnt from another bishop many years' ago. He had just been appointed bishop of the Diocese of San Martin (outskirts of Buenos Aires) where I was living. One day he told the people: "let me know when you will be having a meeting. I cannot promise to be there but if I can, I will visit you". We did. We were having a meeting of young people on the missionary dimension of the Church and he just appeared for a short while, listened to what the young people were saying and then continued somewhere else. By the way, his name was Luis Villalba and he has just been named Cardinal by Pope Francis. 

Last Saturday (January 17) there was a training session for the catechists of the Hhohho region (St Peregrine's, Regina Mundi, Mater Dolorosa and St Mary's parishes). It was the first of this year and also the first organised by Fr Ncamiso Vilakati since he was appointed catechetical coordinator. 

I was busy in the morning but I made time to join them soon after lunch at Piggs Peak (90 kms away from Manzini). 

On the way I was wondering how many catechists would have been there considering it is somehow "early" in the year and the training had just been announced. Picture my joy when I found 60 of them in a quite packed hall. As I wrote that day on the social media, the attendance and the spirit was excellent. 

After a session on the catechist himself / herself (have a look at the picture above) the rest of the day was dedicated to the material to be used, ages for the celebration of the sacraments and practical problems (we now call them "challenges"!) being experienced in the different parishes and outstations. 

I quietly sat down at the back of the hall listening to what they were saying. Any diocesan catechetical policy needs to deal with these practical situations and with the fact that it is not the same to do this journey in a rural area or in town, in a small or in a big community. 

People at the back smiled at the unexpected visit of the bishop. Just before the end of the day I spoke briefly (yes, bishops can speak briefly!) sharing with them what the first bishop I worked with in South Africa (Michael Pascal Rowland OFM) used to tell his catechists: "you are the hands of the bishop". I also thanked them for their presence, service and dedication. 


There are four regions in Swaziland. The next three will be having their training sessions in the next month.

video


No time to rest! On the second day of the new year I sent an sms to all the priests calling them to an "extraordinary meeting" at the Bishop Ndlovu's Hall (Bishop's House) on January 12. 

It all started when last year I attended our "Metropolitan Meeting" which gathers the dioceses of Klerksdorp, Witbank (both of them in South Africa) and Manzini (Swaziland) under the archdiocese of Johannesburg. 

Fr Duncan Tsoke, vicar general of Johannesburg, told me about "Renew Africa" and how well it had been received in the archdiocese. The following morning Mr Duncan and Mr Odilon came to see me, explained as much as they could in a few minutes and gave me plenty of material to read.

Back in the diocese I shared the information with the consultors who felt it would be very good to present it to the clergy of our diocese. We have just finished our centenary celebration and it is a very important time as we discern our way forward. It might not be regarding the next hundred years but at least our immediate future...!

Two priests and two lay people came to Manzini to present "Renew Africa". They might have been a bit surprised when I told them we had allocated the whole meeting to present it and much more then they saw that practically all the parishes and most of the priests attended the meeting. It was our way to show our appreciation to the time they were given us, coming all the way from Johannesburg. 

For three hours they presented how it started in the archdiocese, what is being done, the material being used, the successes and challenges being experienced together with what could be done if we decide to start it in the diocese of Manzini. 

Everyone was grateful and enthusiastic. It was then decided to dedicate the first part of our next presbyteral council to reflect on what we have heard and make the final decision. 

We then finished with the prayer below. Join us in prayer as we discern our service in the diocese:
























For more information, go to:

http://www.catholicjhb.org.za/renew-africa/



Sr Dominica Dube OSM (left) & Sr Stephania Ngwenya OSM (right)

Like every year, on January 6 we gathered at St Juliana's to celebrate with the Swazi Servite Sisters the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. 

This year the celebration included the Golden Jubilee of Sr Dominica Dube OSM and Sr Stephania Ngwenya OSM. Fifty years have passed since the day they said for the first time: "Today I consecrate my life to God...". 

At the beginning of the Mass I joked saying it was a continuation of our "centenary celebrations" as we had "two fifties" (Golden Jubilees) and then underlined how providential it is that it came to happen during this special year dedicated to "Consecrated Life" in the church all over the world.

I see them as our "stars" leading us to where Jesus is. Then, taking from Pope Francis' letter I invited them and all to be stars by:

  • deepening their passion, passion for God and passion for his people. Passion for God manifested in reading, reflecting and living God's Word. Passion for people sharing their joy and struggle;
  • being people of hope (and not hopeless people!) in a time of lack of vocations, trusting the One who called them;
  • being experts of communion. In a world so many times divided, they should live in such a way that we could become places where we could learn to live together.

video

After Mass, lunch together, gifts and hymns from friends and members of the Sacred Heart. 

"Fernando Armellini is an Italian missionary and biblical scholar. With his permission we have begun translating his Sunday reflections on the three readings from the original Italian into English."

Got an email last week with this information and I felt it was worth sharing it. I have never met Fr Armellini but we wrote to each other once. 

Fernando Armellini is an Italian missionary and biblical scholar. Though now based in Italy, he worked in Mozambique in the past. He published (I think) three books called "Celebrating the Word" (Year A, Year B and Year C). They bring comment to the Sunday readings in Italian which I have been following for a number of years. 

One day, Fr Mel Loftus OSM, told me the lay leaders of the Mtubatuba Parish had asked for copies of the book in English to get help to prepare themselves to lead the Sunday priest-less celebration. I somehow found his email address and let him know about it. 

I also shared with him my joy as his courses in Italian were freely available on the web on MP3 though our internet connection would not allow them to download them easily. A month later I received all his courses on DVDs he had prepared for me. Spending plenty of time traveling, they became a source of ongoing formation. 

His Sunday reflections can now be found in:


Enjoy them!

Pope Francis' 2015 World Day of Peace Message

1. At the beginning of this New Year, which we welcome as God’s gracious gift to all humanity, I offer heartfelt wishes of peace to every man and woman, to all the world’s peoples and nations, to heads of state and government, and to religious leaders. In doing so, I pray for an end to wars, conflicts and the great suffering caused by human agency, by epidemics past and present, and by the devastation wrought by natural disasters. I pray especially that, on the basis of our common calling to cooperate with God and all people of good will for the advancement of harmony and peace in the world, we may resist the temptation to act in a manner unworthy of our humanity.
In my Message for Peace last year, I spoke of "the desire for a full life… which includes a longing for fraternity which draws us to fellowship with others and enables us to see them not as enemies or rivals, but as brothers and sisters to be accepted and embraced".1 Since we are by nature relational beings, meant to find fulfilment through interpersonal relationships inspired by justice and love, it is fundamental for our human development that our dignity, freedom and autonomy be acknowledged and respected. Tragically, the growing scourge of man’s exploitation by man gravely damages the life of communion and our calling to forge interpersonal relations marked by respect, justice and love. This abominable phenomenon, which leads to contempt for the fundamental rights of others and to the suppression of their freedom and dignity, takes many forms. I would like briefly to consider these, so that, in the light of God’s word, we can consider all men and women "no longer slaves, but brothers and sisters".
(To continue reading, please click HERE)