The Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC) January Plenary opened with Mass celebrated by Conference President, Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town. Spotlight Africa was there to learn about the Church's plans for the year ahead. Images by Russell Pollitt.
The opening Mass was held on the evening of 23 January as the region's bishops gathered for the week-long plenary. The twice-annual gathering taking place in Pretoria will, on Sunday, include a celebration of the Church's 200 years in South Africa. Also in attendance was South Africa's Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Peter Wells.
The homily was preached by Bishop Graham Rose of Dundee. He said that prophets make clear to us “the signs of the times.” Rose suggested that Pontius Pilate is a “prophet for our times” because he asks a question we need to ask “What is truth?” The bishop said that this question refers to the “great weakness of our times and the great challenge.”
He suggested we look at a random selection of things: like Tony Blair's spin-doctor's question a few years ago 'where is truth?' or the exposure of so many media organisations, like Rupert Murdock in the UK, or Bell-Pottinger and KPMG. “Where is the truth?” he asked. The bishop went on to say that just this week Facebook promised to ensure we are given the truth, “did they have to promise to give us the truth? Surely that was always presumed?” Rose said. “They are struggling and have created something that they are not convinced can give us the truth.” He went on to say that Pope Benedict had warned of this when he spoke of the “dictatorship of relativism.” He said: “That dictatorship has only got worse, the greed has only accumulated and it has become even more sinister and pernicious and destructive.” He went on to ask: “Is there not, in our world today, an unparalleled hunger for the truth?”
In a time of “fake news” we are good at “building the Tower of Babel,” he said, referring to the first reading of the mass. “Our world is increasingly turning back to Babel through whatever criteria we want to use, criteria of immigrants and citizens, criteria of rich and poor, criteria of different tribes, different languages, different races. We are excellent, we really are specialists in the study and the promulgation of Babel.”
The Church is needed now, more than ever, to be a beacon of truth. “As the father of lies gorges himself at a banquet of iniquity and falsity, a demonic feast, it is the Church that is the light of the nations,” Rose said.
You can listen to Bishop Rose's homily below:
The bishops gather in plenary twice a year. Archbishop Brislin is set to formally open the plenary tomorrow with the official address in his capacity as president of the conference. His “state of the nation” address will set the tone for the week's discussions.
The aim of the gathering allows for consultation around potential united action from the Church and an opportunity to discuss the Church in Southern Africa. The bishops' conference is intended to promote religious vocations; to discuss doctrinal, apostolic and pastoral formation of the clergy, religious and laity; the promotion of missionary activity, catechetics, liturgy, the lay apostolate, ecumenism, development, justice and reconciliation, social welfare, schools, hospitals, the apostolate of the media and other means of social communication; and any other necessary activity.
The Church in Southern Africa has a rich history. The 200 year celebrations this week will undoubtedly reflect on the role the Church has played in the country and the role it might continue to play especially on issues of justice and societal leadership.
A joint bishops' Mass will be celebrated in Pretoria East’s Church of the Beatitudes in Zwavelpoort to mark the jubilee of the bicentenary of the Catholic Church in South Africa this Sunday. The Mass begins at 11:00.
Spotlight Africa will continue to cover the plenary of the country's bishops. Follow us on Twitter @spotlightAFR.