Bishop Victor Phalana of Klerksdorp, head of the Department of Ecumenism of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, told Spotlight that the highlight of the recent plenary for him was the encounter with people of other religions and Christian denominations. He also said that the bishops wanted to meet with newly elected ANC president, Cyril Ramaphosa, so that they could dialogue with him and see how they can best support him.
Phalana said that the "spirit of brotherhood among the bishops, the openness, sharing, listening to each other and sometimes even sharing some difficult matters and subjects and advising each other as well as moments of prayers together, was good to experience".
The bishop said that there was deep sharing during the session with the Council for Evangelisation as they worked together on the pastoral plan of the conference.
Asked how the pastoral plan would get down to the ground and acted upon, Phalana said that he has advised the bishops to lead the whole conference area in a moment of reflection. He said that the "see, judge, act" method was well-known and should be used to get the whole Church in Southern Africa to reflect upon the issues highlighted in the pastoral plan. The bishop insists that this has to happen first in parishes and then in dioceses.
Phalana said that he will propose a national focal point for the conference area that will impact on the whole community, rather than just Catholics. He said that the bishops will work hard with clergy and laity to ensure that the pastoral plan has a wide reach.
Speaking about the ecumenical encounter the bishops had with people of other faiths and religions, Phalana said that the whole faith community is affected by the same issues in the country. He also explained how, sadly, there is still much division and intolerance within the faith community. Some Christians do not have much tolerance for other Christians because they "insist more on our differences that our unity." The bishop said that although we have to accept that Christians will never get together as one, we can learn to tolerate, complement and respect each other.
Speaking about South Africa's future, Phalana said that he learnt, on a recent visit to the DRC, of a Church that refuses to give into despair and hopelessness; a Church that is really holding on because they believe that the future is going to be better. He believes that the role of the Church in South Africa should be the same.
Phalana believes that the country should rally behind newly-elected ANC president, Cyril Ramaphosa, and should give him a chance. He says that corruption should be at the top on the list of issues to be dealt with because, if it is not dealt with, it will become institutionalised even more than it is already - like it is in other countries.
Phalana says that the bishops have made a commitment to open the doors to direct communication with the president of the ANC. The bishops hope to meet Ramaphosa in the near future so that they can dialogue with him and support him. They also want to speak about how they can collaborate with the ANC on issues they agree upon. "We will support any government that steps in, as long as it shares our values," he said.
"Let us not give up, let us not give into despair, let us not be discouraged, we still can change this country for the better," the bishop said. SA.
Listen to the interview here:
Pictures by Frank Tuson