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SA not ready for WYD yet, says archbishop

Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town, president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, has told Spotlight Africa that although Mini World Youth Day (MWYD), which was held in Durban in December was a great success, there were also difficulties. He said that he is skeptical about South Africa's ability to host World Youth Day (WYD) at the moment. The archbishop said that there would need to be a series of  events first before WYD could be hosted in South Africa.

Archbishop Stephen Brislin said that the highlight of the plenary for him was the discussions around the new pastoral plan that the bishops have been preparing over the last couple of years.

The archbishop said that the past 200 years of Catholic presence in Southern Africa have been a time of blessing, grace and success. He also acknowledged the role of women religious who left their home countries and families to come to South Africa, many never to return to their native lands. Women religious began the schools, hospitals and clinics, he said.

Brislin said that although there were blessings and graces, there were also times when the Church was frail and weak, complicit in things like colonialism and racialism. He said that the Church apologises for the mistakes it has made. He also said that the Church in Southern Africa is committed to rooting out the evil of child abuse.

Archbishop Stephen Brislin standing at St John Vianney Seminary's main entrance looking out over Pretoria

Brislin said that the Church needs to do something to help heal the divisions caused by racism in South Africa. He says that talking about it and reconciliation are important, but that at a deeper level, inner healing, is needed. “We can come to the acceptance that we are facing a new and a bright future and therefore we can let go of the past, but that is a healing that ultimately comes from the Lord Jesus Christ and he can heal these divisions and the hearts of people.”

The archbishop went on to say that one of the most important aspects of this healing is going to have to be economic transformation because South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world.

Brislin said that land is a big issue in Southern Africa. He said that it was a big issue in Zimbabwe and that South Africa would “hate to go the same way as Zimbabwe”. He says that the country needs to work on land transformation. The archbishop said that he was disappointed at what came out of the ANC's electoral conference in December on the land issue. The country's Constitution already has the means to deal with the land issue and that the Constitution should have been tested first. He also remarked that the land issue had not been handled well in the past few years in South Africa.

The archbishop talking to Spotlight Africa

Being the archbishop of the first major city likely to run out of water soon, Brislin said that the situation in Cape Town has made people realise that natural resources are finite. He says an attitude and behaviour change is needed because all the world's resources are finite. The conference and the regional bishops' body, IMBISA, both have care of creation as a focus for this reason.

Brislin said that the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Peter Wells, in his address to the plenary, challenged the bishops “very much” to respond to the signs of the times and be a Church that responds to the needs of its people. He said that the nuncio challenged the bishops not to be superficial in their response to the signs of the times. This was important because there has been, in the world, a “dumbing-down” where responses have been “sloganeering” or very superficial.

Listen to the interview here:

Pictures/video by Frank Tuson

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Russell Pollitt SJ
Director of the Jesuit Institute South Africa and Editor-in-Chief of He studied the social sciences, theology and communications. He worked as pastor of the Jesuit’s downtown parish in Johannesburg, South Africa, for 7 years before moving to the Jesuit Institute. He is interested in the relationship between faith and society and the contribution that faith can make to public policy. He regularly comments on politics in South Africa and issues in the Catholic Church. He conducts workshops in South Africa on social media and the human person.

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