Since his appointment by Pope Francis as Apostolic Nuncio to five countries in Southern Africa, American Archbishop, Peter Wells reintroduced “Pope's Day”. The annual celebration of the Vatican's national day, on or near the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, began with a mass concelebrated by a number of bishops and local clergy from the region and was followed by a reception at the Vatican's embassy.
The Papal Nuncio to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Namibia, Archbishop Peter Wells, hosted a reception at the Nunciature, his official offices and residence in Pretoria, to celebrate 'Pope's Day'. The 29 June marks the national day of celebration of the Vatican City state. About 200 people attended the reception: diplomats, bishops and clergy as well as friends of the Nunciature from across the region.
The celebration began with a mass at Pretoria's Sacred Heart Cathedral. The Archbishop of Pretoria, William Slattery, preached the homily. A reception was held after the mass at the Nunciature.
In his homily, Slattery recalled that the work of the Church in Southern Africa which included hospitals, schools, and other centres for those on the margins had its foundations in the great apostles, Peter and Paul. He said that Pope Francis is an inspiration to the Church in Southern Africa for his clear stance, the direction that he gives and his personal outreach to the poor. He thanked Pope Francis, and the Nuncio, for ensuring that the Church in Southern Africa knows that it is not alone but part of the universal Catholic Church.
Archbishop Wells, at the reception after the mass, welcomed the Deputy Director General of the Department of Higher Education and Training, Mr Z Mvalo, who represented the South African Government at the celebration. The Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Mr Bene M'Poko, was also present.
Seminarians from the national seminary, St John Vianney, sung both the South African and Vatican national anthems at the beginning of proceedings.
The Nuncio said that the celebration brought together both diplomats and members of the Church which showed the dual nature of the Apostolic Nunciature's mission. The Nunciature is a point of contact between Pope Francis and the Church in Southern Africa as well as the governments of the five countries.
Wells said that as South Africa celebrates the centennial anniversaries of the birth of both Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu in 2018, the two liberation heroes remind us of the imperative to commit to continuing their work against poverty and inequality and the most vulnerable in society.
The Nuncio assured the people of Southern Africa that the Holy See stands beside them to ensure that all are given a voice, especially the weak and marginalised. He said that in its relations with civil authorities, the Holy See promotes the spiritual and material well-being of the human person to pursue the common good. He drew attention to a recent publication by the Holy See which looked at aspects of the present economic and financial system of the world. Quoting from the document he said that there can be no area of human action that legitimately claims to be either outside of or impermeable to ethical principles which are based on liberty, truth, justice and solidarity.
Wells went on to say that the establishment of a resident ambassador to the Holy See from South Africa is a sign of the strong relations that exist between the Vatican and the country. Last year Pope Francis received the new South African ambassador at the Vatican.
He said that there were specific areas of bilateral cooperation between the two states: humanitarian priorities in general, human trafficking, the environment, extreme poverty, the rights of women and children, family life, racism and xenophobia, religious extremism, education, healthcare, HIV/AIDS and immigration.
The Nuncio also affirmed that “the Holy See will never cease in its efforts to enable the message of peace to be heard to the ends of the earth.”
In his response, Mr Mvalo thanked the Holy See and Pope Francis for their efforts in highlighting the plight of the poor and marginalised. He said that the Holy See had always been in solidarity with the people of South Africa as they fought during the liberation struggle. He made special mention of the space provided by the Church in Soweto at Regina Mundi, enabling the local community to meet and mobilise themselves at the height of the struggle. He expressed his hope and that of President Cyril Ramaphosa that in the near future, Pope Francis would visit South Africa.
Images: Russell Pollitt SJ