Ricardo da Silva SJ, of the Jesuit Institute South Africa, attended the opening lecture of the Winter Living Theology 2018 series, which started in Johannesburg this week, on “Racial Justice and the Demands of Discipleship”. The series is being presented by international award-winning author and Catholic priest, Fr Bryan Massingale, a figure much respected for his work at the intersection of faith and racial justice.
The parish of Christ the King in Queenswood, Pretoria, played host to the inaugural lecture of the Winter Living Theology 2018 series (WLT2018) on Monday, 25 June 2018 by acclaimed US priest and theologian, Fr Bryan Massingale. The series is jointly hosted by the Jesuit Institute South Africa, Fordham University in New York and the 2018 Lenten Appeal of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
The lecture drew record numbers in the series’ twelve-year history, a surprising but most heartening turnout given the bitterly cold winter evening and the popular World Cup soccer match that was expected to kick-off during the lecture. Fr Massingale's lecture mainly attracted parishioners from the parish’s social justice groups but also a considerable number of parishioners from neighbouring parishes, students from the local University of Pretoria and some of the local religious and clergy, who had all been personally invited to attend by the Archbishop of Pretoria, the Most Rev William Slattery.
Fr Chris Townsend, the parish priest at Christ the King, opened the evening's proceedings with warming words of welcome, handing over to Fr Russell Pollitt SJ, director of the Jesuit Institute South Africa who then introduced and chaired the evening with the much-awaited scholar-activist, Fr Bryan Massingale.
In the opening remarks of his evening lecture, Fr Massingale stated that his objective for the WLT2018 series, Racial Justice and Discipleship, was to show the contribution that people of faith could make and need to make “to this ongoing struggle for justice that plagues our societies – that haunts us.”
He went further with this conviction, appealing to the well-known maxim of all Christians that “we share in Christ’s concern for the least amongst us.” He cited the visit of the late Pope John Paul II to the US in the late 90s when he called the faithful to act in the fight against racism, arguing that it was “the most persistent and destructive evils of the nation”. This is not unlike the call made by the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference in their 2016 pastoral letter on racism when they called the Catholic faithful “to have a candid conversation on racism and its manifestations in order to adequately and seriously address racism and racial divisions in our country.”
However, even though the Church has called its faithful to conversion and to work for transformation in addressing this great societal ill, it has not always done so. Fr Massingale was also careful to point out the collusion and shortcomings of the Church with respect to the evil of racism and that even though progress has been made there are still great advances to be made and profound apologies need to be heard at an institutional level.
Fr Massingale said that the lecture in Pretoria was merely a “Star Trek, warp speed, overdrive” version of the 3-day lecture series that he planned to present across South Africa this June and July where the issues would be unpacked. He offered a further warning, adding that attendees of the series “were going to feel uncomfortable” and that hard truths would be and needed to be heard. He quoted the well-known biblical dictum, the truth – however painful – will set you free.” But, having confronted the pain and experienced the great discomfort, we would also be filled with profound hope and be encouraged to move towards being able to look at ways in which the process of racial reconciliation, healing, restoration, and eventually union could take place in our societies today. It is really about how we can “struggle together against an evil that harms us all, though in different ways.” An evil that, “no matter what our racial identities may be, harms us all”.
Listen to Fr Massingale's WLT2018 lecture in Pretoria
Images: Ursula van Nierop, Jesuit Insitute South Africa