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Association of Catholic Tertiary Students celebrate 25 years!

The Association of Catholic Tertiary Students celebrates its silver jubilee this year. Over 150 students and graduates, as well as past and present chaplains joined Bishops Stanislaw Jan Dziuba and Jan de Groef at St John Vianney Seminary in Pretoria on Saturday, 7 July 2018, for the celebration. In his homily Bishop Dziuba challenged the students to discover true freedom and to offer themselves in service. He exhorted them to “not be afraid to go against the tide, even if it is not easy!” but to “be the missionary disciples of Jesus.” 

The Association of Catholic Tertiary Students (ACTS) – an outreach of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) to Catholics and those interested in the Catholic faith who are studying at tertiary institutions in South Africa – celebrates 25 years of the movement’s existence this year.

Around 150 delegates from all the branches and seven provinces of ACTS, along with their chaplains, celebrated the silver jubilee with Bishop Stanislaw Jan Dziuba, OSPPE, (SACBC Liaison Bishop for the Youth) and Bishop Jan de Groef, MAfr, (SACBC Liaison Bishop for the Laity).

In his homily Dziuba challenged students to reflect on two fundamental values: freedom and service.

Citing Pope John Paul II, the bishop reminded the students that true freedom is not freedom-from, but freedom-for. He said that “freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought”. He told those gathered that students must be responsible in their freedom and that they should aim to live in freedom and to use their conscience’s appropriately so as to always freely choose the good.

He also spoke of the importance of service. He exhorted ACTS members, past and present, to live lives of active charity. But, he said, this is not possible without spiritual formation and a relationship with Jesus Christ. He encouraged students to talk to Jesus about their problems and the challenges in their lives. He said that they muct come to know that they are loved as they are. By reading the signs of the times, the bishop said, they should become more attentive to the action of God in their own lives.

ACTS was established in 1993. A guest of honour at the silver jubilee celebration was Fr Michael Hagan, Isch, who was a chaplain from 1994 at the University of the Western Cape. He was later appointed national chaplain in 1996. He was in that role until 2010 which made him the longest serving national chaplain to ACTS. At the end of the silver jubilee mass, amid rapturous applause, Hagan was presented with a stole and a chasuble bearing the logo of ACTS as well as a certificate.

The current national chaplain to ACTS is Mariannhill Missionary, Fr Mthembeni Dlamini. In an exclusive interview with Spotlight.Africa Dlamini shared how one of the greatest challenges for ACTS presently is offering the active and supportive presence of chaplains to all its branches. In several instances students are left unaccompanied – or only offered the most basic sacramental access without the accompaniment that is required to reconcile their faith and personal experience with the new knowledge they are encountering in tertiary studies.

Some students said that one of the difficulties currently facing them is how to cope with mental health issues, particularly depression.

Dziuba, as the SACBC Liaison Bishop for Youth, said that ACTS can help in discerning topics for the upcoming Synod on Youth which is to be held in Rome in October this year.

He thanked all the past and current chaplains for the work they have done for ACTS. SA.

Video/Images: Sr Katleho Khang, SNMJ and Francis Tuson

You can listen to Bishop Dziuba’s homily here, or read the full-text of his homily below:

“And going out about the third hour the land owner saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and to them he said, “You go into the vineyard too.” (Mt 20:3-4).

Dear Young People, and all present at this celebration, Bishop Jan, priests, religious, guests and friends of ACTS,

I believe that these were the words [that] the students in the time before 25 years ago, have heard when they joined together their hands to establish one Association of Catholic Tertiary Students – bringing [the] Catholic Faith to [the] Academic Community as one organization. The words of Jesus: “You go into the vineyard too” (Mt 20:3-4) [have] resounded for [the] last 25 years in the ears and hearts of the Catholic Students of our Country, and today we celebrate the Silver Jubilee of the service of the Association to the young people and the academic world. A few generations of students passed through the association – bringing their life experiences and searching for fulfilment of their dreams, looking for [a] new HOME and FAMILY far away from their family homes. I congratulate to all members of ACTS – of the past and of the present, as well to their Chaplains – on your silver Jubilee, and express my gratitude to all members and chaplains for your generous service to the local church of Southern Africa.

I believe that the founders of ACTS were dreaming to unite the Catholic students, and through them, the society of South Africa, that was so divided on different levels, and still is divided, as we even can see it in the life and membership and participation [at] conferences and celebrations of ACTS. The colours of the ACTS logo [black and white – Editor] are still next to each other, and not united. The Cross of Jesus that is in the logo, who sacrificed his life to unite all peoples into one nation of God’s Children and citizens of heaven, still does not have [an] effect on those who call themselves Christians.

That is why we need to reflect on the past, in order to learn from it how to build up the present time, and the future, in the light of the Gospel and the teaching of our Catholic Church.

Dear Young people and all present here, I would like to reflect on two fundamental values: freedom and service.

First of all: be free people! What do I mean?

“For freedom, Christ has set us free”, the apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians (Gal. 5:1). Freedom is a central value of the Church’s social doctrine, along with truth, justice, and love. The freedom of Christ spurs us on.

Freedom, however, is one of those words that is so easily abused on the lips of moral relativists who consider themselves unbounded by objective truth and [by what is] objective[ly] right.

But the freedom the Church has in mind is a responsible freedom, not an irresponsible freedom, which in fact is no freedom at all. As John Paul II, Saint and Pope, defined it in his homily in October 1995, “freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought” to do.

“Every human person,” states the Social Teaching of the Church, “created in the image of god, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being.” (Compendium, No. 199). It is important to note the conjunction: we have a natural right to be “free and responsible”, not simply free.

Pope Francis said to young people: “Freedom means being able to think about what we do, being able to assess what is good and what is bad, these are the types of conduct that lead to development; it means always opting for the good. Let us be free for goodness. And in this do not be afraid to go against the tide, even if it is not easy.”

And again: “Your personal, individual freedom cannot hinder another person’s personal, family, or social growth.” (Compendium, No. 200). This suggests that freedom is found only in virtue, and never in vice [or] in wrongdoing. Why am I speaking today about freedom, at this Jubilee celebration?

The Association was born at the time when the freedom for the country was going to be born: new president, new political parties, new vision for [the life of] society life. Especially, young people were much affected by this spirit and dreams… Looking at the past and experiencing the present – we could see that many of our Catholic Students were not only affected positively, but often influenced by political slogans, that do not have much in common with the freedom that Jesus brought to us and [of] which we should be ambassadors. The lifestyles of our students are not always reflecting the Gospel Values and call to holiness – and we are expecting this! And we are experiencing this even here.

As the Church teaches:

“The fullness of freedom consists in the capacity to be in possession of oneself in view of the genuine good,” which, of course, ultimately, is God, “within the context of the universal common good.” (Compendium, No. 200).

I repeat,

“Let us be free for goodness”, and in this do not be afraid to go against the tide, even if it is not easy! Always being free to choose goodness is demanding but it will make you into people with a backbone who can face life, people with courage and patience. And this is the expression of our faith, that is affecting our relationship with God, oneself and others.

Our faith, as the motto of the ACTS states: “Faith in Action”, leads us to the Action, that is, to the service to other people, to the Church, to the Association.

So the second word is service. In your universities you take part in various activities that accustom you to not retreating into yourselves, or into your own small world, but rather, to being open to others, especially the poorest and neediest. They accustom you to working hard, to improve the world in which we live. Be men and women with others and for others: true champions at the service of others. And this is the ACTION that is coming from your faith, love and commitment to God and to the Association. That is also [the] expression of your freedom of doing good to others.

But, dear young friends, in order to be great with inner freedom and a spirit of service, spiritual formation is necessary.

Dear young people, love Jesus Christ more and more! Our life is a response to his call and you will be happy and will build your life well if you can answer to this call. May you feel the Lord’s presence in your life. He is close to each one of you as a companion, as a friend, who knows how to help and understand you, who encourages you in difficult times and never abandons you. In prayer, in conversation with him, and in reading the Bible, in receiving [the] sacrament of reconciliation and Holy Mass, you will discover that he is truly close. You will also learn to read God’s signs in your life. He always speaks to us, also through the events of our time and our daily life: it is up to us to listen to him.

As the preparation document for the Youth Synod states:

“Youth is an age of original and exciting life, through which Christ himself has passed, sanctifying it with his presence.

Jesus therefore, “young among the young”, wants to meet them by walking with them, just as he did with the disciples of Emmaus (see Lk 24:13-35). He still wants to offer himself today so that each of them may have life in abundance (see John 10:10). (Instrumentum Laboris – Youth Synod).

So I wish and pray that you, the ACTS members of our country, will receive the support from local parishes, priests, chaplains and the bishops of the dioceses where you live in and study in, as it is the whole church’s responsibility to accompany young people on their journey of faith.

Dear ACTS members, continue your journey with Jesus, listening to Him, his words, that are responding to your life’s challenges and share his Gospel with the young people and the community. Be the missionary disciples of Jesus.


* 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.