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Southern African bishops will discuss the sex abuse crisis, political violence and elections

At the opening Mass of the February 2019 Plenary Session of the Southern African Catholic bishops, secretary general, Sr Hermenegild Makoro, told the congregation that at the meeting the bishops would be discussing, among other things, the sexual abuse crisis in the church, political violence in South Africa as well as the country’s upcoming elections.

The opening Mass of the first of the SACBC bi-annual plenary sessions for 2019 was held at the Monastery Church in Mariannhill, KwaZulu-Natal at 5pm on Tuesday, 5 February 2019.

Sr Hermenegild Makoro introduced the function of the bishops’ plenary meeting saying that they come together for ten days of conversation because “they need the guidance of the Holy Spirit” for their ministry as bishops.

As is the custom for the opening Mass of the plenary sessions, a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit was celebrated as bishops prepared to begin their deliberations.

Sr Hermenegild Makoro, addresses congregation at opening Mass of SACBC Plenary. // Ricardo da Silva SJ, spotlight.africa
Sr Hermenegild Makoro, speaks at opening Mass of SACBC Plenary. // Ricardo da Silva SJ, spotlight.africa

Referring to the role of the Holy Spirit in these days of mutual conversation between the bishops, Makoro begged the congregation to pray for their bishops, asking that this may be a time “that, really, the Holy Spirit may shake them — they need to be shaken”. As she said this, spontaneous laughter arose from the congregation.

This is a time for the bishops “to look at the issues that touch our lives, the issues of faith, the issues of the society as a whole”, she said.

What do we say as a Catholic Church to the society out there? What is our role? Where are you going to put your mark”, Makoro added when referring to the discussions expected from the bishops in relation to elections, “How do we encourage the faithful so that they take their responsibility by putting a mark on that ballot paper?”

The homily at the opening Mass was given by the bishop of Umzimkulu, Stanislaw Dziuba, who is also the Conference’s liaison bishop for Youth.

In his homily, Dziuba reminded the congregation of the visit of Pope Paul VI to the Symposium of African Bishops in Uganda in 1969. There Paul VI appeal to African Catholics that they would own their mission as Church in Africa: “you Africans are missionaries to yourselves”.

Taking forward the themes raised by Paul VI, Dziuba called on Catholics in southern Africa to take a more active role in the Church. He asked them to return to their “missionary” impulse and become more than simply a “maintaining” Church.

Bishop Stanislaw Dziuba preaches at opening mass of SACBC Plenary. // Ricardo da Silva SJ, spotlight.africa
Bishop Stanislaw Dziuba preaches at opening mass of SACBC Plenary. // Ricardo da Silva SJ, spotlight.africa

The appeal to be “missionary” was particularly directed at young people in the Church. With strong words, the bishop said: “the participation of the young helps to reawaken synodality which is a constitutive element of the Church”

This is especially so after the release of the final document of the Synod of Bishops on Young People last October, which calls young people to take up their rightful place and be “co-responsible” for the Church.

Dziuba went on to exhort young people to a new way of being in the Church.

“Dear young people: do not sit in a waiting room, to be asked to participate and become co-responsible for your Church and sharing joyfully the gospel. No! You are the present, the now, of the Church and the society; not only the future. Be proactive. Find your space in the Church.”

The first plenary session of the southern African bishops is usually held in Pretoria in January. But it was decided that because some of the region’s bishops were at World Youth Day in Panama, the session would be postponed for a few weeks.

The other reason for postponing and moving the meeting is that the Archdiocese of Durban are about to welcome their new coadjutor archbishop, Abel Gabuza, at a reception Mass. This will take place at St Henry’s Marist College in Durban this Sunday, 10 February 2019. All the bishops of the region are present in the province and expected to attend.

The superior of the Mariannhill community expressed his thanks to the bishops for hosting their plenary in their monastery grounds, saying jokingly that this “meeting of our shepherds” at Mariannhill would ensure their “sustenance and existence”`

* 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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Ricardo da Silva SJ
Ricardo is a member of the South African region of the Jesuits and an ordained deacon of the Roman Catholic Church. In 2020, he received a master's degree in journalism from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, New York, where he was an African Pulitzer Fellow and reported on religion, mental health, housing and other social injustices. Before moving to the U.S.A., Ricardo served as acting editor of spotlight.africa and was on the team at Jesuit Institute South Africa. His preparation for ministry as a Jesuit has taken him to study theology in Brazil, philosophy in the U.K and brief working stints in Zimbabwe and Spain. As a Jesuit, he has ministered to refugees, migrants, people experiencing street homelessness, young adults, seminarians, the elderly, and high school and university students, staff and faculty. Before entering religious life in 2007, Ricardo worked in marketing, communications, and brand management before joining the Jesuits in 2007. Ricardo holds dual citizenship, having emigrated from Portugal to South Africa at the age of six with his mother.

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