Crowds gathered to celebrate the launch of the new Pastoral Plan. Together with all the Bishops of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), the plan was launched after a procession to Regina Mundi in Soweto. Matthew Pyrc SJ and Matthew Charlesworth SJ were there and they reflect on the launch of the plan entitled “Evangelising Community: serving God, Humanity and Creation”.
It was no ordinary Sunday Mass. The liturgy began with the people outside in a field, in the sanctuary of God’s creation. Groups from various parishes and sodalities from across the Archdiocese and Southern Africa, together with their bishops gathered in Soweto to welcome the new Pastoral Plan.
Bishop Kevin Dowling spoke passionately at the start of the procession to the Regina Mundi Catholic Church on the background and promise of the Pastoral Plan. He explained how the original 1989 pastoral plan was formulated after listening to the people and the context at that time. It was birthed during the rule of an oppressive and morally reprehensible government. But now, he said, the context has changed and we must discern how to collaborate with a government that has been legitimately elected by the people. He said we all need to examine their policies and always ask ourselves “what effect does all this have on people and especially the poorest and most vulnerable people?”
We should not be afraid of the changing context. He recalled that Jesus himself responded to the signs of the times and we should not be afraid to do the same today. The pastoral plan calls us to become a community that serves humanity in their present situation. We need to open our eyes, our hearts, and our minds to the present reality and discern God’s call to us today, where we are.
One of the glaring realities of our time continues to be violence. Bishop Dowling decried the violence against girls and women, the HIV/AIDS crisis which still persists and violates human dignity, and the growing awareness of the violence done to the earth. He echoed a prophetic call from Pope Francis saying that the cry of the poor now goes hand-in-hand with the cry of the earth.
He concluded noting that we are a community already as a church, but the new pastoral plan calls us to be an evangelizing community which is characterized by our own personal relationship with Jesus. Only in relationship with Jesus can we be an evangelizing community. We are then called to serve all people in faith and worship so that the gospel can be experienced, truly, as good news, and experienced especially by the poor and marginalized. He noted that in the current political and social context we are privileged to be called to serve all creation, so that every person and every creature, might have a future.
He described this as “an exciting vision” requiring each person’s input with their unique gifts, talents and time to make it real. He expressed his hope that this pastoral plan will make a difference to our Church, society and the environment.
The procession then wound its way towards Regina Mundi, singing hymns and praying the rosary, before Mass began at the historic church where an even larger crowd was assembled.
In his homily, the presider, the Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, president of the SACBC, compared our present situation with the people of Israel who were liberated from the oppression of pharaoh. In 1994 we were spectacularly moved from the oppression of apartheid with great promises, but now a darkness has descended upon us. Bishop Sipuka cautioned us about various kinds of darkness that we struggle against today.
“These are some of what may be called institutional darknesses, darkness from the government, darkness from business and darkness from religion or Churches. But there are also personal or cultural darknesses as well. One darkness that is encroaching in our country and in the African continent is the culture of selfishness disguised as democratic right which leads to a plethora of other forms of darknesses. We are becoming an individualistic society with no sense of mission for the common good.”
Bishop Sipkua pointed out that this lack of attention to the common good is rooted in a selfishness and a lack of concern for others, having a mentality that as long as I am OK I don’t need to worry about others. He proclaimed that we must remember not only our rights, but also our responsibilities, not only to ourselves but to each other.
He reminded us that our calling is to not only be a disciple of Jesus Christ but also to be his apostle, one who is called and sent. It is not enough to find Jesus and only worship him on Sunday morning. The bishop preached that Apostles are sent to continue the mission of Jesus. Discipleship and Apostleship must go together, one without the other can reduce action to a social work or a faith that is solely a ‘feel-good’ attitude. The mission of Jesus was to bring a light into a dark world. This mission is always done through community and it is “in common” that it can be accomplished.
It was a necessary reminder that the antidote to selfish corruption is a promotion of the Common Good. It is only as a common people will we overcome our societal struggles. The symbol of the Pastoral Plan is a hand. “It is a reminder that by virtue of our baptism, we are all called to lend a hand. [The] hand is associated with work, [and] we are all called [to] work. Let us all look at what you can do to reach out motivated by our faith,” he exhorted the attentive assembly.
The Pastoral Plan places the heart of activity in the hands of the local parish. The bishops promised support to the local parish groups, working together to See what needs there are, to Judge what God is calling forth and to Act together to bring forth a change for the common good. Archbishop Buti Tlhagale OMI publicly pledged to present this plan in every parish in his archdiocese and all the other bishops were encouraged to do the same.* We are grateful for the assistance of Francis Tuson of the Jesuit Institute, and Sheldon Reddiar of Sheldon Reddiar Photography, for their assistance with photographs for this article.