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Learning to breathe again

On 24 August, the Catholic Women of South Africa gathered virtually for their annual Day of Prayer. Mahadi Buthelezi reflects on the keynote address, which has given her inspiration to prayerfully continue in her daily struggles and fight for the rights of all women.

The Southern African Union of Catholic Women’s Organisation (SAUCWO) hosted its first-ever virtual Day of Prayer in South Africa for Catholic women, presided by SAUCWO President Fikile Motsa,. The theme for the day was “I Can’t Breathe.”

The COVID-19 pandemic prevented the hundreds of women coming together for this annual event. Instead, the organizers creatively created a programme that allowed women from South Africa and even some neighbouring countries to join in via Zoom from the comfort of their homes. Those who attended expressed their gratitude, saying that some of the stress and the burdens they carry had been lifted from their shoulders.   

Sr. Hermenegild Makoro, the Secretary-General of the South African Bishops’ Conference, was the keynote speaker. She delivered a powerful address to the Catholic women in attendance in which she acknowledged that women from all walks of life simply could not breathe anymore. The effects of COVID-19, the alarming increase of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), unemployment, corruption, and the many other burdens that women carry stifle them from living to their full potential. Sr. Makoro used the imagery of George Floyd who was killed by suffocation and the face masks we are forced to wear that also prevent us from breathing freely.

Sr. Makoro acknowledged that women from all walks of life simply could not breathe anymore.

Reflecting on her words, I am reminded how women seek to be understood, loved, and cared for. In contrast, the COVID-19 pandemic has elicited feelings of shock, fear, depression, and isolation. The closure of the churches, where we find our refuge, made this isolation even worse. We felt lost.

Our priests did their best by celebrating Mass using social media and encouraged us to not give in to negative emotions. However, women respond to emotion and the lack of human contact and community made us realise that those online interactions were not enough. We needed so much more.

For this reason, Sr. Makoro’s address was such a healing balm. As a female religious, she shared a message of hope that we all needed. She encouraged us to “breathe” again. We connected with her message because she understood our deepest concerns. Her invitation gave us a new lease on our faith. I can breathe!

In concluding this woman’s month, I am reminded of these words by the famous actress Audrey Hepburn:

“The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way that she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.”

My prayer is that with renewed hope in our eyes and love in our hearts, we can carry out our Godly duties, carry our crosses, confront injustice in all its forms, and pray unceasingly: for an end to GBVF, for all those who have died from COVID-19, for all families going through various challenges and for good leadership in our country and Church. 

We have been given an invitation and a challenge to breathe freely again, by letting go of our hidden fears and insecurities and instead allowing God’s light to shine through us, and that in so doing, we also become a conduit of light for others.

Click here to read Sr. Hermenegild Makoro’s address at the SAUCWO Day of Prayer.

* 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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Mahadi Buthelezi
Mahadi Buthelezi is a daughter, a wife and a mother of five children. She is the CEO of the Catholic Business Forum and the Group CEO for RB Property Fund. She is a member of the SACBC Marriage and Family Life Office's Working Group and the Archdiocese of Johannesburg's Marriage and Family Life Synod Committee. Mahadi is the lead organizer of the ecumenical Women's World Day of Prayer in S.A for the Catholic Church, is the secretary for the Southern African World Union of Catholic Women Organization. She is a member of the UN Women SA and The Department of Women, Youth and People with Disabilities' Generation Equality and FBO's (Faith Based Organization) National Task Team. She is a Marriage and Family Life Coach, and serves on the PPC of the Catholic Church of the Resurrection in Bryanston.

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