Nine months have passed since the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference launched its new Pastoral Plan. Since then, there has been very little information about how this is being implemented in parishes. Mahadi Buthelezi offers recommendations on how to bring the Pastoral Plan to life as a mission for the Church in our region.
The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) launched a new pastoral plan in January 2020. It presents guidelines for the pastoral activity of the Catholic Church in Southern Africa by focusing on eight key areas. The pastoral plan describes its mission as:
“We the Church, the Family of God in Southern Africa, commit to work together with others for the good of all, by responding to the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth, through worship, proclamation of the word of God, formation, advocacy, human development and care of creation.”
At its core, pastoral work is an act of service to the community, just as the shepherd, pastore in Latin, leads the flock to good pasture so that they can graze. The SACBC Pastoral Plan reminds us that the primary mission of the Christian Church is the same as Jesus entrusted to Peter after he declared his love for Christ: “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21:15-19). This spiritual feeding has both a personal and community dimension.
Proclaiming the Word of God
At the heart of all pastoral activity is the need to evangelise and proclaim the Word of God as a foundation for a deepening of the spiritual life. Peter encourages Christians to “crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). This echoes Jesus’ own proclamation that humankind “shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). The importance of the Word of God as food for our souls cannot be over-emphasised.
These biblical images refer to the start of the spiritual life as if one were an infant suckling at its mother’s breast. It is a reminder that although the Church is called to nurture the spiritual life, the first place in which the Word of God is spoken and lived in, is the home. We experience the first love of Christ through our parents, siblings and extended family and friends we encounter.
In every family there are children, youths and older people, who represent all the members of the flock. Pastors working together with laity can provide spiritual guidance to the youth or those who are at the start of their spiritual journey and accompany those who encounter hardship and struggle along life’s journey. The family is also the place where wisdom and faith are passed on from one generation to the next.
Catholic families are an important source of support for other families because we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Families must be encouraged to promote the values of the Pastoral Plan. We are strengthened by our families and as we pray together, we become the Body of Christ and His Church.
As Christians, the concept of family should go beyond the nuclear family, extending to all our brothers and sisters in Christ. In this we emulate Jesus, Mary and Joseph, caring for each other and for the world around us.
South Africa’s own Blessed Benedict Daswa provides an authentic example of what it means to live within a family and be part of the wider human family. He provided food and spiritual leadership to both his own family and the community at large. The concept of Ubuntu says I am because you are, promoting an interdependent community in which each member protects the other members of the community from violence, murder, hunger and strife.
Responding to the cry of the poor
South Africa suffers from multiple economic injustices. Unfortunately, gender and race still dictate salaries, rather than experience and qualifications. The six-month lock down has also resulted in increased gender-based violence, poverty, unemployment, and depression. The support from government and civil society could not adequately provide for the needs of impoverished communities, and sometimes did not come as promised. The pandemic also revealed the corruption and greed of politicians and pharmaceutical companies.
In response to this human suffering, the Church needs to be ever more visible and persistent in speaking out for the oppressed and downtrodden. Advocacy and human development are two other key aspects of the Church’s Pastoral Plan.
This is also an opportunity for self-reflection, awareness, and discernment. We are sometimes blinded by our own prejudice and we are not aware of our own privilege. In order to create a culture of advocacy and social justice for those on the margins of society, the Pastoral Plan should encourage parishes and dioceses to create programs that allow for this introspection, healing and conversion, both from the injustices done to us and those that we have knowingly and unknowingly inflicted on others.
The ideal outcome is that this process would hopefully spur the laity — individually and as a community of faith — to take up projects that uplift the poor and marginalised, by using the skills and privilege of its members for the good of all.
Responding to the cry of the earth
The pandemic forced the world economy into lockdown, which had almost immediately noticeable effects on the environment. Creation was given a chance — for a few short weeks — to recuperate and pollution levels declined.
The earth is crying. As the stewards of creation, we are called to care for it and not exploit it. This requires a whole re-education to realise that the earth’s resources are finite and that the goods of the earth must be shared by all.
The Pastoral Plan encourages activities that allow Christians to appreciate God’s creation and its beauty. But more is required. Parish recycling programs should elicit a deeper discussion into our individual use of resources, such as water and food, and how our consumption patterns affect the wider economy of creation. Community gardens could inspire communities to share the goods of the earth with those who need it most.
The Church is often divided by the location, social class, and race of its members and by liturgical preferences. Instead of being a source of division and separation, this rich diversity allows us to appreciate and acknowledge our suffering and privilege based on our backgrounds and experiences.
As we enter the “new normal” of the post COVID-19 world, the pastoral plan needs to be promoted widely as a tool that caters for the Church in the diversity of its members, so that it truly can be at the service of God, humanity and the whole of creation. The love of Christ should drive and encourage us all to effectively implement the Pastoral Plan!