On the 24-26th September, 54 Catholic Priests from Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland, together with the team of Ongoing Formation for Priests, met at Lumko Retreat Centre in Benoni, in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg, for the 4th final stage of SACOP consultation.
Fr Hugh Lagan, one of the Ongoing Formation Team members, said, “The main purpose of the consultation was to look at the needs of priests within SACBC region, try the best to hear their challenges and needs, so as to offer them personal and professional support, by trying hard to respond effectively and in a more practical way to their needs”.
According to Fr Hugh the consultation has been an ongoing process for the period of about two years. It was initiated by the former SACOP executive who presented the proposal to the SACBC Bishops. The Bishops adopted it and the consultation process started in the dioceses.
“One of the main issues raised by priests during the diocesan consultation was a request to know more about the history and the purpose of SACOP. They felt that it has not been effective enough to address their challenges and needs”, said Fr Hugh.
The consultation went through four stages process. It started with priests in their own dioceses, then went through the second stage of metropolitan representative consultation. The third stage was done nationally through the representation of Ongoing Formation Team, SACBC Bishops ‘delegation and the representative priests from different dioceses and metros. The last stage of consultation was also done nationally and it was meant to establish a structural framework and put flesh on it.
Fr Hugh also expressed his happiness to hear the voices of priests, articulating clearly their needs from different contexts. He said they are happy as the Ongoing Formation Team to honor the voices of priests and they are ready to support them in their ministry, professional and personal life.
In giving an overview of the consultation, he said everything went well. The ongoing formation committee was very impressed by the commitment and enthusiasm shown by the priests during the process of consultation. They were very clear in articulating what they are looking for.
Furthermore he said the priests have expressed the need for support in promoting positive relationships among themselves, the bishops and the people of God. They have also expressed the will to live their priesthood with integrity, authenticity and to become powerful witnesses of the presence of God among the people they are serving.
Fr Vincent Brennan, another member of the Ongoing Formation Team, gave a brief history of SACOP. He said the history of SACOP goes back as far as Vatican II. The Vatican II Council introduced the identity of the church, modelled it on the identity of the community of the first Disciples of Christ. Since then the church has been identified as the community of the people of God, modeling her identity again around the Trinitarian nature of God.
According to Fr Vincent, the establishment of SACOP has been following the same style of a community of the first believers. He said in the same way the priests, through their own engagement and work, should reflect the communal identity of the church by living as one community, working together and supporting each other.
He further said there is a need to build a community among priests and continuously maintain and fix the broken identity of their community life. They should live as a community reflecting the oneness nature of the church. SACOP should be the agent of building, maintaining and supporting the priests in building their community. It should give and promote the sense of belonging among priests.
Fr Vincent said SACOP failed during the recent past years because its survival was centered on delegates. All priests should belong to this body and get actively involved.
He concluded by saying there is a need to turn to the grassroots. The community model of SACOP at all levels of the church structures should be seen. There is a need to revisit SACOP and re-image it to prevent more failures like in the past. There should be a rebirth of the new identity of SACOP, reflecting and addressing relevantly the realities of today.
Fr Mosebetsi Mokwena, also another members of the team, spent some time talking about the realities facing SACOP today, which he said they are posing a very positive and new image to SACOP, and a better hope for success of body.
Fr Mokoena said while SACOP has been running for many years, there are new realities today among priests themselves. For examples, there are many different priests coming from different parts of Africa and the whole world. They have brought a positive dimension in the life of priests and the local church. SACOP should be re-imaged in the light of these many kind of these ongoing changes in the local church.
He added that there is an experience of excitement in realizing this new reality and there is a lot of positive expectations and results. “I hope this reimaging of SACOP will help priests to give life to the local church”, he said.
When he talked about the consultation meetings, Fr Mokwena said it has been a great experience to be part of it; sharing experiences from different walks of life as priests. He said one of the wonderful things that has been experienced during the meeting was the sense of ownership developed among the priests. They felt that SACOP is theirs, and to help it succeed they need to recommit themselves. “There is a need for a new vision and a renewal of SACOP” he emphasized.
Fr Mokoena also talked about the issues expressed by the priests during the process of consultation. They strongly felt that there is a need to support each other without distinctions. They also felt a need to recommit themselves in supporting each other, bring new life among themselves, the people of God and establish a good relationship with their bishops.
Fr Mokwena concluded by saying the priests are convinced that when there is life among priests there will be always a fullness of life among people of God. “A healthy priest bring life to the people of God”, he said.
There is already a lot of support the people of God are giving to their priests. A healthy priest always give a positive response in return to the people of God.
“SACOP should always represents all the priests” he concluded.
By SACBC Communication and Media Office