The 5th General Assembly of Caritas South Africa (Caritas SA) which started with an opening prayer by its President Bishop Stanislaw Dziuba of Umzimkulu took place virtually on the 20th July 2022. The participants, who are representatives of different diocese within South Africa, were welcomed by the Associate Secretary General of the Conference, Sr. Phuthunywa Siyali, who also introduced the purpose of the assembly. Sr. Siyali is the chairperson of the Board of Caritas SA.
Caritas SA President in his address said the past year was a challenging time for CARITAS on national, diocesan and parish levels as the communities around the country, especially in Kwazulu Natal experienced many disasters, starting with unrest and looting. He noted the adverse effects of the unrest and looting in that so many people suffered, lost their property, lost jobs, and it revealed the broken hearts of people and moral disaster. Bishop Dziuba said crisises of unrests and floods in the south eastern part of South Africa “revealed as well the heroic service of Caritas and other Church’s institutions, associations and individuals to those in need, but also vulnerability of CARITAS structures, networking, communication and ways of responding to emergency situations.”
Leaning on the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in the Apostolic Letter “On the Service of Charity”, the Bishop of Umzimkulu said CARITAS should be the integral part of the parish life, like the proclamation of the Word of God, and the administration of the Sacraments. He added that “it is the continuation of the Mission of Jesus, who was anointed and sent to preach the Good News to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and the recovery.”
The annual report from 2021, which followed the followed the report of the Board of Caritas SA, shows that Caritas SA had as its first strategic orientation the “Building and Structuring Caritas SA at all levels in the spirit of love and service to the poor”. Of this orientation it emerged that up to this moment 24 out of 26 dioceses of South Africa now have Caritas, even though some are still struggling due to challenges relating to resources and interim coordination.
Regarding the second strategic orientation which focuses on “Reducing Risks, Saving Lives, Rebuilding Communities”, Caritas SA gave feedback on disaster relief for the floods in Kwazulu-Natal. This disaster saw an immediate response by Carita SA Office’s donation to the three Caritas affected (Durban, Mariannhill, Mthatha). In the response there was also an engagement with Caritas Internationalis, Caritas Africa and media to inform and raise awareness. The report, presented by Caritas SA Coordinator, Sr. Maria Rissini, touched also the other four strategic orientations.
There was also a moment to hear a consolidated feedback from dioceses presented by secretary of the Board of Caritas SA, Marie McCrea. And it was discovered that among the top three achievements from different dioceses it was listed things like strengthening local Caritas, Organisation structure improvements, Capacity and Skills development, Outreach food and others. As a case on point of outreach food Caritas Kokstad managed to assist with food parcels to 60 families estimated to be around 600 individuals. Caritas Oudtshoorn provided food baskets support to families in need at Christmas with contributions from parishes. Caritas Port Elizabeth partnered with Masifunde to distribute 155 food parcels and Caritas Rustenburg provided 250 families of locals and migrants with food parcels.
There was engagement in other areas of like capacity building, programmes, networking and collaboration, emergency response and others. The feedback also highlighted the challenges faced by various diocesan Caritas ranging from regulatory and compliance issues, environmental factors to sustainability, lack of funds and others.
It emerged in the end that support needed from the national office should focus on continued motivation, education and training, continued enrolment of bishops and priests, funding support, central database and other factors. The feedback from dioceses is imperative as it helps with the Board of Caritas South Africa Strategic Review for a period of three years from 2022 -2025.