On the 7th and 8th of September 2021 there was a Joint Witness meeting between the Bishops of the SACBC and the Leaders of Religious Congregations in the SACBC territory. Due to now ubiquitous covid limitations this meeting which was facilitated by Brother Michael Burke and Sister Cheryl-Ann Ziervogel took place virtually. The last meeting for Joint Witness was in July 2017 where they discussed the document Mutuae Relationes in relation to themes such as migration, human trafficking, racism, and professional conduct. It was under the theme “Finding new paths to evangelization through sharing the Joy of the Gospel, obviously inspired by Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.
In this year’s meeting, which had about 70 attendees, the theme was “Enabling an emerging Church: exploring needs an ways of being Church now.” The purpose was to find out how the bishops and religious congregation leaders in their spheres can offer leadership in activating responsiveness to the impact of Covid and other challenges, with mutual appreciation and in line with the new SACBC Pastoral Plan using the potential resources available to them.
As the meeting was spread between two days on Tuesday the 7th September the focus was on the challenges and opportunities presented by Covid and the creative responses which resulted from that. On the same day it was discussed how a collaborative effort in leading responsive ways of being Church in these times can be forged. A lot of experiences and ideas of how to go forward were shared and noted down.
Wednesday was dedicated to discussing good relations between Bishops and Consecrated Life leaders and members. That was followed in the afternoon by a para-liturgy of listening to the experiences of groups that are ageing and diminishing, and also those that are growing and attracting new life. In this para-liturgy other members of the religious congregations were given an opportunity to follow the proceeding live on the SACBC Facebook page. Earlier in the day the religious leaders had had a task of responding to a question of how do they as Religious see their role in a diocese and their relationship to its bishop. The bishops on the other hand had to explain how do they as bishops understand the value and role of religious congregations in the diocese.
A lot of issues were raised and discussed, even the thorny ones from both sides, but in short, the bishops expressed how much they value the contribution of the religious in their dioceses pointing out how the diocese would be incomplete without the religious whose track record in many dioceses is impressive. The religious reiterated their commitment to work collaboratively in line with the needs of the diocese together with the bishop, the priests and the laity of the dioceses in which they live out their charisms.
It is expected that the final document from the meeting will soon be available to all religious members and bishops as a way of a synthesis of what was discussed. In closing the meeting Sr. Nkhensani Shibambu, the President of LCCLSA, thanked all who participated in the meeting and their invaluable contributions, with a special thanks to the two facilitators who had to be flexible in preparations to accommodate the changed environment of the meeting. The next meeting is expected to be in the next four years, 2025, hopefully in person.