Archbishop Mpanbani: Church in South Africa called to become a wounded healer

From 10th to 12th August, the SACBC Justice and Peace Commission and the Institute for the Healing of Memories organized a healing of memories workshop for the priests in the Archdiocese of Bloemfontein.

During the workshop, Archbishop Zolile Mpambani reminded the participants of the importance of receiving God’s healing in their lives so that they themselves become wounded healers.  He insisted that healing of our hurtful past is a journey that we undertake through Christ’s grace and the workshop on the healing of memories should serve as one of the steps in such a journey.   He encouraged the participants to work together to discern additional steps after the workshop through which individual and collective healing can continue to take place. 

The workshop was facilitated by Father Michael Lapsley, an Anglican priest and anti-apartheid activist who in 1990 lost both hands and an eye in a letter bomb attack sponsored by the South African Secret Services. 

Sharing his experience with the priests, Father Lapsley explained that “quite early on after the bomb I realized that if I was filled with hatred and desire for revenge, I would be a victim forever. I therefore decided to travel in my life from being a victim to survivor, to victor. Many people fail to travel further than this. To become a victor is to move from being an object of history to become a subject once more. That is not to say that I will not always grieve what I have lost, because I will permanently bear the marks of disfigurement.”

Reflecting on the workshops, Father Stan Muyebe, the director of SACBC Justice and Peace Commission, pointed out that “the involvement of SACBC Justice and Peace in the healing of memories project is based on the realization that the healing of memories project is a continuation of the work of the 1995-1996 Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” Fr. Muyebe continued noting that during the TRC, close to 23000 people were able to tell their stories of the painful impact of apartheid on their lives and families.  He said at that time, however, South Africa was a country of 55 million people, and the healing of memories project arose from the realization that not everybody will have a chance to tell their stories through the TRC.  “There was therefore a need to create an alternative platform that ensures continuation of storytelling, healing and reconciliation decades after apartheid,” added Fr. Muyebe, also that, “As Church, we have partnered with the institute of the healing of memories to help the country to work on its healing and reconciliation through story telling.” 

According to Fr. Muyebe the healing that country needs is not only from the painful legacy of apartheid, “It is also from the painful legacy of broken promises and failure in leadership in the two decades of constitutional democracy.   It is also from the experience of loss and grief linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.” He said there is therefore a sense to which South Africa is struggling with both the unhealed wounds from apartheid and the new wounds from the Covid-19 pandemic.  “These unhealed wounds are being exploited by populist politicians to deepen polarisation, fear, hatred and violence.   In midst of all this, the Gospel invites us to bring the message of hope, the message of God’s mercy, healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness of our sins.” 

During the workshop Father Michael explained the power of storytelling, on “how every story needs a listener and how all of us have a story to tell so that we become healed emotionally and spiritually.”   Fr. Lapsley said one of the greatest struggles in life is to get stories recognized and to get people’s pain acknowledged.    During the healing of memories workshop in Bloemfontein diocese, the participants therefore had an opportunity to share with one another their stories of hurtful past and to discuss how to travel from being a victim to victor, from self-destructive memories to life-giving memories.    The workshop also discussed the power of storytelling and memory healing in parishes and how this is linked to a calling to become a synodal Church. 

In relation to this, Father Stan Muyebe commented that, “it has often been said that one of the challenges in our calling to become a synodal Church is how to provide genuine spaces to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking through those at the margins of the Church.  This is important.”  He added that people should also not lose sight of an additional challenge that, “In the context of huge gap between the rich and the poor in South Africa, another challenge in our calling to become a synodal Church is the Church’s ability to create opportunities and platforms that would allow those at the margins of the economy in South Africa to get their stories and their dignity recognized by those in power.” He said there are questioned that needed pondering upon, “What do we need to create such platforms for the homeless, the unemployed young adults, the migrants/refugees, the abused women, the physically disabled, the farm workers, the sick ex-miners, those living in inhumane conditions in slum settlements etc?    What do we need to do to listen and discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to the nation through the experiences of those that the society has placed at the margins of the economy?”  These, he said, are some of the questions that should be posed on a journey as a synodal Church, a synodal Church that is called to become a good Samaritan in the context of extreme economic inequalities.

In 2021, similar workshops were conducted with the priests in the dioceses of Aliwal North, Kimberely and Mariannhill. The workshops on the healing of memories are undertaken against the backdrop of the SACBC Pastoral plan, particularly its affirmation of healing and reconciliation as an integral part of evangelization in Southern Africa. The workshops underline that evangelisation as participation in the healing and reconciling mission of Christ necessitates the on-going formation of priests as wounded healers. It necessitates the positioning of the Church as the wounded healer, what Pope Francis calls the Church as a field hospital after battle.



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