Archbishop Slattery on 75 and 100 Years: “let us continue to enrich the world-wide Church as African Christians”

In the homily on the occasion of the celebration of 75 years anniversary of the SACBC, and 100 years of the Apostolic representation, Archbishop Willian Slattery said Matthew in the Gospel today invites those present to see, to discern the light, because Jesus invites them to see that light, by the word “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand”.

He said, “Today is the day of great joy. Is the day in which we celebrate the journey to light we have made for a hundred years and also 75 years.” Continuing he said there is a challenge to look back over the road walked and to see on that road the footprints of Jesus Christ. The Archbishop said people should remember that in the Gospel of Luke, he is teaching them that “the Church continues the ministry and work of Jesus Christ today.” So, the people of Southern Africa look back at this time to see where Jesus has been with them because in South Africa they like to complain and see the bad side of things. “We are invited to see that the Lord has been with us. We have moved from a certain darkness into a certain light” said the Archbishop adding that the light of the Church the bishops have shared on South Africa.

“We see the light of Christ risen from the dead when we see the works of the Bishops’ Conference, the religious, the priests and all the people of South Africa, bring home and the mercy of the risen Jesus Christ,” preached the Emeritus Archbishop of Pretoria before getting into some historical facts of the Bishops’ Conference. The Archbishop affirmed that the bishops’ conference in a special way have laid down the track for the light of Christ to enter all corners of our land.

He noted that hundred years ago, Pope Pius XII to “let Catholics scattered all over the country that he was close to us, listening to us, praying for us he sent an apostolic delegate, not to the government, but to the Catholic people of South Africa to say that the Church was with us, the Holy Father, the Pope.”  

Giving some historical background Archbishop Slattery said the first delegates found a small number of diocese over the huge area of South Africa, and they gathered the scattered bishops now and again to come to meetings as there were no regular meetings of bishops in those days. He said the delegates working with the bishops ensured that by 1951 they had 22 dioceses in South Africa. Archbishop Slattery also noted that when Archbishop Martin Lucas was sent by Pope Pius the XII he did three wonderful things; He invited the bishops together and with them he set up the South Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference 75 years ago this year. Speaking more about Archbishop Lucas he said the Apostolic Representative also insisted on local vocations because besides all the beautiful things of the church there was a weakness in that it was a missionary church, the Church from outside, “It did not really have an African or a local voice, and so he began work towards forming seminaries.” Archbishop Lucas also helped to institute the hierarchy which appointed by the Pope himself as was noted by Archbishop Slattery.

Going back to historical facts he said once in 1948 and the following years the institution of apartheid was underway the bishops responded to that, “They said this idea is totally alien to the Catholic philosophy and theology of life, to the Scriptures themselves.” He pointed out that the bishops did state in their statements that apartheid is intrinsically evil in 1957, adding that the people knew that for the bishops apartheid was a heresy and intrinsically evil. “Another weakness at that time was that the laity were not given their full responsibility in the Church, they did not realise their full responsibility in the Church.” He said also the social teaching of the Church was rather weak, but it was to change over the next many years, “In other words, to get the faith of our Church out of the Church and into society was very weak in the Church in general.”

On another historical fact the Archbishop said although Catholics in the 1950s were only 3% they taught 20% of the population of South African Catholic schools. “All the rural clinics in South Africa were started by the Catholic Church,” said the Archbishop noting another Catholic contribution.

He reminded that the bishops of Southern Africa participated in the II Vatican Council and as a result of that council gradually the segregated seminaries came together in the 1970s to become one seminary in 1981. “In the 1980s the bishops and the people all together began to discuss how can we witness to Christ more faithfully in South Africa as a Church, and so began the journey towards the pastoral plan to be publish in 1989, ‘Community serving humanity’.”

Then the Archbishop said the SACBC then continued to bring the light of Christ into the lives of the people. Regarding the some political scene he said the Church was fully involved in the 1994 elections conscientising people and making our facilities available for elections. He also pointed out that during the aids epidemic the bishops’ conference was hugely involved, “27% of all people afflicted with aids were served by the Catholic Church. The government was the only one who had the bigger percentage of health to the people.”

Archbishop Slattery said people must remember the huge impact the Church had in their lives. “We still have certain challenges because Jesus says repent, see the light,” said the Archbishop, “We need to bring more light.” According to him the first word he would say is formation, “We have lot of work to do on formation. Very few Catholic children are at Catholic schools.” He explained that the formation of Catholic children, the formation of Catholic youth is something that the bishops must put take serious. “If the formation of our young people is not well we cannot expect vocations,” warned the Archbishop. He also noted that media is another area where the local Church is swarmed, and also another area where there is still a lot of darkness is the area of youth, “The youth see priests seem to lack confidence when it comes to the youth, so they are afraid of them.”

“Do we remember the cost the Catholic Church has paid in order to bring Christ into the lives of people? We might laugh at the bishops shadowboxing in the 1950s and 60s with the apartheid government. But is our impact on the present national scene any better?” asked the Emeritus Archbishop of Pretoria.

In gratitude Archbishop Slattery said they thank God today for their delegates and Archbishop Wells who have done a wonderful work for this country. “We thank God for the light, first of all, we have seen unity…We have had unity in the Catholic Bishops’ Conference. It’s a unity that must go out to the priests and bring the priests into the centre of the life of the Church.” He also said, “I thank the Holy Spirit of God for having given us that great gift of unity in our bishops’ conference. And young bishops coming into it find tremendous comfort.”

As a way of concluding Archbishop said the bishops’ conference has stood up to an aggressive government, and now people have a government which does not oppress them, but he is wondering if it is uplifting anybody. “We have to stand up against the government. And also, the media is very anti-Catholic just because we are against abortion and gay marriage,” pointed out the Archbishop. He asserted that the Church stands for objective truth, and bishops’ conference has always done that. He said as Pope Benedict said, “Africa is the second lung of the Catholic Church,” so that Southern African Catholics are now playing their part in the Universal Church. He noted that Africans have a privilege of contributing African thinking and culture to the world-wide Catholic Church. “So, let us continue to enrich the world-wide Church as African Christians.”



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