The SACBC orientation programme for new missionaries started on Monday, 13 September 2021, and it will run until 24th September. The aim of the programme is to give a missionaries the opportunity to be exposed and reflect on some key mission or missionary documents of the church and clarify for them the challenges and implications of being in a new mission context different from the one they has been used to. It is hoped that by the end of the programme the missionaries would have gained some basic knowledge and appreciation of the cultures, religions, politics, and economy of the peoples, and particularly become exposed to the nature and the structures of the Catholic Church in the SACBC.
The programme, facilitated by Fr. Gabriel Afagbegee and Sr. Thandi Moyo, is taking place at Lumko Institute in Benoni. The missionaries arrived on Monday and on Tuesday morning the topic was “The Church’s Mission and being Missionary Today in the SACBC region (reflection and discussion on some pertinent recent Church documents on mission” and was presented by Bishop Joseph Kizito of the Diocese of Aliwal. In the afternoon of Tuesday the new missionaries were given a chance to share their experiences so far in Southern Africa as compared to their home dioceses. And the following were some of the experiences they shared:
Fr. Joseph Namugera is from Uganda, a land of martyrs, as he proudly said. He is currently working in the Diocese of Aliwal. In his country, Uganda, churches are always full, be it in towns or rural areas. He came to a country that is opposite to what he is accustomed to. He was taken to deep rural area with a very few people. But his consolation was that if there are people living there already he took can live there. He arrived just in time when churches were allowed to open under the covid lockdown and he was expecting to be flooded by the faithful but to his surprise only around 20 people came to church. In his country, he said, people would have come in big numbers if churches were opened like that. He had to hit the ground running because the very same week he arrived at the parish he was told he’s going to celebrate Mass in the local language, isiXhosa, which he didn’t know at all. He found the people at the village very consoling because they used to come every now and then to see if he is faring well. In the end when it was time for him to be moved to another parish he found it hard to leave even though he was going to what he considered a better place.
Sr. Siti Hasanah of the Order of Saint Ursula is from Indonesia, which has about 5 million Catholics. She comes from a place where a diocese would have something like a 25 year diocesan plan but was surprised to find that here in South Africa there is no such. What she appreciated is that in South Africa you can interact and even try to help people of other religions or denominations without being suspected of trying to make them Catholic as is the situation back in her country. What also struck her was that here the laity can have a service even when there is no priest as some people take responsibility to lead the service. This would not happen in her country where if there is no priest there is not service at all. She had to adjust to the fact that time for mass where she is serving is not really fixed unlike Indonesia where everyone comes at a fixed time. Here in South Africa time is when people are available and ready. She was shocked one day to realise that a priest can call in the last minute and say I am not coming to Mass. She is serving in the diocese of Ingwavuma.
Sr. Regina Chilanga MSA, is from Malawi which is about 85% Catholic. She comes from a background of communities with strong small Christian communities which can’t be overlooked even for infant baptisms. Back in Malawi parishes are so alive, there are a lot of groups within the parish for all age groups that one’s life can easily revolve around church life. She was not aware of the prevalence of permanent deacons until she arrived in South Africa and she said people back in Malawi would be shocked to hear of permanent deacons. She was impressed by the strength and reach of the Catholic Women’s League in that they are not only involved in church activities but also involved in matters of national interest like buying sanitary pads for girls in their communities. She also appreciated that people in the parish are active, they all sing at Mass, even though she was shocked when she arrived hearing people sing songs of protestant influence. She says it is usually easy to know if a song is Catholic or not.
Fr. Jay De Leon SVD, is from the Philippines, the third largest catholic country after Mexico and Brazil. Fr Jay said the Philippines is now gone down to around 85 percent Catholic. Although the Church is powerful where divorce is still illegal and same sex marriage is not allowed he is worried that the influence of the west is negatively affecting the country especially on matters of sexuality. He noted that his home country is a place where Christmas songs start in September. He came to South Africa to a Tsonga and Pedi speaking section of the Diocese of Tzaneen. It was cultural shock for him, being a Philippino who at home could get in and out of the kitchen as he pleased, when he arrived and the welcoming committee of women would not allow him to get in the kitchen because it was the space for women. He was left to eat alone because he was a man, and that shocked him too. ‘In the Philipines we don’t ask “How are you? We ask, Have you eaten already” already preparing food for you,’ he said. He now uses his prowess as a computer engineer as part of his ministry in the diocese. He finds some English expressions used in South Africa interesting as they don’t exist in his country, Expressions like “Now, now” and “Braai”. Language was a challenge for him, but he is managing now.
Fr. Joseph Matuvu, from Uganda, comes from a very strong catholic family where religious education at home was part of the family fabric. He said back in Malawi they learn a lot of faith from grandparents. His experience about the people and church is South Africa is that it seems most people here don’t really care about their Church. He was shocked to find a church where he went having a leaking and falling roof. In his home country people really feel that the Church belong to them and they take care of it. Also, the issue of Church buildings being vandalized is unheard of in Uganda. The youth is very active in Uganda. He was disappointed by the uninterested attitude of the youth in South Africa where one needs to coerce them with braai and beer in order for them to come to Church when they are called. Again, what shocked him is that in South Africa the priest can easily be the first to arrive because people come late whereas in his country people arrive an hour before the priest arrives. Language was a challenge but he is making a good progress.
Br. Emmanuel Quembo MCCJ is from Mozambique. He comes from a country where the Catholic Church is powerful and influential, where a parish can easily have 20 groups of catechism and 80 catechists. He had to adjust to a new situation which is almost contrary to what he used to. He said in Mozambique people are generally liturgically well prepared with a choice of choirs for a parish. The contrast is that in South Africa, to his surprise, anyone in the congregation can start a hymn or song at Mass. Also, the issue of permanent deacon is unheard of in Mozambique, but he finds it to be a good thing that there are permanent deacons. He found the people in Pietermaritzburg so welcoming even though sometimes he has to be a choir and reader at the same time. He encouraged the other missionary to have good relations with as many people of the parish as possible instead of being selective and exclusive because that can create challenges for the future missionaries who are may not be selective.
On Wednesday 15 September Sr. Suzanna Lee FMM, gave her testimony as a female missionary in the SACBC region and was followed by Bishop Jose Ponte de Leon of the Diocese of Manzini with his presentation as a male missionary.