The Plenary Session of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) started on 17 January 2023 in Pretoria on the Feast Day of St. Anthony of Egypt, where the Mass was presided over by the President of the Conference Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, attended also by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Peter Wells.
In the homily preached by the 1st Vice President, and Archbishop of Pretoria, Archbishop Dabula Mpako, the preacher propose St. Anthony to be the patron saint of this plenary session. Calling the feast day of St. Anthony and the plenary session’s opening day a welcome coincidence, Archbishop Mpako said, “we view this as an invitation to us to enter into, and to hold, this plenary session inspired and enlightened by the shining example of this great saint.”
This plenary session will run for the whole week, ending on Tuesday 24th January. After talking of how St. Anthony gave himself totally to God by giving away everything he had in line with the gospel that inspired him, he said what makes St. Anthony relevant in all times and context is his shining example of his wholehearted response to the gospel imperatives and his perseverence and living out that call, “not allowing himself to succumb to the many temptations he faced throughout his life.”
For the Archbishop of Pretoria this examples of St. Anthony is a perfect one for showing how to respond to the words, “seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” The Archbishop said by making sure before he died that his grave is not marked St. Anthony was ensuring that attention was always focused on God and not him, “St. Anthony reminds us that our most fundamental mission and ministry as leaders in the Church is that of Evangelisation.”
Archbishop Mpako said the ultimate of evangelisation is to bring about where God becomes God, and occupies the central place in people’s lives, “A situation where we become fully available for God and offer ourselves to be used as God’s instruments in the world. So that God may be all, in all situations.”
“I recommend that we keep this in mind throughout our discussions and deliberations in this plenary session by constantly asking ourselves how the discussions we engage in, and the decisions we take relate to and advance the mission of evangelisation.
The Archbishop further noted that St. Anthony in his commitment to give himself wholeheartedly to God and to the seeking of God’s kingdom he had to resist many temptations that could have destructed him and caused him to deviate from the commitment he had made. “We too have to constantly stave off many temptations that destruct us and entices us away from our calling”, added Archbishop Mpako.
The vice president of the SACBC said there are many temptation facing ordained ministers in the Church which have a potential of destructing from the fundamental mission of being agents of evangelisation. “The temptation to put ourselves at the centre and to feel as if we are indispensable. The temptation of excessive business and excessive planning. The disease of hoarding. The temptation of seek fame and popularity.” The advice of Archbishop Mpako is that following the example of St. Anthony these are some of the demons that need to be constantly pushed away if one wants to remain faithful to the mission of being the agents of evangelisation.
Quoting Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Pretoria recalled two subtle contemporary temptations, subtle enemies of holiness; contemporary Gnosticism and contemporary Pelagianism. He also reminded the gather bishops of the letter they wrote to priests in the previous year where they said, “There’s a certain professionalism fitting to our priestly lifestyle and ministry. This requires vigilance on our part.”
Archbishop Mpako said may the example of St. Anthony remind the bishops that in carrying out their ministry of evangelisation they need to be always alert, always vigilant, not to fall into may pitfalls which are always around them, acting as demons that tend to deviate from their primary calling. “May we continue in this plenary session to identify and to clearly name the many contemporary demons that face us and the people entrusted to our pastoral care at this time.”