In the Opening Address of the plenary the President of the SACBC, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, welcomed all to the first plenary of 2023, with a special mention of the Holy Father’s representative, Archbishop Peter Wells, of whom he said expresses visible unity between the local Church and Rome.
Also, of note was the mention of Sr. Phuthunywa Siyali, the Associate Secretary General of the SACBC, who has just been elected to serve as the Provincial Superior of her congregation. “While we are sorry to lose her, we understand the importance of this task for the congregation and wish her well,” said Bishop Sipuka.
The President also acknowledged the passing away of Sr. Jordana Maher, buried on Tuesday 17th January, and some bishops represented the conference at the funeral. “Sr. Jordana has been part of the plenary as a minute taker, a task she did faithfully and diligently,” commented Bishop Sipuka.
The historical event of the passing on of Pope Benedict XVI was also part of Bishop Sipuka’s address, noting that the passing away is the former Pope is “historical because his mark as a theologian, a Pope and a leader is recognised globally. He is remembered as one who invited us to the truth that transcends our limited understanding.”
The Bishop of Mthatha said Pope Benedict taught that a life worth living is not based on a personal construct of what one feel is good or right for them but on one that is grounded in something greater than ourselves, a truth independent of time and culture, binding everywhere and for everyone.
The SACBC President then added that today because of weakness, people settle for less and not the ideal; they do not believe Jesus when he invites people to be perfect as the heavenly father is perfect. “Pope Benedict has been accused of being hard and pastorally insensitive on difficult matters like divorce, abortion, same-sex marriage, condoms etc. Still, he is calling us to the ideal instead of settling for what appears to be easy.”
Returning to the local scene he said the ended year of 2022 also saw people bidding farewell to Fr. Albert Nolan. “His passing away reverberated beyond the confines of the Church. He was fondly remembered for his humble but powerful witness during the dark years of apartheid.”
Turning his focus to the socio-economic and political situation in the conference area he said despair is pervasive in the conference area, particularly in eSwatini and South Africa. “In eSwatini, we are beginning to hear of people disappearing and being found dead. In South Africa, we are told that stage 6 power load-shedding is likely to be the order of the day for the whole of this year, and this stage 6 is estimated to cause a loss of R6 billion a day to the economy.”
The Bishop is more concerned that in addition to this economic despair, there is also an increasing moral bankruptcy, which adds to a lack of hope about improving things. “Then there is a growing practice of kidnapping and demanding ransom and, add to that, the assassination of those trying to fight corruption. We are becoming a country that is gradually being ruled by Mafias, and the government appears to be powerless.”
Bishop Sipuka warned that there is the problem of poor people engaging in criminal activities, adding that part of the problem of electricity that is rarely spoken of is that the poor engage in illegal electricity connections to avoid paying. “Add to that the culture of non-payment for services, even when one can. We must tell poor people that Jesus loves them, but we must also tell them that they must be responsible citizens.”
Towards the conclusion of his address the President of the SACBC addressed the lack of social cohesion between blacks and whites. He referred to the latest racial tension that played itself out at a holiday resort in Bloemfontein, “After almost 30 years of the new dispensation, this is yet another manifestation of the lingering lack of social cohesion in South Africa.” He noted that this lack of cohesion exists also in the Church, “If we take seriously the continued conspicuous absence of white people in our Diocesan celebration and other manifestations of the lack of cooperation and fellowship between black and English-speaking Catholics, we, too in the Church, are sitting with a lack of cohesion and how do we hope to champion it in society when we do not have it ourselves. For the most part, white people do not respond to the olive branch that blacks have and continue to give.”
Full Plenary Opening Address below