SACBC Bishop Statements To the Priests of Southern Africa

To the Priests of Southern Africa

Dear Brother Priests,

“I call you friends” (John 15:15)

We rejoice together with you in the very special grace we have received in our calling to share in
the priestly ministry of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

In addressing this letter to you, dear brothers, we are also addressing ourselves because together
we form that body of service through whom the Good Shepherd feeds his flock.
In the celebration of the Mass of the Oils we will have the opportunity to renew together our
commitment to Jesus Christ, the High Priest, and pray together for the strength and guidance of
the Holy Spirit to be sustained in our efforts to imitate the One who came not to be served but to
serve.

There is a joy which we experience when we faithfully carry out the service of our very special
ministry. Together with you we wish to develop and maintain a quality of ministry and dedication
which distinguishes us as men who have been enrolled in the priestly service of the Saviour and
his people.

To serve – and to be available at all times to serve – is a distinguishing mark of the sacrament of
priesthood which we share. An important sign of this life of service is the celibate way of life
whereby we leave ourselves more free to meet the needs of the People of God.

This availability is seen primarily in Jesus who served without receiving any acknowledgement or
compensation. He asked only that people believe in the Father whose ambassador he was. Like
him we want only to make the Father known and promote his greater glory.

This synodal time reminds us of how we are called to accompany the people of God with an
understanding and listening heart. Together with you we want to assure the faithful that we are
listening to them and understanding them as they struggle with their issues and concerns, in their
family life and in their other activities and professions.

Life is characterised by listening: from the first years of life we listen to parents and elders, young
people listen to each other, couples listen to each other, parents listen to their children and children
to their parents. Listening is a special feature of our way of life as priests, in our own spiritual
journey and in our ministry, continually listening to God, to the people whom we serve and to
those with whom we serve.

There is a certain ‘professionalism’ fitting to our priestly life style and ministry. This requires
vigilance on our part. We seek to be alert and to anticipate pitfalls and temptations around us. We
need to be aware of our own frailties and weaknesses and help each other in a true brotherhood as
co-operators with Christ the Saviour.

Our professionalism means that we should never hesitate to let our identity be seen nor hide it
under our way of dressing or behaving. Unlike others, we, as priests, are always “on duty”.
Our outward behaviour and appearance are ways of representing the Lord Jesus in a world which
often fails to think of him or recognise him in our midst.

This quality of professionalism also requires of us an openness to our own on-going formation and
growth as well as a commitment to journey together with our fellow priests, Religious and
laypeople in developing those gifts by which the Holy Spirit equips us to be disciples on mission.
The Pastoral Plan addresses us, Bishops and Priests, with the words of Pope Benedict in Africae
Munus: “By devoting yourselves to those whom the Lord entrusts to you for their formation in Christian virtues and their growth in holiness, you not only win them to the cause of Christ but also make them (activists in) a renewed African society … I ask you to deepen your life of prayer and your ongoing intellectual and spiritual formation … you will then be capable of forming the members of the Christian community for whom you are immediately responsible, so that they can become authentic disciples and witnesses of Christ.” (109)

In ourselves as priests we would like to see:
– ‘Professionalism’, that is care in the way we celebrate Mass and the Sacraments, and how
we meet with and converse with people.
– Accountability in diocesan and parish administration.
– Alertness to the signs around us, and being more proactive in the way in which we
anticipate and respond to the needs of the people.
– A greater embracing of the service dimension of our vocation and less concern about
status, the symbols of status and materialism.
– More availability for the people and for one another.
– Awareness of being models and mentors for vocations.

As priests we need each other. Especially in those very challenging situations of loneliness, when
we look for ways to handle disappointment and frustration, hurt and anger; when we turn to
alcohol or unbecoming relationships as a way of dealing with these challenges, even to the extent
of becoming workaholics or loners. Let us commit ourselves to each other and be open to each
other.

We make a special appeal that we work at making SACOP a vibrant means of communication
among priests and between priests and us, your bishops, in which many of the structural
challenges enumerated above, which lead to isolation and loneliness, unhappiness and
disillusionment, can be addressed. That it is also become a forum which helps us promote
meaningful and fruitful ongoing formation for our personal growth and for the benefit of our
priestly way of life and ministry.

We have come through a very challenging period during the lockdown and the closure of churches
and discontinuance in ways of ministry. We thank each of you for bearing this great burden and
for faithfully persevering in the responsibility of priest and friend. These challenges have also
been a burden to the faithful and we thank you for having reached out to them in various ways.

This has been a time of searching, and rediscovery that the fruitfulness of our vocation is not
measured by what we achieve, but by the service we give and the quality of our being.
As bishops we admit that at times we have not always acted as friends and companions to you, our
brother priests, in this time of COVID. We are sorry for any hurt or neglect that we have caused to
you. Together with you we are sorry for any hurt and neglect which we may have caused the faithful
during this time when they looked for our compassion and presence at their side.

It is our fervent prayer that in this Lenten time of renewal and penance, we may be renewed and
rejuvenated in spirit through prayer and reflection on the word of God, through a special moment
of sacramental confession and reconciliation. We are preparing ourselves, bishops and priests, for
re-commitment to live our priestly vows, embracing anew chastity in our celibate commitment,
obedience in listening to the Word of God and to hearing God’s voice in each other and in the
Church, and a firm detachment from material things. All this we see in the life of the Lord Jesus
Christ.

With our people we share a common call to missionary discipleship; may we embrace it afresh as
a synodal church as we all try to follow the Lord Jesus as disciples on mission.
As priests and bishops, we are anointed to serve the faithful in the name of our High Priest, Jesus
Christ, mediating his presence and actions. May we do so with a new vigour and joy, with
generosity and openness to the Holy Spirit.

May the celebration of the Holy Week and our celebrating together the Mass of the Oils confirm
us in our wonderful vocation, priests united in Christ the High Priest and may we rejoice with the
Queen of Heaven in the resurrection of her Son.

Your brothers,
+Sithembele Sipuka
On behalf of the Bishops of the SACBC

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