SOUTH AFRICA: Communique by Council of Catholic Priests


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PRETORIA, August 28, 2009 (CISA) -A communiqué issued at the end of the Annual General Meeting of the Southern African Council of Priests:

The representatives of the Priests of the territory of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference held their Annual General Meeting at the Mariannhill Monastery, Kwa Zulu Natal from 17 to 21 August 2009.

During the meeting, the priests expressed gratitude to Pope Benedict XVI for his ‘Year for the Priest' initiative. Many dioceses reported on the enthusiasm with which this concept has been taken up by both clergy and laity alike. The Priests also thanked the Bishops of the Conference territory for their prayers for priests during the recent plenary meeting of the Conference.

Priests lamented the violence experienced by many confreres. In the last year, three priests have been murdered. Many others have been attacked and hijacked. This is a cause of grave concern as it is symptomatic of the levels of violence that pervade our society.

We remain concerned for the welfare and safety of Fr Onias Maropola, priest of the diocese of Pietersburg, who has been missing since 2007.

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier OFM, spoke at the opening mass of how a priest is not a priest for himself, but a priest for the Church and for the ‘heart' of God.

Bishop Stephen Brislin, SACBC Liaison Bishop to SACOP, reflected on the need for priests to be focussed on the good that they could do and the good they were already doing. All too often, the priesthood is weakened by a loss of a fundamental Catholic Identity. As priesthood is not a job, but a vocation and a state of being, the priest should take responsibility for his own priesthood. This is achieved by human development, sound relationships, living celibacy that does not cause counter witness, developing the spiritual life and a deep personal commitment to ‘doing what the church intends'.

Bishop Brislin pointed out that obedience is not mere compliance, but the ‘abandonment of Christ and the ‘Yes' of Mary.'

The Attitudinal Survey of Priests, inspired by a SACOP resolution, driven by the Ongoing Formation Committee of the SACBC and approved by the august 2009 plenary session of the SACBC, was extensively discussed. Priests were asked to participate as fully as possible to ensure the accuracy of the survey. The confidentiality and non-judgemental nature of the survey was stressed.

Many speakers asked that priests also take responsibility for their ongoing intellectual development, be it by ongoing formation programmes, reading, self-appraisal, peer support and challenge or further studies.

Priesthood is celebrated in a particular context.

Fr Peter-John Pearson of the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office of the SACBC provided a clear and extensive overview of the socio-political situation on the Sub-Continent. He spoke of the fact that South Africa was in a space for more open dialogue and that dialogue meant ‘holding the tension'. He pointed out four challenges facing Southern Africa - lack of capacity in the public service, the business culture of ‘profit at all costs', the bargaining power of big business and how Southern Africa's rapid transition and integration into the global financial order had been both positive and harmful.

On a global scale, South Africa was preparing to host the FIFA 2010 World Cup. This presented the church with the opportunity to showcase the dynamism of african catholicism. Priests were encouraged to volunteer during the tournament. The SACBC initiative was presented as the central contact point for information, ideas and celebration both for the local church and for international visitors.

In the light of the World Cup, Sr Melanie O'Connor HF of the SACBC/ LCCL SA counter trafficking in persons desk highlighted the challenge of human trafficking and how the catholic community and the priests could play a vital role in exposing trafficking rings and providing assistance to victims. Horror stories of sold children, drugging and sexual and physical abuse pointed to the important place the church has in countering trafficking in persons, the modern day slavery.

The Council of Priests remains interested in and concerned about the formation and training of future priests. The Presidents of St John Vianney Seminary and St. Joseph's Theological Institute, the Rector of St. Kizito's Orientation Seminary and the Vice Rector of the Cape Town Diocesan Seminary all reported on the progress of students. The Priests expressed their appreciation and solidarity with those who were involved in formation work. All reports noted the difficulties involved in formation in the Southern African context.

The Priests expressed concern at the decline in interest in vocations and welcomed the appointment of Fr Mosebetsi Mokoena as Vocations Director for the Conference area.

Archbishop Buti Tlhagale OMI, President of the SACBC, challenged the delegates with his honest and straightforward presentation on finding new ways of relationship between Priests and their Bishops. He pointed out that often a Bishop was caught between the legitimate demands of both clergy and laity. He discussed various causes of tension between Bishops and Priests and offered a number of suggestions, including that bishops and priests embrace self-assessment and critique as a central pillar of improved relationships. He pointed out that he found it easier to be a brother than a friend. Friendship could be uncritical and blind to correction.

Bishop Edward Risi gave a candid address on the challenges faced by the Bishops and the Catholic Community over liturgy. The Liturgy was a common work, but one that needed clear directions. He said that the Southern African Church had ‘jumped the gun' by implementing the new translation in english of the people's parts of the Roman Missal, but nonetheless these parts have received recognitio from Rome. The process of implementation was a valuable lesson on the need for proper preparation.

Reports from the dioceses highlighted:

* An ongoing concern about the provision for the medical care and retirement needs of priests.

* Economic disparity among priests

* Priests from other countries need proper orientation into the Southern African Church.

Formal resolutions:

1. SACOP encourages all delegates and all dioceses to initiate programmes to promote the celebration of the ‘Year for the Priest'.

2. SACOP resolves to encourage all priests to actively promote prayer for and reflection on the ministerial Priesthood in the communities they serve. Prayer should be ‘for ALL priests, for YOUR priests and for MORE Priests.'

3. Delegates are asked to go back to their dioceses to discuss mechanisms for effective representation and communication of the concerns of the priests to SACOP and among priests.

4. SACOP resolves the Convention of Priests go ahead in August/ September 2011. Fr Rohan Smuts is appointed to co-ordinate the team preparing for the Convention.

5. SACOP expresses thanks to those Bishops who, mindful of the future of the church, have sent priests for further studies. SACOP requests that priests are not only sent for theological and philosophical disciplines but also studies in formation.

6. SACOP expresses gratitude to the Knights of Da Gama and all other benefactors who have assisted with the Annual General Meeting.

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