Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, “Why SACBC Needs a Pastoral Plan?”

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa

His Eminence Cardinal Napier highlighted SACBC Bishops, Priests, Religious, People of God and Catholic Media on the importance of taking proper steps to make a New SACBC Pastoral Plan. He also explained to them why the previous SACBC Pastoral Plan was successful in meeting the needs of the time?


“Without a vision, the people perish” Proverbs 29:18

 Prayer For the Pastoral Plan

Loving Father, in Jesus your Son you reveal your plan of bringing all people into your kingdom. Guide us to know what you want of us. Help us to live as a community serving humanity. Where there is ignorance, give knowledge; where there is darkness, light; where there is fear, courage; where there is indifference, love. May the Holy Spirit guide us in forming and living out our Pastoral Plan. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


If we look closely at this prayer we will find that it reflects the two key elements of the verse from Proverbs, namely that to survive (not to perish) we must 1) have a vision 2) we must share that vision with the people (the community)

I’m not sure to what extent the Bishops were conscious of this when they chose the Holy Trinity as the model for the kind of community we wanted to become and wanted to share with our fellow South Africans in order that the people might not perish!

But I’m running ahead of myself. Let me get back to Why we need a Pastoral Plan!

Prehistory of Pastoral Plan

Way back in 1973 the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference began a course of reflection in search of a very simple thing – how to bring the vision and mission of the Church set out in Evangelii Nuntiandi – to bear on the Southern African reality, or as we would say today, how to contextualise Evangelii Nuntiandi.

The ETSA Project

They did this by launching a project called ETSA which means: “Evangelisation Today in Southern Africa”. ETSA was well under way when a life-changing novelty burst in on the scene. That novelty was SOWETO 1976, which saw thousands of school children in Soweto rising up against the National Party’s new education policy, which was imposing Afrikaans on all schools as the medium of instruction!

As the ramifications of Soweto 76 began to take effect, the Bishops realized that they could not continue their plan to evangelize Southern Africa as planned. A radical review was needed, which would take Soweto 76 seriously into consideration.

So, ETSA was moth-balled, and a new reflection process began, taking into account the new insight that Soweto 76 brought to the fore. Foremost among these insights was the need for the Church to examine itself and its evangelising mission in relation to the new reality that was emerging.

That close examination would have to look closely at How and to what extent was the Church itself complicit in the root cause of Soweto 76? How and to what extent was the Church complicit by applying or at least observing apartheid laws, the apartheid way of thinking, and ultimately the apartheid way of life?

Church’s Response to Soweto 76

The results of this self examination were published in the historic “Declaration of Commitment on Social Justice and Race Relations within the Church”!

Two consequences emerged immediately:
  • The Church resolved to remove from all its institutions any and every use of language, policy, custom and practice, which in any way amounted to implementing the apartheid philosophy, policy or practice.
  • The Conference resolved to hold a far reaching Consultation among all its members to address the following dilemma: How does a Church which has a clergy that is 80% White truly evangelize and serve a membership that is 80% Black?
E. Concerning a Pastoral Consultation:

 To take into account the singular situation and resultant tensions of the Church in South Africa, where 80% of the laity are Black and 80% of the clergy White, and to investigate as a matter of extreme urgency the feasibility of a Pastoral Consultation in which lay people, religious and priests, in large majority Black, may participate with the bishops, in arriving at policy on Church life and Apostolate but not on doctrinal and canonical matters”. Declaration of Commitment.

The Consultation, known as the Inter Diocesan Pastoral Consultation was duly conducted in every Diocese and Parish, often right down to the smallest outstation! Its aim was to find out what the 80% Black Community considered to be the root problems which the Church needed to address in its Evangelisation and Pastoral Ministry!

Outcomes of IDPC

 The two dominant felt-needs that emerged from the IDPC were:

  • How do we overcome or even remove the divisions and separations brought into our Church and society by colonialism and apartheid?
  • How do we share our vision of community with the society in which our Church actually lives and realizes its pastoral ministry?
Creating Community

 So the first challenge was to create Community within the Church, by focusing on the Communal nature of the God whom Jesus Christ reveals to us so clearly when he sends us to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, in other words introduce them into the Community of the Holy Trinity. Unity in baptism, in the Community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is THE way to create community in the Church!

Serving Humanity

 The second challenge flows from the first. Once we have developed Community or even a sense of community within our Church communities, the vocation and mission received from Jesus Christ forces us to carry it over into the society which we have been sent to evangelise.

These two aims and objectives were and remain the cornerstone on which the foundations of the Church in Southern Africa’s evangelizing and pastoral mission have to be built. This is true even if they are now different social ills, concerns or priorities which must be integrated into the Church’s vision, mission and pastoral activity today and into the future.

Where are we today?

 Where we are today has been largely indicated by the results of the latest consultation conducted by the SACBC in the last five years.

The fruits of the latest social analysis are clearly expressed in the new Pastoral Plan which seeks to put into the form of a working plan designed to respond to the Priorities Ad Intra and Ad Extra elaborated in the Conference and Dioceses in the last 5 years.

Throughout this most recent consultation I have been struck by the frequency with which the word “belonging” has come to the forefront. Belonging, isn’t that the same as saying “being part of a welcoming, accepting, caring and loving community?” But at the same time a community that reaches out in a variety of significant ways to society, which is beset by myriads of problems and challenges but also replete with possibilities and potentials.


In short our new Pastoral Plan is our dream and commitment to subscribing to and working conscientiously towards making sure everyone in the Church, but also those to whom the Church is sent and commissioned to serve, know and feel that they are welcome; they are needed; they belong and are to participate in all the benefits that the Church has been given to work towards making God’s Kingdom come among us.

Some Practical Suggestion for the way forward
  •  Key Elements of the Strategic Planning
  • What are the Strategic Issues facing us?
  • What are the Strategic Goals?
  • What Strategic Methods will be used?
  • What Resources are available – Personnel, Material.
  • What Indicators will be used to gauge progress?

Thank you?

+ Wilfrid Napier OFM.
Archbishop of Durban

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