Archbishop Stephen Brislin
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
With great joy and gratitude we celebrate the golden jubilee of the Bishops’ Lenten Appeal. All anniversaries are worth commemorating and are opportunities to turn once more to the Lord, giving thanks for his strength and guidance which have allowed us to reach the particular milestone.
A golden anniversary is especially important as the endeavour has stood the test of time. Gold is purified by fire and the result is precious and valuable. It is true of human endeavours as well – after fifty years they have proved themselves and their value, despite hardships that may have been encountered.
It is with deep gratitude to God that we celebrate the 50 years of the Bishops’ Lenten Appeal. Undertaken so many years ago by the bishops, with vision and faith, the annual collections of the Lenten Appeal has made an enormous impact on the life of the Church and the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Southern Africa. Inspired by Jesus’ parable of the separation of the goats and sheep (Matt 25:31ff ), recognizing the moral imperative to serve those in need, as well as the command “to go to all nations to proclaim the Good News” (Mk 16:15), the Lenten Appeal was set up to help those in need and the for the works of the Church in proclaiming the Good News.
We are also deeply grateful to all those who have contributed through the years using mite boxes and envelopes, as well as other means of supporting the Lenten Appeal. For many, it has been similar to the “widow’s mite” (Mk 12:41ff ) – not giving from excess but truly making a sacrifice by giving from that which they need. Their sacrifice has truly been a Lenten Offering and with all our hearts we say “thank you” for your kindness and love.
Few people, even within the Church, are aware of how many programmes are run by the Bishops’ Conference itself. Taken with the initiatives of dioceses and parishes, thousands of interventions are made which alleviate the suffering of people, bringing them consolation and hope. The Gospel is proclaimed through these good works as well as though specific programmes of evangelisation and catechesis. The
Church has provided support in the fields of education, health, development, skills, advocacy and crisis relief. Catechesis, media programmes, small Christian communities, the formation and training of priests and deacons – to name a few – have ensured that there is both the proclamation of the Word and the deepening of the faith.
All such enterprises have benefited from contributions by the Lenten Appeal. The many demands made on the funds mean that no particular project can be fully covered by a Lenten Appeal grant. Some only receive a small amount of their overall budget. Nonetheless, such small amounts are important beyond their monetary value, as they also indicate the support of the local Church, making it easier to approach foreign donors.
Such local support is essential. Although we are a young Church – in 2018 we will be celebrating only 200 years of the official establishment of the Church in Southern Africa – nonetheless we need to work much harder to become a self-reliant Church. No longer should we be dependent on other countries for Church personnel or finances. In the spirit of stewardship, knowing that we have been entrusted with the faith in this part of the world and are responsible for the life and work of the Church, we must strive to generously share our resources.
In particular, we appeal to all of you to ensure that this year of the Golden Anniversary of the Lenten Appeal be a year of generosity and a year to remember. There are many needs and countless opportunities for the Light of Christ to dispel the darkness of poverty, ignorance and suffering in our beautiful countries. Your generosity will make a difference.
Message for Lent 2017
His Holiness Pope Francis
Dear Brothers and Sisters
Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death. This season urgently call us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts” (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for Mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us. Even when we sin, he patiently awaits our return; by that patient expectation, he shows us his readiness to forgive (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016)
Lent is a favorable season for deepening our spiritual life through the means of sanctification offered us by the Church: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. At the basis of everything is the word of God, which during this season we are invited to hear and ponder more deeply (cf. Lk 16:19-31). Let us find inspiration in this meaningful story, for it provides a key understanding what we need to do to attain true happiness and eternal life. It exhorts us to sincere conversion.
The other person is gift
The parable begins by presenting its two main characters. The poor man is described in greater detail: he is wretched and lacks the strength even to stand. Lying before the door of the rich man, he fed on the crumbs falling from his table. His body is full of sores and dogs come to lick his wounds (cf. vv.20-21). The picture is one of great misery; it portrays a man disgraced and pitiful.
The scene is even more dramatic if we consider that the poor man called Lazarus: a name full of promise, which means God helps. This character is not anonymous. His features are clearly delineated and he appears as an individual with his own story. While practically invisible to the rich man, we see and now him as someone familiar. He becomes a face, and as such, a gift, a priceless treasure, a human being whom God loves and cares for. Despite his concrete condition as an outcast (Cf, Homily, 8 Jan. 2016)
Lazarus teaches us that the other persons are a gift. A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value. Even the poor person at the door of the rich is not a nuisance, but a summons to conversion and to change. The parable first invites us to open the doors of our heart to others because each person is a gift, whether it be our neighbor or an anonymous pauper. Lent is a favorable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ. Each of us meets people like this every day. Each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance respect and love. The word of God helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life, especially when it is weak and vulnerable. But in order to do this, we have to take seriously what the Gospel tells us about the rich man.
Sin blinds us
The parable is unsparing in its description of the contradictions associated with the rich man (cf. v 19). Unlike poor Lazarus, he does not have a name; he is simply called a “rich man”. His opulence was seen in his extravagant and expensive robes (cf. Jer. 10:9) and kings (cf. Jg 8:26), while fine linen gave one an almost sacred character. The man was clearly ostentatious about his wealth, and in the habit of displaying it daily: “He feasted sumptuously every day’ (v.19). In him we can catch a dramatic glimpse of the corruption of sin, which progresses in three successive stages: love of money, vanity and pride (cf. Homily 20 Sept. 2013).
The Apostle Paul tells us that “the love of money is the root of all evils’ (1Tim 6:10) it is the main cause of corruption and a source of envy, strife and suspicion. Money can come to dominate us, even to the point of becoming a tyrannical idol (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 55). Instead of being an instrument at our service for doing good and showing solidarity towards others, money can chain us and the entire world to a selfish logic that leaves no room for love and hinders peace.
The parable then shows that the rich man’s greed makes him vain His personality finds expression in appearances, in showing others what we can do. But his appearance masks an interior emptiness. His life is a prisoner to outward appearance, to the most superficial and fleeting aspects of existence (cf. ibid., 62)
The lowest rung of this moral degradation is pride. The rich man dresses like a king and acts like a god, forgetting that he is merely mortal. For those corrupted by love of riches, nothing exists beyond their own ego. Those around them do not come into their line of sight. The result of attachment to money is a sort of blindness. The rich man does not see the poor man who is starving, hurting, lying at his door.
His Holiness Pope Francis, cont.
Looking at this character, we can understand why the Gospel so bluntly condemns the love of money: “no one can be lave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or be attached to the first and despite the second. You cannot be slave of both God and of money” (Mt 6:24)
The Word is a gift
The Gospel of the rich man and Lazarus helps us to make a good preparation for the approach of Easter. The Liturgy of Ash Wednesday invites us to an experience quite similar to that of the rich man. When the priest imposes the ashes on our heads, he repeats the words: “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return”. As it turned out, the rich man and the poor man both died, and the greater part of the parable takes place in the afterlife. The two characters suddenly discover that ‘we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it’ (1Tim 6:7)
We too see what happens in the afterlife. There the rich man speaks at length with Abraham, whom he call “father” (Lk 16: 24, 27) as a sign that he belongs to God’s people. This detail makes his life appear all the more contradictory, for until this moment there had been no mention of his relation to God. In fact there was no place for God in his life. His only god was himself.
The rich man recognizes Lazarus only amid the torments of the afterlife. He wants the poor man to alleviate his suffering with a drop of water. What he asks of Lazarus is similar to what he could have done but never did. Abraham tell him: “During your life you had your fill of good things, just as Lazarus had his fill of bad. Now he is being comforted here while you’re in agony” (v.25). In the afterlife, a kind of fairness is restored and life’s evil are balanced by good. The parable goes on to offer for all Christians. The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, who are still alive. But Abraham answers: “They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them.” (V 29). Countering the rich man’s objections, he adds: “if they will not listen either to Moses of the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead” (v. 31) the rich man’s real problem thus comes to the fore. At the root of all his ills was the failure to heed God’s word. As a result, he no longer loved God and grew to despise his neighbors. The word of God is alive and powerful, capable of converting hearts and leading them back to God. When we close our hearts to the gift of God’s word, we end up closing our hearts to the gift of our brothers and sisters.
Dear friends, Lent is the favorable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbors. The Lord, who overcame the deceptions of the Tempter during the forty days in the desert, shows us the path we must take. May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need. I encourage all the faithful to express this spiritual renewal also by sharing in the Lenten Campaigns promoted by many Church organizations in the different parts of the world, and thus to favor the culture of encounter in our one human family. Let us pray for one another so that, by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and poor. Then we will be able to experience and share to the full the joy of Easter.
From the Vatican, 18 October 2016
Feast of Saint Luc the Evangelist
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
On behalf of the Bishops of Southern Africa I would like to thank you, once again, for your wonderful response. Despite these challenging financial times, which is a true testament to your compassion and concern for the plight of the poor and needy that is served through the many projects served through the mission of the Catholic Church. At the time of writing this letter we have raised a total amount of R 9 819 701. Unfortunately this was 3% lower than what we raised last year which was R 10 093 642. But we continue praying that this will improve because we are aware that the cost of living is a daily challenge for all of us.
The Bishops Lenten Appeal is the primary source of financial support for our local church’s activities. The Bishops, in addition to being tasked with the responsibility of nurturing the spiritual wellbeing of our people are also concerned about the holistic development of the people of God. Your generous contribution to the Bishops Lenten Appeal continues to make this possible. We are extremely grateful to you for helping us fulfil our mission and this you have done faithfully over a period of 50 years.
Lenten Appeal is 50 years old
Yes, for 50 years you have faithfully supported the Bishops Lenten Appeal. When I mentioned this to a priest from the Archdioceses of Durban recently, he remembered the day he first put something in the mite boxes and so clearly he said: “I gave my spending of a penny for the Lenten Appeal”. This is where I would like to begin today. Thank you to you all, we all remember the day we gave our spending money for this worthwhile cause. As children the mite boxes played an important role, we all wanted to just fill it up let us pray that this spirit will continue among our children today.
If we look at the records of the first National Lenten Appeal just over R 100 000 then were collected. Today we stand at let’s say 10 million rand. Thanks to you all this money is spent for the needs of the Poor and Needy of the Church. On the opposite side of this page you will get a breakdown and see how your money is working.
We have reached that stage where we appreciate the kindness of the Catholic Community for the work that they are doing to fulfil what the Pope is teaching us daily. In his recent visits he has been visiting Hospices, and hospitals to offer his service to the sick and also at prisons to visit the prisoners. We all cannot do this works of grace, but by the support we giving the Church we allow Sister or Father the opportunity to visit the person in prison and see how we can help his family by buying a simple pair of shoes to put the child through school. We also help the migrant that have arrived here with nothing on his back and have to endure the injustice of society because he is a stranger. We go out of our way and help him.
50 Years ago the Bishops Conference said, let’s help our under-privileged people in their need for education. The Church opened its arms and hearts and did this, many of our Catholic schools in the townships benefitted from this, and see today we have good leaders in the form of Parish Priest, Bishops and laity. The First collection was not a loss, it helped and still is helping towards the growth of the Church in the Conference of Southern Africa. Thank you.
We can see that the monies collected are just not for the works of the Church, but for the poor and needy. The works of the Church is looked well after because this is where the people really need our help, so please next time during the Lenten Appeal period remember the Father, Sister, Brother and laity doing this works on your behalf, and they are fully accountable to you for what they are doing. Support them not just with your generosity in the annual collection but also by praying for them to be “good and faithful servants”.
May the good Lord continue to bless you all in the generosity of the work that you are doing. It is only through giving that we shall receive. May God bless your kindness through the love your heart reflects.
Bro. Ashley Tillek, OFM
BLA National Director
“A VOICE CRIES IN THE WILDERNESS”
PASTORAL MESSAGE OF THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF SOUTH SUDAN TO THE FAITHFUL AND PEOPLE OF SOUTH SUDAN
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Mark 1:3).
These words of the prophet Isaiah, quoted by the evangelists Matthew and Mark, have been greatly on our minds. We, the Catholic Bishops of South Sudan, have frequently written pastoral messages urging change in our nation, but it seems they have had little effect. Nevertheless, the Spirit is again calling upon us to write a pastoral message, to reassure you that we are aware of your situation, to make your voice known to the world, and also to include some of the concrete steps which we intend to take.
Therefore we address this pastoral message to the faithful people of South Sudan to give you hope and courage. At our meeting in Juba from 21st – 23rd February 2017, along with the Apostolic Nuncio to South Sudan and Kenya, Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo, we “read the signs of the times” and listen to what God is saying to us through the concrete situation in which we find ourselves. We have heard disturbing reports from all seven of our dioceses spanning the whole country, and have reflected on how we should respond. God is speaking to us.
The Situation in South Sudan
Our country is not at peace. People live in fear. The civil war, which we have frequently described as having no moral justification whatsoever, continues. Despite our calls to all parties, factions and individuals to STOP THE WAR, nevertheless killing, raping, looting, displacement, attacks on churches and destruction of property continue all over the country. In some towns there is calm, but the absence of gunfire does not mean peace has come. In other towns, civilians are effectively trapped inside the town due to insecurity on the surrounding roads.
While some fighting is between government and opposition forces, we are concerned to note that much of the violence is being perpetrated by government and opposition forces against civilians. There seems to be a perception that people in certain locations or from certain ethnic groups are with the other side, and thus they are targeted by armed forces. They are killed, raped, tortured, burned, beaten, looted, harassed, detained, displaced from their homes and prevented from harvesting their crops. Some towns have become “ghost towns”, empty except for security forces and perhaps members of one faction or tribe. Even when they have fled to our churches or to UN camps for protection, they are still harassed by security forces. Many have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries for protection. While the authorities may claim that they are free to return to their homes, in practice they fear to do so. In places the destruction has been described to us as “scorched earth”; what have people got left to return to? All of this is a form of “collective punishment”, which is outlawed as a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.
The level of hatred associated with the conflict is increasing. While soldiers might be expected to kill other soldiers in battle, the killing, torturing and raping of civilians is a war crime. However, not only are they being killed, but their bodies are being mutilated and burned. People have been herded into their houses which were then set on fire to burn the occupants. Bodies have been dumped in sewage-filled septic tanks. There is a general lack of respect for human life.
The perpetrators of these crimes, the so-called “unknown gunmen” who are usually in uniform and usually known, appear to act with impunity. We are still waiting for justice for the murder of our own dear Sister Veronica, a doctor who was gunned down by soldiers while driving a clearly-marked ambulance on 16th May 2016. Her killers were arrested, but we have heard no more and we await justice.
Our country is gripped by a humanitarian crisis – famine, insecurity and economic hardship. Our people are struggling simply to survive. While there have been poor rains in many parts of the country, there is no doubt that this famine is man-made, due to insecurity and poor economic management. Hunger, in turn, creates insecurity, in a vicious circle in which the hungry man, especially if he has a gun, may resort to looting to feed himself and his family. Millions of our people are affected, with large numbers displaced from their homes and many fleeing to neighbouring countries, where they are facing appalling hardships in refugee camps.
We are concerned that some elements within the government appear to be suspicious of the Church. In some areas the Church has been able to mediate local peace deals, but these can easily be undermined if government officials are removed and replaced with hardliners who do not welcome Church efforts for peace. Priests, sisters and other personnel have been harassed. Some of the programmes on our radio network have been removed. Churches have been burned down. Less than two weeks ago, on 14th February, security officers attempted to close down our Catholic bookshop. They harassed our personnel and confiscated several books. The ecumenical church leaders’ delegation which visited Pope Francis in Rome and Archbishop Justin Welby in London has been trying to obtain a meeting with President Salva Kiir since December 2016, but has so far been unsuccessful. We hear people saying that “the Church is against the government”.
We wish to inform all of you that the Church is not for or against anyone, neither the government nor the opposition. We are FOR all good things – peace, justice, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, dialogue, the rule of law, good governance – and we are AGAINST evil – violence, killing, rape, torture, looting, corruption, arbitrary detention, tribalism, discrimination, oppression – regardless of where they are and who is practising them. We are ready to dialogue with and between the government and the opposition at any time.
The Way Forward
We issue this pastoral message to the people of South Sudan, but we copy it widely to others, including the international community. We want the world to hear the true situation in which our people find themselves.
The Holy Father Pope Francis yesterday, 22nd February 2016, made an appeal for South Sudan from the Vatican. We have instructed our Caritas South Sudan and requested our Caritas Internationalis partners to act urgently to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan, and we call on the rest of the international community to do the same.
Those who have the ability to make changes for the good of our people have not taken heed of our previous pastoral messages. This time we intend to follow up more proactively. In partnership with other churches through the Action Plan for Peace (APP) of our South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC), we intend to meet face to face not only with the President but with the vice presidents, ministers, members of parliament, opposition leaders and politicians, military officers from all sides, and anyone else who we believe has the power to change our country for the better. We intend to meet with them not once, but again and again, for as long as is necessary, with the message that we need to see action, not just dialogue for the sake of dialogue. “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” (Luke 18:2-5) Like that widow, we will come continually to bother those who are responsible in our country.
Again with our partner churches in SSCC, and with our church partners in neighbouring countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan, we intend to bring the narrative of our people on the ground to the governments of those countries, so that they can understand our situation and make good choices to improve it, both bilaterally and through multilateral bodies such as IGAD and AU. Our own special contribution will include bringing in the Catholic Church in those countries, regional Catholic bodies such as AMECEA, and the Vatican at the global level. When we meet the leaders of each country, we will be accompanied by the cardinals and bishops of that country.
We reiterate our support for the SSCC Action Plan for Peace (APP) and its three pillars of Advocacy, Neutral Forum dialogues and Reconciliation. It was always intended that the APP should be implemented by the member churches, not by the SSCC Secretariat alone, so we have instructed our Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, at both national and diocesan level, to begin a dialogue with SSCC on how we can contribute to the work on the ground.
We believe that “technical” programmes are not enough. Hence we have instructed our Pastoral Commission to mobilise a national spiritual approach, as we did for the Referendum.
We ask forgiveness for anything we might have done to alienate any individual or party, and we assure you of our love and prayers.
You are the Church; we are the Pastors. We call upon you to remain spiritually strong, and to exercise restraint, tolerance, forgiveness and love. Work for justice and peace; reject violence and revenge. We are with you. We have heard what God is saying to us through you and through your sufferings on the ground, and by including it in our public pastoral letter to you, we are making it accessible to the world. We will continue to be “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness”. We wish to give you hope that you are not abandoned and that we are working to resolve the situation at many different levels.
Finally, with great joy, we wish to inform you that the Holy Father Pope Francis hopes to visit South Sudan later this year. The Holy Father is deeply concerned about the sufferings of the people of South Sudan. You are already in his prayers, but his coming here would be a concrete symbol of his fatherly concern and his solidarity with your suffering. It would draw the attention of the world to the situation here. We call upon you to begin a programme of prayer for this visit to go ahead. Let us use the coming months fruitfully to begin the transformation of our nation.
May God bless you
 Gaudium et spes, Second Vatican Council.