Cardinal, Brother Bishops, Priests, Religious Sisters and Brothers, all the Faithful and especially dear Young People.
As we celebrate the Holy Mass at the opening of the SACBC Plenary Conference, together with local community of Mariannhill and beyond, we remember, as well, the Golden Jubilee of SECAM –The Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar.
That Jubilee of SECAM recalls, not only 50 years of the Symposium of Conferences, but the Faith and Life of Peoples of Africa that responded to the proclamation of the Gospel from the beginning to present times.
From the age of the Apostles, to our own day, a great cloud of the witnesses have been raised up to proclaim Jesus and show forth the power of the Holy Spirit. Today we recall with gratitude, those Saints and Martyrs, as well ordinary Faithful, from Northern Africa – St Augustin, Cyprian, Perpetua and Felicity, then Martyrs of Uganda and to our own Blessed Benedict Daswa, and here Abbot Francis, and others, whose processes of beatification have started, and whose love for Jesus and his Church we admire and try to follow.
I would like to quote the words of Pope Paul VI, spoken during his trip to Uganda in 1969, when the SECAM was born: “Thanks be to God for the marvels of his grace, poured out abundantly upon this land, and for the generous response of Africa to the Gospel message. To these, we bear witness by our pilgrimage to the sanctuary of martyrs of Uganda, whose blood bathed the Cross of Christ planted by the first missionaries, and brought honour, renowned, and merit of love’s highest testimony, to all of Africa.” (Pope Paul VI).
At the Eucharistic celebration at the closing of SECAM symposium, Pope Paul VI said: “Our presence among you is, to have the significance of a recognition of your maturity, and of a desire to show you how that communion, which unites us does not suffocate, but rather nourishes the originality of your personal, ecclesial and even civil personality”. “…By now, you Africans are missionaries to yourselves. The Church of Christ is well and truly planted in this blessed soil (cf. Ad Gentes, No. 6).”
But ….”we must, remember those who, before you, and even today with you, have preached the Gospel;… That is a history which we must not forget; it confers on the local Church the mark of its authenticity and nobility, its mark as “apostolic”. The help of collaborators coming here from other Churches is still necessary to you today; cherish that help, honor it, and unite it wisely with your own pastoral labors.”
Be “Missionaries to yourselves” : in other words, you Africans must now continue, upon this Continent, the building up of the Church. “An immense task awaits your pastoral efforts, in particular, the work of training those Christians called to the apostolate – the Clergy, the Men and Women Religious, the Catechists, the active Lay Men and Women. For, on the training and preparation of these local elements, these choice workers of the People of God, will depend the vitality, the development, and the future of the African Church”.
“The African Church is confronted with an immense and original undertaking; like a “mother and teacher” she must approach all the sons of this land of the sun; she must offer them a traditional and modern interpretation of life; she must educate the people in the new forms of civil organization; while purifying and preserving the forms of family and community; she must give an educative impulse to your individual and social virtues: those of honesty, of sobriety, of loyalty; she must help develop every activity that promotes the public good, especially the schools and the assistance of the poor and sick; she must help Africa towards development, towards concord, towards peace.”
These words of Pope, are still valid after 50 years, and were confirmed in the documents of 2 Synods on the Church in Africa, They point out to the Church in Africa as the Family of Nations, God’s Family, united around the Altar of Jesus, attentive to his Word and ready to go out to the peripheries, to bring God’s love to those who are in need, to bring reconciliation and peace.
As we celebrate golden jubilee of SECAM and the opening of our Conference, we need to ask ourselves, were these guiding words of the Pope implemented, was the SECAM helping to build up the Communion and co-responsibility among people of God and its leaders? Was the SECAM’s the prophetic voice, heard among the Nations of Africa? Is our Church’s prophetic voice heard in the Society of our Conference’s member countries?
Is still among our Christian people this missionary spirit, that is visible in the letter of St. John, the Apostle, we have heard? Is this spirit of sharing of experience of Jesus in own life with others? This sharing of the Joy of the Gospel, as Apostle says: “And we are writing this that our joy may be complete.” The faith in Jesus and love for him, that is shared, bring joy. But we have so many sad Christians in our Communities…
Dear Brother Bishops, Priests, Religious and all present. Dear Young people.
What should we do, that our Catholic Church in Africa continue to be a missionary Church, sharing joyfully the Gift of the Gospel, and not only become the maintaining Church?
In the final document of the Synod on Youth, we find the direction:
“The participation of the young helped to “reawaken” synodality, which is a “constitutive element of the Church …. as the Church is nothing other than the ‘journeying together’ of God’s flock along the paths of history towards the encounter with Christ the Lord” (Youth Synod 121).
“A characteristic feature of this style of Church is the valuing of the charisms that the Spirit gives according to the vocation and role of each of her members, through a dynamic of co-responsibility.” (Youth Synod 123).
“Sisendleleni Kanye Kanye”, on the journey together, as the community of Disciples of Jesus, whom he sent, saying: “Go into the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation”.
Dear Young People, do not sit in a waiting room, to be asked to participate and become co-responsible for your Church and sharing joyfully the Gospel. No. You are the Present, the Now, of the Church and of the Society, not only the future. Be pro-active! Find your space in the Church, become co-responsible in the building up of the Church and the society, put your heart in what you do, love it. Move from attitude of “I”, as self-centred way of life – to “we” as the community – working together for the common good, building up the better world together with the adults and all Church Leaders. May your “Yes” to Jesus, as Mary’s “Yes”, “become the gateway for the Holy Spirit to give us a new Pentecost for the world and for the Church”. Amen.