PENTECOST SUNDAY 31 MAY WILL BE A NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER
Earlier in the week we celebrated Africa Day with as much fanfare as possible under the circumstances. The TV made quite a colourful meal of it, commemorating the founding of the African Union and its achievements as each country gained independence and had to find its way. Naturally the focus was mainly on the political with some mention of the social and cultural. The theme was “Silencing the Guns” and a messages for the way forward is developing “the Africa We Want.”
On Sunday evening President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation and confirmed the relaxing of the SA lockdown status to level 3. He accompanied it with a strong warning to remain vigilant and observe the regulations. Again the message is “the South Africa We Want” when the corona virus pandemic finally ends.
This week between the feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost, as we await the coming again of the Holy Spirit, the comforter, healer, advocate and guide is also a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in our part of the world. The theme chosen by the churches in Malta is “They showed us unusual kindness.” Reflections chosen by the churches of Malta are based on Acts 27-28 the shipwreck and missionary activity of Paul in Malta. (Check ………) Each day allows us to reflect and connect with our own reality. Particularly pertinent could be, “Are we shipwrecked too and are we showing unusual kindness to others, especially those most in need?”
The vast majority of the population in South Africa is Christian but many families have members belonging to different churches. The division and growing in unity of faith is of particular concern for families. During lockdown, with families deprived of worship in their particular churches, homes and families are places and opportunities for a common and shared faith experience. All Christian religions are Bible -based and so Sunday readings can be used together at home. Reading, reflecting, sharing and praying can take the place of a homily and serve to build unity. “The family that prays together stays together” is most applicable, but maybe even more so “The family that prays and plays together stays together!” as MARFAM likes to say.
Progress towards Christian unity has been in the mind of the Catholic and other Christian churches, especially since the time of Vatican II. Pope Francis referred to the 25th anniversary of the encyclical of St John Paul II Ut Unum Sint. He writes, “One thing is certain: unity is not chiefly the result of our activity, but a gift of the Holy Spirit. Yet unity will not come about as a miracle at the very end. Rather, unity comes about in journeying; the Holy Spirit does this on the journey.”
Ecumenism is about Christian unity but the area of interreligious dialogue with other faiths is being promoted too in a spirit of fraternity. The Muslim community has celebrated its most sacred month of Ramadan which ended with Eid on 25th May. Interfaith families do exist but are not as common as they are within Christianity.
On Sunday 24th May too, the final day of the Church’s Laudato Si’ week Pope Francis announced that there would be a Laudato Si’ year until 24 May 2021. The focus will naturally be on the care of our common home and complements well the 2020 family theme, OUR WORLD, A FAMILY OF FAMILIES, rather than on ourselves as sufferers due to the virus, that in our country is still months off its peak. Climate change was to be one of the issues on the agenda for the African Union for 2020 but has been overtaken by the more immediate issue of the pandemic and its impact on every country in Africa.
However the two issues are definitely interconnected. The pandemic and the lockdown in so many parts of the world has had a positive influence on the environment. The air is cleaner, the sky seems bluer and is filled with birdsong. There has been a decrease in carbon emission due to less cars and aeroplanes.
People everywhere have had to change their habits quite drastically. For many families this has been stressful and difficult, staying at home more, and hopefully too “showing unusual kindness,” although there has been a significant reported increase in cases of family violence and various other criminal activities. One cannot be sure how much the controversial smoking ban has impacted on the environment. The focus now remains very much on our population’s health and the economy, not the health of creation. Over the year ahead Laudato Si will be one of the resources to assist us in reflecting on what changes in attitude and lifestyle we must make towards The World we Want. MARFAM will continue to develop resources and suggestions for families.
For us, the human family, there is much to ponder on, to share and pray about, and show the unusual kindness called for on our common journey towards the world we want, and also the Church we want. As we approach Pentecost, with Pope Francis we pray, “With confidence, let us ask the Holy Spirit to guide our steps and enable everyone to hear the call to work for the cause of ecumenism and Christian unity, with renewed vigour, so that the world may believe, to the ever greater praise of our Father in heaven.” TR FAMILY WEEKLY 27 MAY 2020
For details about the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and the Laudato Si’ year see http://www.vatican.va and search our website.