Where is God when there is hope?

Oct 7, 2020

I enjoy the SA online newsletter DAILY MAVERICK on the whole, although I do have favourites, the ecological articles.  I also browse through the Vatican’s Zenit and the National Catholic Reporter and extract what I find meaningful.  Some articles this week resonated with me in the light of Pope Francis’ FRATELLI TUTTI launch, (which as a food-loving South African I find a little difficult to separate from the pizza outlet of a similar name.) The question that was raised in my mind again was, “Where is God?”  I could probably add “which version of God?”

“All we need is hope” is the title of the DM article by Branko Brkic. He starts off by listing three main problems in SA: corruption, incompetence and hopelessness and certainly points fingers where they should be pointed. In referring to hope he takes an almost religious line with the statement; “To have no hope is to have no life. Hope makes waiting for things to get better, bearable. Hope makes sacrifices meaningful and gives substance to love, care and loyalty.”  But no mention of God, OK.  

The article develops the three problems and returning to hopelessness states, “it is not surprising that people who lost hope will turn to anyone, any talented populist ideologue,” and he lists Trump and Malema, also referring to Zuma.  He reminds us, and believes, that it is not too difficult to inject hope back into society, if corruption is dealt with and good economic reforms are made.  “People of South Africa prefer love to hate and would rather be hopeful than hopeless.  They are resourceful and tough.”  Sure. Independent too?

The Zenit article that struck me was a report on a symposium in Rome entitled, “Advancing and Defending Religious Freedom through Diplomacy,” It contends that there has never been a more critical time to defend religious freedom which, even during this time of COVID-19, has been under attack in various places across the globe. It frequently involves  Muslims and non-Muslims or tribal and ethnic minority groups. In Nicaragua, part of previously strong Catholic South America, there are government attacks on the Catholic Church and desecration of sacred spaces.  Other world religions have similar experiences plus prohibition of practice and persecution of members. Where there are attacks, despite restrictions, one finds God is very present and hope does exist.   

http://www.zenit/encyclical-letter-fratelli-tutti/  FRATELLI TUTTI is the new encyclical of Pope Francis on FRATERNITY and SOCIAL FRIENDSHIP.  African Jesuit theologian Orabator comments, “FRATELLI TUTTI is Ubuntu by any other name.”  Ubuntu is love without borders that can transform us into a community of neighbours without borders.   Naturally there are many comments in NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER that can be accessed.

Some comments include that it lacks insights of women. Franciscan theologian Horan highlights that it is clearly inspired by St Francis in the three themes of fraternitas, crossing borders and building bridges and peacemaking and reconciliation.  Fraternity is about relationships and the document does refer to the qualities of basic relationships of human families; qualities he notes include kindness and tenderness. To me some of this is reminiscent of the qualities noted by the 1st African Synod image of CHURCH AS FAMILY OF GOD. 

The focus of social friendship however is on the equal dignity of all people, especially the poor and underprivileged, the abandoned, wounded, rejected and all those suffering, which includes many now in this category due to COVID-19. Dignity is to be applied as equals, neighbours but especially as brothers and sisters.  

But back to God and Hope.  Noted in the earlier encyclical Laudato Si, the Church has moved considerably in its approach to speaking out on social issues. There was a time when papal documents addressed bishops, priests and religious, later the laity featured too. Pope John XXIII addressed PACEM IN TERRIS to the entire Catholic world. On questions of the environment the attention has become even broader and Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict and Francis in particular made a point of addressing all humankind on a range of social issues. Some, including Pope Francis, have addressed the UN and so had access to the world.  And yet so little of their powerful and valuable message is heard in and from governments, countries and agencies too. At times the visits of Pope Francis were shown on TV as when he signed documents of solidarity with leaders of Jewish or Muslim faiths in promoting peace.   Fraternity was the focus in the document signed with the Grand Imam in Abu Dhabi in 2019.

But back to today. African theologian Orabator describes Fratelli Tutti as ubuntu by another name.  We, in MARFAM are proud to say we have travelled this journey too. Ubuntu was the family focus throughout 2018. SA Jesuit Anthony Egan also recognizes Fratelli Tutti as very important for our day. What does it say about hope and about God?     Not wanting to be critical of other believers there is little explicit mention of God with the emphasis being on dialogue. In FT 214 after making reference to agnostics, follows “As believers we are convinced that human nature, as the source of ethical principles was created by God and that ultimately it is he who gives those principles their solid foundation.”  

In the section on HOPE (FT 54-55) Pope Francis writes, “For God continues to sow abundant seeds of goodness in our human family. The recent pandemic enabled us to recognize and appreciate once more all those around us who, in the midst of fear, responded by putting their lives on the line.  Hope ‘speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart. Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfillment, a desire to achieve great things, things that fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love’”.

In our South African context conspicuous by its absence in the DM article on hope is the absence of a mention of God. An equally disturbing fact for me is the removal of God from society. Our SA Constitution guarantees freedom of religion for all. Excellent.  However, it should then not be freedom from religion and freedom from God.  In a country that is supposedly 80% Christian, many of whom also practice a form of traditional religion and for whom ubuntu is a central concept of life we should not deliberately or unconsciously exclude God from our lives, our way of life, our hope for the future lived according to values held dear by all our religions.  I for one, do not believe that in a truly dire situation, hope in isolation, without trust in a loving God, is even possible.     TR 7 OCTOBER. FAMILY WEEKLY

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