An important event happened last Sunday. The Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference launched the 2020 Pastoral Plan as a new evangelizing tool for the local Church in South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland (Eswatini) on Sunday 26 January 2020. Its title is “Evangelising community, serving God, humanity and all creation.” The bishops who are attending their plenary meeting and a large number of the faithful participated in a ritual and blessing. This was followed by a 3 km long procession (not a toy-toying march the way it is mostly done these days in South Africa). Regina Mundi, the iconic church in Soweto, associated with many significant moments in the history of South Africa had been chosen for the joyful celebration of the Eucharist. Joyful it was, although not colourful, as the colour white, the church’s celebratory colour was used for the vestments of the celebrants and was worn by the host of little girls performing a liturgical dance during the singing of the Gloria.
Colour and race had been kept in mind to some extent in preparing the ceremony, one aspect being the sensitivity around the low number of white lay Catholics who attend such events, less than 1% of the 4000 who attended. Bishop Sipuka noted this with some concern in his homily. Most of the liturgy and the homily were in English, which of course is also the best common language for locals and the growing number of foreign Catholics in the country. Massed choirs led the singing of hymns in different languages.
Reflecting on the readings of the day the bishop spoke of the current institutional and personal darkness existing in our three countries where in SA much of the exhilaration that accompanied the new dispensation in 1994 has dissipated. The Pastoral Plan can and should be seen as a tool to bring light into the darkness. We, the people, are called to move forward from being disciples to being apostles. Parishes are core places for promoting this, but it already begins in families. Parish should be strengthened for community formation and development whether parishioners belong to sodalities or other organisations.
The Archbishops of the five metropolitan regions were presented with copies of the Pastoral Plan to distribute to the bishops of their regions. A commitment pledge was then read by the archbishops and bishops who, with their clergy and religious, commit to lead their faithful in the implementation of the Pastoral Plan.
But who owns the plan is going to be the crucial factor on the way forward. Ownership is an intriguing word today. You own a house, a car, a TV, etc. You also take ownership of a set of values. Owning does include taking possession of something but also includes abiding by the chosen values. If one owns a value of honesty and integrity, stealing at any level and corruption are out of bounds. You cannot own your religion, faith and your relationship with God and lie and cheat on your wife or husband.
The Pastoral Plan has 8 focus areas for consideration, flowing from evangelization which is our primary task as Catholic Christians. Sharing good news and God’s love underpin all we do and are. One focus area is the Laity, who as they live in the secular domain should own the values of the gospel and apply them there. Other focus areas are priests, family life, youth, justice and peace, reconciliation and creation/the environment. These however can be seen as interrelated, together they implement the call to be an Evangelising Community.
Laity live in families of many different kinds today. They do live in the Church and play a meaningful role there in many ways too. The Church is where their spiritual nurturing happens, in the parish church as well as the domestic church of the home. But they live their daily lives in the world, in communities of work, school, entertainment, and sport. That is where the values they own are lived out.
Ownership comes with connotations. In SA the question of land ownership tends to dominate. In Laudato si, his encyclical on creation and the environment Pope Francis writes (LS 93) “Whether believers or not we are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone. Saint John Paul II stated, ‘The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property.’” Everything in creation belongs to God. Our lives, our children and our land are held in trust.
Clearly implementation of the Pastoral Plan requires ownership of everyone. Archbishop Buti Tlhagale in his closing address shared his wish that every Catholic should have a copy of the plan. Its format can be seen as a curriculum. Bishop Sipuka had already stated that implementation strategies and more formational resources need to be available.
We, in MARFAM, believe we do have something meaningful to share. The 2020 family theme is OUR WORLD, A FAMILY OF FAMILIES and is presented on a colourful Family Year Planner as a liturgical calendar for the Church of the home. Its monthly themes can be developed to provide formation and information for all sectors of church life.
Just around the corner, during the month of February with its theme LOVE GIVES LIFE the Sacrament of Marriage can be celebrated, especially on 9th February, World Marriage Day, originally an ME initiative. It should be celebrated as a sacrament of the Church for the Church, for couples, singles, priests and religious too, to highlight the importance of marriage as an image, an example or an “icon of God’s love” as Pope Benedict wrote in Deus Caritas Est.
Formation with a family focus can be a powerful evangelizing tool for families and parishes of the Church as Family of God, the image presented for the Church in Africa at the 1st African Synod in 1994. Let 2020 be the year for taking ownership of the vision and the new Pastoral Plan.