Thursday, September 24, 2015
Comboni Missionary Fr. José Rebelo [in the picture], editor of South Africa’s Worldwide magazine, was invited by the Catholic Theological Society of Southern Africa Conference to intervene at a workshop about “The Challenges of Pope Francis to Southern Africa”. The event took place on September 22 and 23 at Koinonia Center in Johannesburg. Pope Francis has been advocating for the poor and refugees, women, economic equality, the environment, just to mention some. He leads by example, in a prophetic way and elicits great admiration, affection, enthusiasm, hope. We publish Fr. Rebelo’s input.


The world needs
to eagerly hear the Good News
and to have hope
for the future.

Pope Francis, with his prophetic words, symbolic gestures and simple lifestyle, poses many challenges to all of us individually and to the Church. He keeps reminding us of the Gospel and of the Second Vatican Council. He has been taking the Roman Curia and the Church in general into uncharted territory. As a missionary, I think his greatest challenge to the Church in southern Africa is to be a missionary Church an inclusive, outgoing, outward-looking Church that goes to the “existential peripheries”.

Premise. I view history’s first Jesuit Pope as a breath of fresh air, as a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church and the world. For me, he is a prophetic, saintly and an evangelical “pope of the poor.” I hadn’t heard much about him before his election to the chair of Peter, but I was delighted to see some heartening signs on the balcony at St Peter’s on that 13 March 2013: (1) his simplicity, in greeting people, talking and dressing; (2) his referring to himself simply as “the Bishop of Rome”, what seemed to signal a shift in theology and, especially, in ecclesiology; (3) the choice of his name after St Francis (on that day, I remained in doubt if he had Francis of Assisi or Francis Xavier in mind, given the fact that he was a Jesuit; we came to know that his namesake was Francis of Assisi, the 12th century saint “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation,” as he explained later); and lastly, (4) his request to the people to pray for him (later on, he explained the gesture: “I felt deeply that a minister needs the blessing of God, but also that of his people.”). I went to bed that night with the sense that he was the person the Church needed at this time to help it regain credibility, purpose, direction and to prevent it from sliding into thorough irrelevance, at least in some parts of the world. I haven’t changed my mind since then. I still think that the conclave did a wonderful job in choosing Jorge Bergoglio as the first pope from the global south to lead the Church for his symbolic gestures, sober lifestyle and clear and strong words.

1. Some relevant gestures

As time went by, many other relevant gestures became known. Let me just recall some:

• He shunned the Apostolic Palace for a modest apartment in Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse;

• He eschewed papal limousines and instead is driven around in a five-year-old Ford Focus;

• He kept the iron-plated pectoral cross he used as archbishop, and his papal fisherman’s ring isn’t gold but gold-plated silver, made from a discarded mould created for Pope Paul VI;

• He ditched the bulletproof, glass-enclosed Popemobile used since Pope John Paul II was shot in 1981, and he rides around in an open-air white Mercedes jeep, never afraid of breaking protocol and frequently getting out to greet and embrace people;

• He likes the freedom to speak to others and to phone people around the world;

• He doesn’t wear the red cape or the handmade red shoes, but wears his worn black shoes;

• He washed and kissed the feet of prisoners Muslims and women on Holy Thursday;

• He created a commission of nine cardinals to help him govern the Church and reform the scandal-scarred, gaffe-prone Roman Curia considered one of the key priorities by a good number of cardinals before the conclave. In an interview with a Mexican TV station, last March, he said that he believes that the Church’s central command “is the last court that remains in Europe. Other courts have democratised, even the most classic. There is something at the pontifical court that is a little atavistic and maintains much tradition.” Then, he said: “This has to change.” The Vatican, he said, should be a “working group, at the service of the Church, at the service of bishops”;

• He personally carries his briefcase which contains his razor, breviary, diary, and a book to read (at that time, on St Therese of Lisieux);

• He has a clear preference for the peripheries of the world. It’s telling that except for a day trip to the European Parliament in Strasbourg last November, Pope Francis has not made a single visit to Western Europe in the 29 months since his election a span that’s taken him to Latin America twice, Asia twice, the Middle East twice, Eastern Europe twice and now to Cuba and the United States of America. For Pope Francis, Europe isn’t where the action is.

• In appointing leadership, to date, apart from a handful of Vatican officials and Italians, Pope Francis has chosen only three new European cardinals;

• He has made mercy a central theme of his papacy, speaking of it often in homilies and in his texts. His apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), uses the word 32 times.

• He often talks on economic issues, the Church’s social teachings, and the plight of the unemployed, the immigrant and the poor. The content may not be different from previous papal statements on these subjects, but Pope Francis returns to these issues much more often. His sharp, prophetic tone—the recurring references to the “throwaway culture” of modern capitalism, the condemnation of “an economy [that] kills” seems intended to grab attention, to spotlight these issues, and to shatter the press’s image of a Church exclusively interested in sexual morality.

• I could continue this list. What is important is that he leads by example. He seems to be an icon of simplicity and humility. Some of the gestures are certainly more spontaneous than others (that could be more calculated), but they set out the programme of his papacy.

“Pope Francis has been Bishop of Rome for only two and a half years. In this relatively short period of time, he has been incredibly successful in re-igniting the hopes and enthusiasm of reform-minded and self-described Vatican II Catholics. Through prophetic gestures and words, he has emerged as a sort-of ‘evangelical free-spirit’ unencumbered by the restrictions of the Vatican’s often-arcane protocols and human traditions. This has created an irresistible worldwide appeal even among non-Catholics and non-believers.” (Robert Mickens, in a contribution to the National Catholic Reporter)

Pope Francis encouraged an open debate, especially about Church teachings and practices that had long been considered out of bounds. That kind of openness and straight talk is also central to Pope Francis’ enormous public appeal but it has also sparked fierce opposition on the more conservative side of the Church, with some high-profile prelates and pundits vowing to thwart reforms and resist any changes in pastoral practice. (Women from the other side of the Atlantic are also very critical of Pope Francis).

“Pope Francis heartens some Catholics and frightens others, both for the same reason, the prospect of change” (Garry Wills, in The future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis).

Someone talked about the Papal paradox: the more popular Pope Francis becomes in the wider world (Newsweek magazine of 10 September mentions “the near-universal adulation Francis enjoys today”), the less sure is his support in the ranks of the Church. The reason is clear: because of a generally conservative hierarchy put in place by (or during the time of) his two predecessors. I believe that what someone said is true: “There are a lot of voices that are very loud [in opposition], but I don’t think they represent the mainstream.”

Pope Francis continues to surprise and to baffle some. The fact is that we were not used to such a surprising Pope (or “unpredictable” Pope, in the words of Vittorio Messori, a renowned Italian Catholic author, in an Italian paper). Well, “unpredictability”, as Brazilian Liberation Theologian, Leonardo Boff reminded the paper’s readers three days after, is precisely the characteristic of the Holy Spirit. “Francis of Rome following Francis of Assisi is led by the Spirit,” he wrote.

2. Criticism of Pope Francis (by some clerics)

When critical clerics discuss Pope Francis, two main concerns emerge:

a) The spontaneity/informality he uses in his talks and reflections he often talks off the cuff;

b) and his perceived willingness to change some doctrine and the Church’s secular practices.

• Let us look at these two criticisms. First of all, the Pope’s spontaneity. Certainly, there can always be a wrong choice of words and room for misunderstanding but is it more important to ensure orthodoxy or to be empathic and to communicate? Is orthodoxy more important than pastoral outreach? If orthodoxy is the supreme value, then the Pope couldn’t communicate but by reading to avoid any possible misunderstandings. Anyway, even with a well-prepared and written lecture, former Professor Pope Benedict XVI was not spared a big controversy with Muslims when he talked at the University of Regensburg in Germany in 2006 (and quoted an unfavourable remark about Islam made at the end of the 14th century by Manuel II Palaeologus, the Byzantine emperor).

Have you ever heard about the homilies during the morning masses of Pope St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI for which groups were invited? Was there more impact with the silence kept by those popes or the short and often poignant reflections made every morning by Pope Francis? Let me be even more straightforward: this criticism is difficult to understand in a context like ours in which communication has been mainly oral and there’s a natural diffidence for the written word. Priests and the faithful know by experience how a written homily, even well crafted, fails to touch the people!

• Secondly, some people are afraid the Pope makes changes in doctrine and practices that betray faith. This is unlikely to happen. The Pope is not a revolutionary, he is not a liberal. He is a “son of the Church” (as he said), a pastor who looks at circumstances and people’s needs. Pope Francis aligns with the suggestion of Pope St John XXIII in the application of the “medicine of mercy” in a number of situations which the Good Pope defended in his inaugural speech of the Second Vatican Council on 11 October 1962: “The Church has always opposed errors. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations.” The great problem now is how to reconcile Catholic thinking on the family with the realities of how many believers live their lives in the early 21st century.

Perhaps some clerics’ criticisms are spurred by the Pope’s willingness to have “a Church of the poor and for the poor” in keeping with Vatican II (and The pact of the Catacombs signed by 40 bishops at the Catacombs of Domitilla during the world event which represented the birth of a world Church) and the Latin American Conferences of the bishops of Medellin (Colombia) in 1968 and Puebla (Mexico) in 1979 a Church on the side of the poor, without privileges. If status is very important, then it is not easy to accept such a challenge.

(A side note: a sign of concern is that many of the candidates who join our seminaries at the very beginning of their journey have just been baptised, sometimes not even confirmed, but already come with a cassock! It seems they already identify with the clerical role but it is not clear that they are ready to make a spiritual journey of identification with the Lord. They are willing to preach and it seems they would do anything to skip training. The formative process is there to help them but if priesthood is seen as a promotion, it won’t be easy to help them on the way of service).

Concerning the more progressive sectors, there may be some disappointment with the Pope for not deciding swiftly enough, for going too slow with some urgent reforms. My understanding is that the Pope respects the sensus fidelium and in order to create consensus and increase communion, prefers the collegial way of deciding. I wouldn’t be surprised that, given the resistance of a small but noisy group, at the next Synod on the Family, he may make the pendulum swing towards a pastoral concession that applies the “remedy of mercy” towards the divorced and re-married.

What is the prevalent attitude towards Pope Francis in South Africa? I’ve heard lay people full of praises for him; from clerics, I mostly heard criticism. It seems there’s little impact of Pope Francis among us. There’s the impression that instead of letting ourselves be thrown out of balance, we prefer to ignore him and continue in our pastoral routines with “business as usual”. I’d prefer to realise that my perception may be wrong.

3. Some of the Pope’s challenges

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis renews the paradigm of evangelisation with an “outgoing Church”. The document was supposed to be a post-synodal exhortation; it became his pontifical programme. He shared his vision of the Gospel, the Church and evangelisation which stems from the joy of encountering the Lord. It is the work of the Spirit with whom we collaborate. He rarely used (only 11 times) the expression ‘New Evangelisation’ perhaps to avoid the ‘restorative’ connotations it had. He preferred the word ‘mission’, which he used 45 times. The call is for a missionary conversion of the Church. Meanwhile, the Council for the New Evangelisation and its head my former professor, Archbishop Rino Fisichella are still there but have been deployed now to organise the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

3.1. A Church that goes forth

Pope Francis has been calling for a missionary Church a Church that converts to mission and goes to the geographic and existential ‘peripheries’. In The Joy of the Gospel, he says: “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel” (No. 20). I think that in order to grow in our missionary spirit, a few steps are to be made:

3.1.1. Re-thinking our pastoral ministry

In 1996, I attended an evangelisation meeting in Nairobi, with Comboni Missionaries working in other countries of the continent. They shared about their intense and dynamic pastoral activities, with safaris of two and three weeks (in the rural areas), a well-organised catechumenate and so on. My experience of a rural mission in South Africa was much poorer in spite of our dedication and effort. Catechism classes lasted only one year and there was even a community that started a strike because the priest-in-charge was refusing to baptise some of the candidates who had come for catechism just a few times in the course of a year! I am not sure, almost 20 years afterwards, that our pastoral ministry has improved.

• Our Catholics, in general, know little about their faith, have a shallow religious experience and a weak commitment and, therefore, are very irregular in coming to the celebrations. In winter, the absence is greater. In many rural areas, there’s Mass only once per month; on the other Sundays there should be the liturgy of the Word. Even in the cities there’s fluctuation in church attendance. A parish priest of a Durban city parish told me at the beginning of this year that to meet all his parishioners we would need to return there all the weekends of a month! The needs are so great that more than a pastoral ministry of maintenance, we need a serious “pastoral of proposals” and more missionary work.

• In our pastoral ministry, we need to take seriously the reality of our “rainbow nation” and to work for inclusiveness and communion among the different linguistic and cultural groups. Shepherds shouldn’t say: “They know where the church is; we are here for them”; they need to look for the ‘lost’ sheep (some sheep drift away simply because their sensibility is hurt and they need to be helped to come back to the sheepfold). Pope Francis says that shepherds need to have the sheep’s smell but not always the smell of the same sheep!

Here and there, the faithful complain about their priest’s lack of commitment and sometimes posh lifestyle. Someone told me of a bishop complaining, saying: “I don’t know what many of my priests do during the week.” On the other hand, priests complain that some bishops are often absent, leading pilgrimages overseas! Some years ago, there was a bishop who used to take his holidays over Christmas in the Kruger National Park. Once I confronted him. He answered: “What do you want? Our people do not understand the meaning of Christmas!” I replied: “If all of us go on holiday in that period, they will never understand.” (A side note: thinking on what happened this year with the solemnities of the Ascension and the Assumption of Our Lady, one wonders if the Episcopal Conference cannot agree on the dates for such celebrations; and if not, how can they agree on more intricate and divisive issues such as pastoral policies and political participation/comment!).

• South Africa was famous for the Lumko Institute. It seems it was more known abroad than at home and worked for export because, for what one would hear, not many parishes applied its methods which others appreciated so much.

• Our pastoral solutions need to take people’s real needs into account. At the beginning of this month of September, Pope Francis, in a video message addressed to the Second International Congress of Theology in Buenos Aires, spoke about the need to overcome the divorce between theology and pastoral ministry. At a certain point of the message, he distinguished between “the ancient doctrine of the depositum fidei” and “the way in which it is presented”, “the living message” and “the form of its transmission”. He said: “The questions our people pose, their anguish, their quarrels, their dreams, their struggles, their concerns all have hermeneutical value we cannot ignore if we are to take the principle of incarnation seriously. Their questions help us ask ourselves questions, their questions call us into question. All this helps us to delve deeper into the mystery of the Word of God, a Word that demands and calls for dialogue and communication. For this reason, we cannot ignore our people in theology. Our God has chosen this path. He was incarnated in this world that is riddled with war, injustice and violence and home to hopes and dreams.” In one word: “Doctrine and pastoral care are tied together. Fleshless theology becomes ideology.”

3.1.2. Well-prepared and meaningful homilies

Churchgoers need a satisfying spiritual nourishment and, often because of work and distances, they are available only on Sundays. Going around the parishes one hears well-prepared and inspiring homilies but many others have nothing to do with the Gospel of the day, or are simple moralisations not at all prepared. In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis dedicates a few numbers (135–159) to the homily to give some precious reflections. He says immediately: “We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them! It is sad that this is the case. The homily can actually be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth” (No. 135). I heard Catholics complaining that they look for reflections about the Sunday readings on the internet because they are not satisfied with what they get in Church.

3.1.3. Help people to make a deep spiritual experience

A Jesuit speaks about the “globalisation of superficiality”. Our pastoral service should help people to grow in depth of faith and commitment to create roots in our Church and be the yeast in society. It seems other Churches are more able than we are to ‘grab’ people. Our Church seems to be a revolving door: people enter one side and go out the other. This is an issue that needs attention and carefully study! There’s a lack of Catholic identity. There are towns in which the number of churchgoers didn’t increase in the last 20 years in spite of the population’s growth, but the faces changed.

Without personal prayer and catechesis/study it is difficult to stand as Christians, much less they will share, because as Pope Francis reminds us in The Joy of the Gospel, sharing is the fruit of meeting the Lord. This is the lesson of Our Lady and the saints. They cannot keep for themselves what they have experienced. St Paul says: “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel” (1Cor 9: 16). The lack of vocations to the priesthood and religious life stems from a superficial spirituality.

If the parishes (or at least the deaneries) do not have prayer groups and/or Bible study/sharing groups, it is likely that those Catholics are undernourished. In fact, in many parishes there are group meetings to organise activities but little prayer and reflection and opportunities for growth. Without spiritual experience there are no ‘stable’ Catholics and they won’t have a missionary drive. There’s little they can share.

3.1.4. Church with a greater missionary thrust

Our Church does not only need a good pastoral ministry that helps people to drink from the “wells of salvation”; it needs a conversion and decision for mission. The Pope says: “I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation” (EG, 27).

• It seems that the South African Church has been making great strides towards becoming a financially self-supporting Church. There is, however, a good number of Catholics with resources who haven’t yet awoken to the reality that the Church is theirs and they need to support it. It seems to me that, our Church can financially stand on its feet without depending on overseas donors who, in most cases are poorer than our local Catholics. Meanwhile, it is time that this Church starts caring for the other poorer African Churches and, as the Latin American Church, “give from its poverty”.

• Even though the South African Church has been greatly ‘staffed’ by foreigners before by Europeans and now more and more by Africans it continues to be very self-centred in thinking about its needs. Besides, it is not easy to convey the idea of universal mission to people who have little geographical knowledge of the world because geography as a school subject has been missing in many schools.

• We grow as we open up. A closed institution creates mould as the Pope reminded us in an interview with Aura Miguel, the Vatican correspondent for the Portuguese Catholic radio station (Radio Renascença), which was broadcast on 14 September. He said: “If somebody has a room in his house that is closed for long periods, it develops humidity and a musty smell. If a Church, a parish, a diocese or an institute lives closed in on itself it grows ill (just like the closed room) and we are left with a scrawny Church, with strict rules and no creativity. Safe, more than safe, insured by an insurance agency, but not safe!

“On the contrary if it goes forth if a Church and a parish go out into the world, then once outside they might suffer the same fate as anybody else who goes out: have an accident. Well in that case, between a sick and a bruised Church, I prefer the bruised, because at least it went into the street.

“But, I ask, how often, in Church, has Jesus knocked on the door, but on the inside, so as to be let out to proclaim the kingdom. Sometimes, we appropriate Jesus just for ourselves, and we forget that a Church that is not going out into the world, a Church which does not go out, keeps Jesus imprisoned.”

The choice is between a Church geared to mission and mercy and a paralysed Church just catering to those who approach us.

3.1.4.1. Working for a greater life for all

Missionary work is much more than proclamation; it is work for peace, justice and the integrity of creation, interreligious dialogue and so on. It is a religious and social ministry.

• Mission is ‘sharing’ the dream of God who wants full and abundant life for all humankind; it is affirmation and a service to life, especially where it is threatened, obscured and abused. In this mission paradigm, the reference to the text of Matthew “go and make disciples”, is integrated into the broader perspective of texts of John 10: 10 and Luke 4: 18. This fullness of life can be articulated with the values of the Kingdom, such as healing, liberation, reconciliation, renewal and transformation. This new paradigm goes beyond what is religious and the incorporation into the institutional Church, to consider the invitation to the messianic feast that is a feast of life.

• Another paradigm for mission used today is that of pilgrimage or co-pilgrimage. A recent paper by the World Council of Churches, which focuses on the active presence of the Spirit in creation and history, is entitled “Together towards life”. Mission at the service of life becomes a pilgrimage: an ever new encounter with the mystery of God, tracking the paths of the Spirit, who always surprises us, going beyond our borders. The pilgrimage becomes co-pilgrimage, a journey made together with ‘others’ other cultures, other faiths and people of no faith, all, however, affected in different ways by the Spirit of Life. The disciple of Jesus does not bring regeneration, but participates in it through dialogue and sharing, searching and offering what he has, building together the culture of life and the movements of communion. The good news of Jesus is witnessed and offered as a new proposal not imposed. In a shared journey, each part is challenged in its journey towards the truth. As happened in the first Christian community, the Spirit breaks in the upper room, to scatter it and rebuild it, expanded and opened. (These two paragraphs come from our Comboni reflection on the trends of mission).

• To “pour oil and wine over the wounds of humankind” or to “smell of the people and of the road” is what Pope Francis recommends to theologians and bishops: “The good theologians, like the good shepherds, smell of the people and of the road and, with their reflection, pour oil and wine on the wounds of humankind” (Letter to the theological faculty of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina dated of 3 March 2015). He added: “Theology may be an expression of a Church which is a ‘field hospital’, which lives its mission of salvation and healing in the world. Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude but it is the very same substance of the Gospel of Jesus.”

“We must guard ourselves against a theology that is exhausted in the academic dispute or watching humanity from a glass castle. You learn it to live: theology and holiness are an inseparable pair.” “Do not settle for a theology of the desk. Your places for reflection are the boundaries.”

Pope Francis has created a new level of expectation for how the Church should go about her work. He reminds us of the importance of caring for the most vulnerable people: the poor of the slums, the migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

3.1.4.2.1. Care for our common home

Pope Francis’ latest encyclical letter, Laudato Si’ leaves us with a few challenges on how we relate to creation and fulfil our mission at the service of life. Twenty years ago, when a companion in Limpopo tried to make people aware of the consequences of deforestation, the full-time parish catechist replied: “If we don’t cut the trees how are we going to cook our porridge?” “You may cut but you should also plant,” he answered. “Ai, Father! The trees won’t grow enough in my lifetime; they won’t be for me anymore.” With this way of thinking, we have lost even the remnant trees still standing on mission grounds.

3.1.4.2.2. Pope’s appeal to pay attention to reality

The apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, contains one of the Pope’s favourite formulas: “Reality is more than an idea.” He is not a disciple of Hegel!

The word ‘reality’ appears in the letter some 41 times. Let me mention just two examples: “Modernity has been marked by an excessive anthropocentrism which today, under another guise, continues to stand in the way of shared understanding and of any effort to strengthen social bonds. The time has come to pay renewed attention to reality and the limits it imposes; this in turn is the condition for a more sound and fruitful development of individuals and society” (LS, 116). In the notes, he quotes from the Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei, 34 (29 June 2013), a passage that says: “Faith encourages the scientist to remain constantly open to reality in all its inexhaustible richness.” It could be rephrased to read: “Faith encourages the Christian to remain constantly open to reality in all its inexhaustible richness.”

In the letter, the Pope mentions the convergence of ecology and justice: “Today, however, we have to realise that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (LS, 49).

3.1.4.2.3. Revising our energy policies

South Africa faces a power crisis. We are somehow a “coal country”: coal is a highly polluting fossil fuel which, in the Pope’s words, “needs to be progressively replaced without delay” (Laudato Si’, 165). Before he had said: “There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy” (LS, 26).

There’s an ever-increasing demand for energy in the country and nuclear power has been touted as one of the solutions. According to the 2012 national budget review, South Africa plans to build three new nuclear power plants, comprising six reactors to be built by 2030.

The option is very controversial. Researcher Palesa Ngwenya, in the Briefing Paper 388, of the Parliamentary Liaison Office entitled The Implications of South Africa’s Nuclear Power Programme, states: “Although nuclear power does provide a low-carbon base-load alternative, South Africa needs a thorough investigation on the implications of nuclear energy, including its costs, financing options, institutional arrangements, safety, environmental costs and benefits, localisation and employment opportunities, and uranium enrichment and fuel fabrication possibilities.”

Among the concerns about the nuclear power stations, he mentions an opaque process of procurement (“the procurement is not happening in a transparent manner”), unaffordability (their “final cost could well be between R2 and R4 trillion”, the equivalent of SA’s two to four annual budgets, and “it is something of a mystery to know where R1 trillion, let alone R2 or R3 trillion, are going to be found”) and he suggests it is an obsolete idea since “it is taking place at a time when investment in alternative energy sources wind and solar energy is surging ahead, and when the unit cost of sustainable electricity is coming down.” Not only that: “It can be readily supplied by entrepreneurs who build wind farms or solar energy plants and add their output to the national grid” without burdening South African taxpayers and consumers.

He concludes by saying that “an active citizenry must make sure that it does not end up paying for an ill-advised and needlessly expensive ‘mega-project’”. I was surprised to see almost no reaction from civil society.

3.1.4.2.4. Combating a littering and “throwaway culture”

The parking lot in Tshitanine, after the beatification of Tshimangadzo Benedict Daswa on 13 September was littered. When we returned from the celebration, we found near our car a pile of beer cans, used napkins and so on. No trash bins were provided and people dropped their rubbish all over the place. Our daily experience is not better: as we drive along our roads, we often see tins and other rubbish thrown out of car windows. This is just to say that sensibility for cleanness and preservation of the environment leaves a lot to be desired (even though the people’s most pure aim may be that of creating employment for rubbish collectors!!!)

Littering and the “throwaway culture” which the Pope mentions five times in LS, have an effect on people’s lives, without mentioning the waste of water and energy that are scarce goods. We surely need to espouse a more sober lifestyle for our good and the preservation of our common home for future generations.

3.1.4.3. Attention to the family

“We must lend our ears to the beat of this era and detect the scent of people today, so as to be permeated by their joys and hopes, by their sadness and distress, at which time we will know how to propose the good news of the family with credibility,” said Pope Francis in his address in St Peter’s Square, at the opening of the Synod on the Family on 5 October 2014.

It seems to me that our problems are not so much related to the strict application of the Church laws to married couples such as denying communion to the divorced and remarried or not facilitating annulments but are of another nature: teen pregnancy, divided families (because of work), gender inequality, polygamy and male infidelity. In one word, problems are mostly related to history, culture and social organisation.

Many children, at least in rural areas, are born to teenagers and grow without a father and a mother; they are raised by the grandmothers, and do not have proper care because the child support grant is used by the moms to keep their lifestyle and, in some cases, I heard, is disputed by the child’s ‘father’ who feels entitled to a share for his mating activity!

3.1.4.4. Jubilee Year of Mercy

“I am convinced that the whole Church that has much need to receive mercy because we are sinners will find in this jubilee the joy to rediscover and render fruitful the mercy of God, with which we are all called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time,” Pope Francis said in announcing the holy year in March this year.

“The Church is the house that welcomes all and refuses no one," the Pope said on the same occasion. “Its doors remain wide open, so that those touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness.”

In the interview with Fr Antonio Spadaro of Civiltà Cattolica, Pope Francis compared the Church to a “field hospital after a battle, in need of forgiveness and healing”. The Holy Year of Mercy is an opportunity to become more aware of our personal and social sin and to work on reconciliation and healing something our country is in dire need of.

Conclusion

Pope Francis has been “the only charismatic voice and the only ethical reference at global level”, “the only and the great global moral reserve” (Paulo Rangel, a Portuguese politician). He has been advocating for the poor and refugees, women, economic equality, the environment, just to mention some. He leads by example, in a prophetic way and elicits great admiration, affection, enthusiasm, hope. He led the media and ‘world’ to look with sympathy to the Church and, in this way, he created the opportunity for a new missionary commitment going to the geographical and existential peripheries to share our experience of faith. The world has been listening to him (even though his approval rates have dropped rather sharply in the United States recently). It will be a pity if the Church will not listen to him, accept his challenges and support him in his prophetic calls. The world needs to eagerly hear the Good News and to have hope for the future.
Fr Joseph Rebelo MCCJ
Editor of Worldwide magazine