Wollongong (Fides Service)- A celebration of the universality of the Church’s mission and the fact that in the Catholic world north and south do not exist. The event was a ceremony to launch the missionary month of October in the Australian diocese of Wollongong on September 4. Special guest South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier Archbisop of Durban offered a touching testimonial on the diocesan mission month theme ‘Proclaiming Life for All - Witness, Liberate, Teach and Celebrate’.
Hundreds of people attended the ceremony, including many children. Cardinal Napier told school children and parishioners about growing-up in South Africa under the oppressive Apartheid regime and the maltreatment of black and mixed-race South Africans. He gave a deeply personal meaning to the theme ‘Proclaiming Life for All - Witness, Liberate, Teach and Celebrate’.
He described the determination on the part of many church leaders, after the 1994 African Synod in Rome, to make the Catholic Church in Africa truly relevant, to be prepared to journey with its own people and be a dissenting voice for the oppressed. As the Church in South Africa built upon its already well established missionary history and values, it continued to play a crucial role in helping break the shackles of Apartheid and preparing South Africans to move forward from the nation’s violent and racist past.
“Interestingly”, the Cardinal commented, “these same values were not so new … they had been clearly stated by Pope Paul VI as early as 1969 in his message to the African Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Uganda”. “Follow me”, the Holy Father had said, “you Africans must be missionaries to yourselves”. The challenge was for the Church in South Africa to become self-reliant. To go forward it had to recognise the needs and aspirations of its oppressed people, maintain its limited resources and make itself characteristically African.
“We realised that Apartheid worked because victims complied with the laws of Apartheid,” Cardinal Napier said. “If they refused to comply, then Apartheid could not function. The Standing for the Truth campaign deemed all people equal, all life sacred and all people should be respected equally.”
Cardinal Napier visited Australia in 1986 and raised awareness of the need on the part of the international community to apply external pressure to effect change in South Africa through economic sanctions. In 1990, the ecumenical church leadership in South Africa declared apartheid was a sin; it could not be justified in the Bible. And so the resistance continued until the democratic election of Nelson Mandela in 1994 as the country’s first black president.
Bishop Peter Ingham of Wollongong Diocese said Cardinal Napier’s words highlighted how “reconciliation and love, not manipulation” could instigate change”. Bishop Ingham took the opportunity to re-commit the diocese to the values and objectives of the global network of Pontifical Mission Societies and especially the work of Catholic Mission in Australia.
(L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 16/9/2005 righe 42 parole 493)