Cape Town (Agenzia Fides) - It was on June 7, 1818 that Pope Pius VII erected the Vicariate Apostolic of the Cape of Good Hope and Adjacent Territories, thus constituting for the first time a formal presence of the Catholic Church in Southern Africa. While the first beginnings of the Church in Southern Africa had their origin in Cape Town, in the almost 200 years since then, the presence of the Catholic Church has grown to the extent that there are now: 28 dioceses and one Vicariate apostolic in our Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) which includes South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland. As Mgr. Clifford Stokes, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Cape Town writes in an in-depth document published by SACBC, sent to Agenzia Fides, which traces the fundamental stages of these two centuries, the celebrations of the bicentenary will be inaugurated with a solemn Mass of thanksgiving in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Flight into Egypt, on Sunday, June 25. "During this Mass of Thanksgiving, tribute will be paid to the selfless contributions of those heroic early pioneers, both priests, religious and laity from far-off lands, by whose dedication and untiring efforts, the seeds of the Church were first planted in the Cape of Good Hope, as it was then known, and throughout Southern Africa", writes Mgr. Stokes.
"We owe an immense debt of gratitude that can never be expressed adequately to so many religious congregations for their establishment of schools in our Archdiocese and throughout Southern Africa as a whole, and their invaluable contribution in the field of education during these two hundred years. We owe much – continues the Vicar general - also to those members of religious congregations who have established hospitals and hospices for the sick and the dying and also to those whose charism is to minister to the poor and the destitute". At the offertory procession during this Mass, symbols of their contributions to the Southern African Church will be brought up and displayed in the sanctuary.
To further celebrate these "heroic contributions by so many who, in face of much difficulty and often opposition", during the Mass of Thanksgiving a specially decorated candle will be blessed and given to every Bishop to be taken back to his Cathedral and placed in a prominent position during this bi-centennial year. Every parish priest will receive a copy of the papal document of June 7, 1818 for display in his church.
During the twelve months following upon the Mass inaugurating the bi-centennial year, there will be other large Archdiocesan celebrations. To close the bi-centennial celebrations, there will be a Mass of Thanksgiving on June 10, 2018, in every Cathedral, parish and mission station throughout Southern Africa. (SL) (Agenzia Fides 16/6/2017)