by Dabulamanzi Ntshangase
Pope Francis has visited the African continent on two occasions: first, towards the end of 2015 and the Year of Mercy, second, on first half of the current year (2017). On his first visit, he went to Kenya, Central Africa Republic and Uganda respectively. On his second visit, he went to Egypt. In each of these countries, the Holy Father has addressed the priests, the religious and the seminarians. The following few words are, therefore, a personal reflection on two of these addresses from the Holy Father, that is, to the priests, religious and seminarians in Uganda as well as those in Egypt. It is important to note that the pope does not only speak to the priests, religious and seminarians of Uganda and Egypt but to all of us who are playing for the same team.
The Holy Father met the priests, religious and seminarians in Uganda on Saturday, 28 November 2015. This was an event that took place at the Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Kampala. In his address to them, the Pope has referred to Uganda as the ‘Pearl of Africa’. However, this pearl can lose its value as a pearl. There are only three pillars that can keep the value of the ‘Pearl of Africa’ and these are Remembrance, Fidelity and Prayer.
Pope Francis challenged them to remember and keep alive the witness of the Ugandan Martyrs. They were challenged not to take the past memories and glories as a couch to relax on but ‘create future glories’ and continue the witness of the Martyrs. This simply means that it is very important to use our past to define who we are today and in this way surely our future is predictable as bright or dim.
To be a witness one needs to be faithful. ‘Fidelity means persevering in the path of holiness,…our vocation…[and] being good missionaries.’ A good gesture of keeping alive the missionary spirit would be when the dioceses with many priests offer some to those dioceses that have less clergy.
The Pope has further stated that ‘fidelity is only possible through prayer.’ If they do not pray they would have lost the first two pillars: Remembrance and Fidelity. Prayer, according to the Holy Father, means humility which can be shown through regular confession of sins. Prayer should always ‘begin with the acknowledgement that we are sinners.’ Other than the three mentioned pillars, the ‘Pearl of Africa’ will end up becoming like a ‘piece of museum.’ As seminarians in the Southern Africa, let us prayer for the pearl and the people so that it may not turn into a ‘piece of museum.’
Pope Francis reminded the priests, religious and seminarians in Uganda of their identity. Their hearts are touched by Christ who has called them by name to ‘follow him with an undivided heart in the service of his holy people.’ He emphasises that they are in the humble service of the people of God and therefore, the ‘doors of the Church, our hearts must always be open to God’s people.’ Furthermore, in living their specific vocation, the priests, religious and seminarians must pray for the ‘troubling situations’ in the world starting with the realities closer to them. The Pope makes an example with Burundi, the Ugandans must pray for the ‘commitment to dialogue and cooperation, reconciliation and peace to the leaders of the people of Burundi.
He further passed a word of encouragement to the seminarians and the young religious. He prayed that ‘the fire of the Holy Spirit [may] purify [their] hearts so that [they] can be a joyful and convincing witnesses to the hope of the Gospel.’ Other than prayer and the intimate and loving relationship that we have with God, as seminarians, there is nothing that keeps us going or motivate us rather than words of encouragement from our bishops, formators, parish priests, friends, families, etc. As seminarians we pray for more words of encouragement for we need them, they flatter us and when we fall into the temptation of giving up we remember these words and then stand up, dust ourselves and continue with our journey. He concluded by asking them to pray for him and he promised to pray for them.
On Saturday, 29 April 2017, Pope Francis addressed the priests, religious and seminarians in the Coptic-Catholic Patriarchal Seminary of Maadi in the south outskirts of Cairo. Being a minority, the Christians in Egypt were referred by the Holy Father as the ‘Little Flock’. The Pope thanked the ‘Little Flock’ for being witnesses and doing what is good amid the challenges that they face in their daily service of God’s people. He encouraged them not be afraid (never to flee the Cross) and this needs ‘believing, witnessing to the truth, sowing and cultivating without waiting for the harvest.’
Thabo William Mkhonta, a seminarian of the Diocese of Manzini, beautifully puts it and says that the Pope, here, is asking us to dwell inwardly in the Passion of Christ, the Cross – for that is where our strength lies. To be courageous amidst of all the problems of this world, the corruption and lack of integrity among leaders of nations, the leadership crisis in the world – as popularism has taken over than being morally right and psychological sound. The injustices and oppressions that are happening to the poor and vulnerable children of God. So to us, the message of the Pope is to face the challenges of this world and not to be fugitives from the fight for social justice. If God has called us to be in the midst of these fights, so let it be, for in those storms He will bring calm through us. So, each of us, as Southern African seminarians and clergy – it is better for us to be engaged in the battle of mankind for a better world, than to live as kings and princes in parishes. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32).
When the Pope speaks about reasons of not being discouraged in this world, ‘amid many prophets of destruction and condemnation, and so many despairing voices…’, he simply implies that our struggles and action will always be backed-up in truth and strength by our presence in the Lord. If we don’t stand up against all the adverse forces, experience the feeling to throw in the towel, cracking under duress – it is because the presence of Christ in our lives is nothing more than a soothing experience, a trickling one to idle our fantasies why we kill time. We must not be overwhelmed by the world, but be spirited to overcome it. For to be rooted in Christ will surpass all events of this world, for we won’t be vulnerable and at the mercy of the changing times. We will be liberated in judgement, that our perception of the world is not limited by immediate experiences of people, happenings, and things of this world.
Pope Francis challenged them to be ‘sowers of hope, builders of bridges and agents of dialogue and harmony despite all the challenges that the “Little Flock” face.’ However, this is possible when they do not give in to temptations that they come across in their daily life. He counted the following temptations: to let ourselves to be led rather than to lead. This means that we must be good shepherds. ‘We should not be swept along the mass of men that we no longer know who we really are, and our cause. Our vision as priests and seminarians is rooted in the Divine Will’ (Mkhonta). There is also a temptation to complain constantly and those who keep on complaining are those who do not want to work. Mkhonta says that those who keep on throwing mud onto others have, themselves, muddy hands. There is also the temptation to gossip and envy (those who give in to this temptation hardly grow, because ‘instead of striving to grow the disturb those who are growing’), to compare ourselves with other, to become like Pharaoh (to harden our hearts and close them off to the Lord and our brothers and sisters), to individualism and lastly, to keep on walking without direction which is a loss of identity. He did not forget to ask the ‘Little Flock’ to pray for him.
One thing that constantly comes from the address of the pope is ‘prayer’. The Holy Father ends his addresses by promising us his prayer and asking us to pray for him. Often, in the course of his address, he keeps on exhorting us to pray for various situations: our needs, the needs others. Indeed prayer is very important in the life of priests and seminarians. Marco De Loera, a seminarian in the Unites States of America, says that the Divine office is a backbone of a priest’s or seminarian’s life each day. He makes a very beautiful comparison of the Divine Office and a sower sowing on his field. He likens the Solemn Lauds to the soil of the field which the sower prepares his hard work. The Vespers are like the sower sowing his seeds on the prepared soil and the Compline is like the harvest. This shows the importance of prayer in the life of a priest and a seminarian, their lives cannot be separated from prayer since it builds, nourishes, maintains and strengthens our loving and intimate relationship with God ‘so that just like the sower our lives may be completely full of faith, hope and charity and freely give them to the people that we encounter’ in our daily lives. The effort that the priest or a seminarian puts in prayer is like rain that will help the seed germinate from the ground. Without prayer we are spiritually dead. To my colleagues, the seminarians, let us constantly pray for the Church especially, our Holy Father, the clergy, ourselves and everyone who needs our prayers. Prayer and concern for others are a big component of our identity as we are ‘called to a humble service of the People of God’.
Published in “Faith & reason”
(St John Vianney Seminary, Pretoria, South Africa)