by Archbishop Buti Tlhagale
THE FOUNDING OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
IN SOUTH AFRICA
‘The Catholic Archdiocese of Johannesburg celebrated 200 years of the Catholic Church in South Africa at a mass of thanksgiving led by Archbishop Buti Tlhagale on Saturday 21 April 2018. The mass was held on the plot of land upon which will be built the much-talked of Mother of Mercy Marian Shrine and Pastoral Centre. It is hoped that this will be a holy site that will bring Catholics of the Archdiocese, and further afield, a place where they might express their devotions to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and be spiritually nourished.‘ Spotlight.africa
The celebration of the 200 years of the founding of Catholic Church in South Africa gives us a rare opportunity to learn more about the history of our faith, about where we come from as a community of faith. This is the time to mediate on the pioneering missionaries who brought us our faith. We do so in order to draw inspiration from them, to evaluate the status of our faith and fidelity, and to seek to re-double our efforts to enter more deeply into the mystery of Jesus Christ so that we may emerge as people who experience the generous mercy of God here and now, and in turn, commit to express that warm mercy to others. This is the constant, consistent and persuasive preaching of Pope Francis.
Debt of gratitude
John Paul in Ecclesia in Africa reminds the church in Africa of their debt of gratitude to the pioneers who brought the faith to Africa. He says it is appropriate to pay profound homage to the missionaries, men and women “who devoted themselves without counting the cost, to the task of transmitting the torch of the Christian faith. That is why we, the happy inheritors of this marvelous adventure, joyfully pay our debt of thanks to God” on this solemn occasion of celebrating the bicentenary of the founding of the Catholic Church in Southern Africa (no. 36).
Bishop Stanislaw Dziuba of Umzimkulu Diocese puts it differently. He says we “stand on the shoulders of giants, the many missionaries from Europe … whose work can still be seen by the many hospitals and clinics that bear the names of saints” (quoted in Wilson, H. 2011).
Let me point out from the outset that those who glibly accuse the pioneering missionaries of having been in cahoots with the colonial regime are simply wrong. History tells a different narrative. Joy Brain in her Cape Diary of Bishop Griffith (1837-1839) points out that under the Dutch East India Company rule (1652-1795) Catholicism was simply forbidden. Every effort was made to convert Catholic soldiers to Calvinism. Freedom of religion was only promulgated in 1804. Cardinal McCann described the attitudes of the authorities then as one of “friendly toleration” (Cape Diary, 1988 p. viii). Catholic and other missionaries experienced a fair share of discrimination
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