Diocesan Pastoral Letter to the Learners concerned with well-being

Dear Learners! I greet you at the beginning of the new school-term. I greet also your communities, your parents, your teachers and all your peers who do not belong to our Church.

The friends of Jesus were called disciples which means actually learners. You are disciples in a very special way. You have the privilege to develop and unfold your talents, the gifts you received from God, in a special way when studying the many different subjects at school. Your teachers have the honourable and wonderful task to lead you in this process and to develop your potential in the best way. At school together you lay the foundation for your future.

Everybody knows that not all is that ideal and well at school. The recent school-book saga is only one indication for this. Some get very frustrated, others see no meaning in committing themselves properly at school.

I am proud of having you as the youth of our Diocese. Many of you I gave the sacrament of confirmation. At confirmation I express my joy that we have people with courage, people who can counsel, people with wisdom. I am happy when I see how quite a number succeeded already at school. They continue with further education. I am happy to see young people who contribute to the quality of life.

This is exactly what Jesus wanted: You can make a difference. It needs your commitment to your studies. It needs your commitment to your home-work. It needs your charity with your fellow learners who may have difficulties with learning and concentrating. Please assist the weaker learners. Don’t leave them alone. St Paul says that when he is weak he is strong. You can be strong when others are weak. Make use of this God given gift of support. All of you can do this: the young learners in primary school as well as those in secondary school.

Those who approach their final exams with matric are very close to my heart and prayer. You are challenged in a special way. Not only do you have to think and plan what to do afterwards. You have already to apply for bursaries and see to get support for further education or training. I wish that you make the right decisions.

I wish that you can be proud after the exam by saying I achieved it on my own, I did not cheat. You have to prepare for your examinations.

It applies to any learner but in a special way to you: You must make very good use of the gift of time by planning it. You must plan for study time at home. You must also plan for rest. Some say you should only sleep for 3 to 4 hours. Your body needs more sleep, rather 7-8 hours. After a good rest you will study much better. And don’t forget physical exercise. They help also to clear your mind.

I hear that some spread the myth that drugs help. I assure you they don’t. They bring you down instead. So please take care of your body. After all it is the Temple of the Holy Spirit and it needs proper care. Such care happens also through good nutrition. Especially fish is good for your brains; some school feeding schemes include it deliberately.

I hope that your parents take interest in your progress at school and are supportive. They can monitor your school work, visit the school and talk about your performance. They may give you extra time at home while preparing for exams; instead of doing the usual homework such as dishes they may release you for your studies.

Please take care of one another. As fellow learner you are much more aware of changes in the behaviour of your peers as teachers may be. Observe one another. Some may get depressed and suicidal. If you think that one of your peers is in trouble try to get assistance for instance through a social worker.

Some learners are perhaps not bad but cruel for some reason. They bully peers and incite others to do so. Maybe someone has special features, an impediment in speech or looks different: I am proud of all who resist the temptation to howl with the wolves and show solidarity and support for such beleaguered fellows.

I know from some schools who offer extra learning time in the afternoons. This is a laudable initiative. Make use of it.

A word for those of you who are on the School Governing Bodies: Please use your position to contribute to the positive development of your school. This applies also to parents who serve on the SGB. As Diocese we offer sometimes workshops for the SGBs of our schools. Make use of these and other formation events. It helps to become more effective and efficient.

One thing is sure: We need you. We need young people wit a good character. We need young people with a good education. You need a good education.

The pass-rates are still cause for concern. As Christians we can make a difference! If all of us take our responsibility, learners, parents, teachers and communities, things can turn out much better than they did previously. What we need is mutual respect, attending to the needs (not just the wants) of the others.

And so I wish you all well, those who will write matric and all other learners. I ask our communities to support you with their prayer and in other ways. The PFCs may for instance consider holding a service of blessing.

One of our Saints who was very much committed to formation, St Ignatius, said: “pray as if everything depends on God, work as if everything depends on you.” So I pray to the Lord that he may grant you serenity and strength, perseverance and vigilance, joy and unwavering hope so that you can make best use of your gifts.

May God bless you all, + the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Your Bishop,

Michael Wüstenberg
Bishop of Aliwal

Participating in Traffic as witness to life

Pastoral Letter to all communities, SCCs and sodalities in the Diocese of Aliwal

Dear Sisters, dear Brothers,

Time and again we realise the dangers of the traffic on our roads. We mourn the loss of life and health. Many have lost their relatives: breadwinners, parents or children. Tears, funerals, visits to hospitals and the care for maimed beloved ones are proof of this.

We are looking at a matter of life and death. Many of you like to begin prayers by saying: “God, we thank you for the gift of life!” What a wonderful prayer! This gratitude must translate into care: we care for life. Jesus gave us his example so that we care for life in all its stages and in all its forms, from conception to death. We care for life also on the roads. Holy Scripture aims at healing when challenging us; God gives us a choice (Dtn 30:19):

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.”

People get sick, people get old and people die. All of us will die – hopefully full of trust in the loving care of God. God who gives us our natural life also shares his eternal life with us. Death should be a grace filled encounter for Christians: Gratefully handing over life and receiving life to the fullest (cf. Jn 10:10).

We cannot avoid death. But we can avoid premature death, be it through crime, some diseases like AIDS and through accidents. We have a choice. Accidents are man-made, many are avoidable. They bring unnecessary misery and pain for the victims and their friends and families. I wish and pray that they find comfort in the communion with the suffering Christ.

Can you explain why Christians who worship God forget their virtues, values and morals when it comes to traffic? Most of the drivers on our roads are Christians. Most of them pray. I wonder how the Good Spirit of God seems to evaporate when they enter vehicles as drivers or participate in traffic as pedestrians. Can you explain why it is that:

  1. Pedestrians walk drunk and run into vehicles
  2. Pedestrians don’t wear bright clothes at night to be seen better
  3. Pedestrians pay little attention to traffic when chatting on the road or crossing the streets
  4. Children run across the street as if they never got any education
  5. People don’t stop their friends from driving drunk despite knowing the dangers
  6. People still drink and drive despite knowing about the incapacitating power of alcohol
  7. People drive recklessly and intimidate others by overtaking dangerously where it is forbidden
  8. People push those who stick to the speed limit by not keeping proper following distance
  9. People get distracted when using their cell-phone while driving
  10. People leave late for appointments and are tempted to catch up by over-speeding
  11. People drive with bad tyres or breaks or road-unworthy cars
  12. People don’t wear safety belts
  13. People overload their vehicles
  14. People drive without proper training and driver’s licence
  15. People lose their temper (get a fit of road-rage), patience and love for those making mistakes
  16. People do many other bad things that you know very well (you name them)
  17. People don’t stop those who are doing wrong?

We may feel tempted in some of these issues. But we do not have to give in either to temptation nor to intimidation. You may ask “Why should I care?”; or: “What can we do?”
We are created in the image of God. We are like him when we are lovers of life and prevent premature death. Even in traffic we share the healing ministry of Christ. Our commitment to life is part of our mission and proclamation as Christians. Your style of driving and walking on the roads should be Good News for others.
The rules of the roads are not meant to limit freedom but to safeguard life. They create reliability. Any person on the road must be able for instance:

  1. to trust that others will adhere to the rules so that they can cross the roads without fear
  2. to trust that the speed of an approaching car is not exceeded
  3. to trust that the driver of any car they enter is sober and following the rules

Participation in traffic is a matter of trust. As God’s faithful we are principal agents of trust. In this example of traffic we can prove that we are trustworthy and create trust. Otherwise we cast many doubts on our faith:

  • How can people believe that we found the God of Life through Jesus Christ if Christians do not care about life?
  • And how can people believe that Christians are agents of the Gospel which many times says: “Do not be afraid” but they intimidate people through their way of driving or walking?
  • And how can people believe Christian preaching if we talk about the dignity of each person guaranteed by God and do not show respect?

We must never undermine our mission. If people can trust us in little things it will be much easier to trust us in big things (cf. Mt 25:21) when we talk about and witness God.

Do you want to be such faithful witness? Do you feel challenged to serve life? Don’t get confused by those who bring death. Take heart. Jesus says to you: Don’t be afraid. In your SCC, sodality, youth group or family you can address the 17 issues mentioned on page one. Take your time (it is an important matter). Follow the well known steps:

  1. Choose one item (and you can choose another one for the next meeting and so on) and describe it in more depth, give examples.
  2. Find out as many reasons why people act this way
  3. Share what your faith, the Gospel and the teaching of the Church is saying about this and how it is challenging you (your priest can help you; ask him for advice and information)
  4. Plan what you can do to contribute to safety on the roads. Make concrete and lasting resolutions and evaluate them by sharing your experiences during a follow-up meeting.

You may arrive at resolutions such as renewing our faith; getting proper training in first aid; start a campaign in your sodality or SCC to use seat belts; dissuading people who want to drive drunk; educate children about participating safely in traffic; resolve not to drive after even drinking a little; or many other good things that you can do. In all this choose life. You are not alone. We can support one another. We can do what God expects from us: Choose life!

And I ask you to pray together with me for:

  • The victims: the injured, the maimed and those killed on our roads
  • The drivers that drive responsibly
  • Those who through their behaviour endangered or even ended the lives of others
  • The traffic cops and police who are dedicated to ensure safety on roads
  • The paramedics and other rescue services that take risks to save lives
  • The relatives and friends of those killed and wounded and those who care for all disabled

May God bless you all!

Aliwal North, 1 August 2012, Your Bishop

Michael Wüstenberg
Bishop of Aliwal