Circular 16: The prison ministry

Dear Friends

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Handover of the prison ministry to Fr Ketso (l) from Fr Mpiti SCJ (r).

“Goedemoed – Centre of Excellence” – freely translated “good spirit” the name presents a vision for the big prison some 35 kilometres from Aliwal.

Instead of having a Christmas-Story the Gospel of Mark begins with Jesus being baptised, receiving the Spirit. The Spirit that, then, leads Jesus into the desert is not qualified as “holy” as in the other versions of the story. It is just a spirit, leaving it to the reader to find out what kind of spirit it is.

Maybe it is our Christmas story to find out what is happening with our prison ministry that is concerned about restorative justice. It aims at re-integration of offenders and restorative justice. The victim-offender-dialogue is an important tool. Visiting victims at home the team realized how little attention they receive and what bitter memories and fears rule their lives. Victims of sexual violence feel vulnerable and violated again in court when defence lawyers try to discredit them.

Just at the end of the Year of Mercy we celebrated a little festival of victims of crime at our pastoral centre Mount Carmel. It aimed at showing respect and appreciation, empowering and accompanying a process of turning from being victims into being victors. Different stakeholders of police, psychologists, social workers and the parole board were present to assist and advise.

When our team for prison-ministry organises trips to Goedemoed for school-classes with children tempted by crime and parents notice an impact, then, maybe a spirit that is good, healing and promoting life has become again palpable. Many didn’t expect any good coming out of Bethlehem. And here we see again something good, something humanizing, coming out of the context of Goedemoed this time, hope for a humanity promoted by the dedication to the ever-adapted vision of our pastoral plan “Community Serving Humanity”.

Wishing you a blessed Christmas, the feast of becoming truly human

 T Michael Wüstenberg

  Bishop of Aliwal

A blessed Pentecost to all of you

 

Let me share the thoughts that I circulated to the members of our diocesan senate:

A blessed Feast of Pentecost to all of you. As the Spirit hovered over the waters in the beginning and filled creation, as the Spirit came down on Mary in Nazareth to give us the body of Jesus and as the Spirit came down on the Apostles and disciples at Pentecost to give us the Body of Christ which is the Church, so may the Spirit come down on us that we form the body of Christ in our Diocese and make the boldening inspiration an experience for many.

Whatever others try to instigate with calling for political change with the barrel of the gun or now very recently saying the elections must be approached like an army and that one must have ammunition and guns, the inspiration of the Spirit is very different. People of differing cultures and languages listen and speak to one another, are understood and understand and make their causes mutually their own; not seeking power but standing for the common good and shared wealth; not advocating one’s own interest but the interest of all; not hyped inequality and group interest but fundamental equality of all.

What a difference it would be if Xhosa would stand up for Khoisan, Khoisan for Sotho, Sotho for Hlubi, Hlubi for Puthi, Afrikaaners for the Griquas, Coloureds for the English, the Haves for the Havenots, the Residents for the Immigrants … And imagine they would change and extend partnerships and mix always anew and listen, and speak to one another.

These are some “pentecostal splinters” that can truly lead into the response: “You send forth your spirit … and you renew the face of the earth”, as Psalm 104 says.

My pentecostal wish is very minimal and big at the same time: If only we who are supposed to be as Church a sacrament of unity of mankind would manage to develop and cherish further such culture within our small Diocese with its different cultures and languages.

A blessed Pentecost for you and your communities, and may you all be a pentecostal blessing for many

Yours +Michael

A blessed and happy Easter to all of you!

 

I was offline for about two weeks just now after lightning destroyed my computer, printer, phoneline and affected even the cellular network. I am slowly recovering and trying to catch up. It will take some time.

Just a brief update about last week, if you like.

We cedlebrated on Wednesday Chrism Mass in Burgersdorp. It is in the meantime a tradition that I give a short reflection/recollection for the priests before they renew their commitment. It was very much to reconfirm the wide area of commitment coming from our special participation in teh threee offices of Christ, bein Prophet, Priest and King and leading the faithful who got exactly these tasks as well, as expressed very clearly at the baptism of children.

Thursday began with a celebration in the huge prison of Godemoed. More than 40 prisoners were in the group. I addressed them with the theme of the Holy Year of Mercy and the Pope’s Letter, Misericordiae Vultus, teh Face of Mercy. Would it be possible that they could show their faces to people, in prison and perhaps after many years only, then outside, and let people read their faces and understand that they talk about “mercy”? We put a huge canvas with the picture of Christ on the floor. All came to have their feet washed, after they knelt down on the picture looking into the face of Jesus in silence; some of them for quite some while. What was going on in their minds, nobody knows. But maybe there was some spark of a better perspective in life.

I celebrated Good Friday with the community of Mokhesi in Sterkspruit in my former parish. The youth performed a passion play. The impressive performance ended with them carrying the dead Jesus into the sacristy. “That’s all?”, I asked them. No Happy end? Not even a trace? It was a bad ending from a certain perspective. But I asked them further whether it could be that they would be the happy end, or rather the happy new beginning.

The readings at Easter Vigil tell a story of this powerful new beginning: Fundamental equality of humans, not sacrificing the future of our children, the commitment to freedom, and the liberty to get things for free, especially those that are essential (some vision of Isaiah). Just let imagination play and feel the challenge of the Gospel to fulfil what was said. The societal issues that I filled in may not be relevant for all of you. You may know your own challenges.

Best wishes and blessings before I leave to visit a priest who is on a renewal course

Yours Michael

Pastoral Letter on Challenge for change in the Diocese.

 

Aliwal North at Ascension Day for Pentecost, 9 May, 2013

CIRCULAR LETTER ON CONFIDENT AND COURAGEOUS COLLABORATION IN THE DIOCESE

Dear Sisters and Brothers

Greetings and blessings from your Bishop! Please study this letter thoroughly in your SCC, with your fellow leaders and in the sodalities. Please look for positive solutions and your contributions in the diocese so that the life of faith flourishes. We can act like the early Church after Pentecost.

In the book of Acts we read about the young Church. Its members showed daring courage and boldness for the proclamation of faith despite big challenges (e.g. Acts 4:31). The risen Christ showered them with his Spirit of courage and counsel. Approaching Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, we pray for this Spirit.

We need this Spirit. There are many challenges for us: These days we welcome back home Frs Ketso, Makoa and Nku from their courses. Later this year Frs Noah and Deo will return to their home-diocese in Uganda. Fr Mpambani SCJ will leave us to follow his call as Bishop of Kokstad; we rejoice in his appointment. Fr Sompane SCJ will be assigned to a new task within this congregation in Johannesburg. Hence we will see a number of transfers and changes in the diocese in order to serve you, the People of God as well as we can.

At the ADPC we presented some facts of the diocese. They, too, challenge us all to cooperate and to develop the life of the diocese in the best way possible:

  • We have a total of some 16,000 Catholics in all our communities
  • Some 3000 Catholics attend Sunday Services in the whole diocese. Among them are quite some children and old people.
  • For these 3000 Catholics we have 59 church-buildings, many vehicles and presbyteries that must be maintained.
  • In ten communities more than 100 people attend Sunday services. In 20 communities less than 20 – and even less than 10 – go to church.
  • The numbers of baptisms, confirmations and weddings are steadily going down.
  • Despite the varying contributions to church dues and the generosity of quite some of the faithful we are facing a major budget deficit in the diocese.
  • We are blessed to have one priest for some 1500 Catholics. In other dioceses it is normally a ratio of about one priest for 4000 or 5000 Catholics.

know that seeing such figures, these numbers can be discouraging. Even the Gospel tells about this. Please read the story in the Gospel of John, chapter 6, verses 1-15. The disciples had just five loaves of bread and two fish. They were discouraged when they saw the big crowd: “It would not be enough”. Without Jesus they would have been lost and defeated.

We must turn to Jesus too. Do you recognise what Jesus did? He was not discouraged at all. Jesus took what was there, gave thanks, broke or shared it as the other Gospels say. And he got his friends to distribute it. These four steps are the mystery behind Jesus’ power:

  1. He accepts and takes even the little what he receives as gift
  2. He gives thanks and makes use of the powerful attitude of gratitude
  3. He breaks for sharing and thus changes what he received in grateful generosity
  4. He involves others in distributing or sharing.

We find these four steps of Jesus in many variations. Just open and read the Gospel of Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:32-44 and Luke 9:10-17. And we celebrate and repeat them literally at Mass. The Gospels always state the outcome: that the people got their fill and began to believe. Sharing scarce resources like Christ brings life and awakens faith.

I believe that we will be satisfied. That is if we follow the example of Jesus. We can work wonders if we deal gratefully and generously with the little that we have. And we give an example of the power of Christ working in us.

Let us be grateful for the priests, the 215 SCCs, the 800 leaders, the sodalities, the presbyteries … you name it. Let us pray in thanksgiving for them – right now! -– And in gratitude we can continue:

Let us become creative like Jesus by “sharing” these assets, by making them available for many in many different ways:

  • Let us share the priests in the best ways – we can combine Masses on Sundays, we can arrive more punctually, we can use weekdays for Masses in small communities/outstations
  • Let us share in efficient ways the priests with diocesan tasks so that all communities in the diocese benefit from their wisdom. – I hear that their service is appreciated.
  • Please share your talents by getting involved and qualified through training – all of you are needed and called by baptism and confirmation.
  • Let us share and develop the giftedness of our many leaders through ongoing formation.
  • Administer our assets with the PFCs in a clever and wise way.
  • Let us share our faith and nourish it in the SCCs with well trained leaders.

When sharing Jesus took care that nothing got lost. Everything was carefully collected and could serve still more people. Let us follow Jesus and not waste anything:

  • Make sure that you turn up for the training offered by the priests. Don’t make them come in vain.
  • Attend the Masses celebrated on Sundays – this day is for the glory of the Lord.
  • Keep our assets in a good shape and repair what is broken.

Please remember always that Jesus like the priests was not at every place at every time. But wherever he went the people turned up and he could effectively do what he was sent for by his heavenly Father. So please use these times when the priests are with you. They are there for you!

Let me say one word on vocations: Yes, we need priests. Yes, it is good that you continue praying for vocations. Imagine there is an intelligent young man. He is convinced that faith is most important for human life. Would he go for priesthood when he experiences time and again that the work of the priests is apparently not appreciated by those who don’t turn up for scheduled meetings?

The care for our faith is in the hands of all of us. Bishop and priests try their best to assist you in your call. Soon a number of transfers will take place. The teams of priests in the pastoral areas will be led by moderators. These teams will together with the PPCs organise their work in the most efficient ways.

The Cluster of Aliwal will be led by the team of Fr Makoa (moderator), Fr Mpiti, Fr Ntsikelelo and Monsignor Kizito – assisted still by Fr Noah until his departure. The cluster/unit of Sterkspruit/Teresa will be led by Fr Ketso (acting moderator), Fr Kasali (with emphasis on finances), Fr Nkunyane and Fr Matiwane – assisted still by Fr Deo until his departure. The cluster/unit in Dordrecht will be led by Fr Musafiri (moderator), Fr Nku and Fr Goliash. Monsignor Aertker continues in Indwe. Please make the priests feeling welcome in your communities.

May our loving God bless you all and renew the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Aliwal North, 9 May 2013

YEAR OF FAITH LOGO

Pastoral Letter on the Year of Faith

Pastoral Letter to all Catholics of the Diocese of Aliwal on the Year of Faith

Dear Friends of Christ, dear Sisters and Brothers,

Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, calls us to celebrate a Year of Faith as from11 October 2012and to take care of a renewal in the proclamation of faith, called New Evangelization.

With pain we realise that our faith appears often as powerless: In Marikana we find a tragic symbol of the failure of humanity with a deadly mix of power, greed, agitation, xenophobia, fear and anxiety. Humanity and faith lost out to the disregard of rules. Respect for one another got lost. Values that keep life going were abandoned. Yes, many people pray “thy will be done”: but they do as they will. The fruits are death, hatred, and fear. They are so different from the fruits of the Holy Spirit. What happened in Marikana happens in many places to different degrees.

Indeed we need a renewal of faith. This is not about learning books and formulas. Faith is much more: Faith is powerful; faith transforms; faith is the important mystery that leads us to life. It is the driving force that makes us keep our relationship with God alive. It is that which gives us conviction that Christ lives in us and we in him.  Faith is about a living relationship with God that changes our life to the best of our potential.

We know that faith that follows the will of God can do a lot. The letter to the Hebrews (11) looked back into the History before Jesus. “By faith” Abraham, David and many others were able to do great things. And Pope Benedict continues this story-line by Hebrews saying “By Faith” Mary, the Apostles, the Martyrs, the Saints, many faithful and we too, you and me are able to do great things.

We may feel tempted to say: I am weak; I am not a saint; our church is too small; I don’t know a lot. But faith is not about our strength, hypocrisy, knowledge and size. Many could have given up: Abraham could have said “I am too old”, Joseph could have said “I was abused by my brothers”, Moses said “I cannot speak”, Jacob could have said “I had to fight with God”, Isaac could have said “I was about to be killed”, David could have said “I was an adulterer”, Solomon spoiled his kingdom, Elijah could have said “I was about to commit suicide”, Jeremiah said “I am too young”, Jonah wanted to run away from God, Philip would have said “what we have got is not enough”, Peter could have said “I do not know this man”, Paul could have said “I am too sick” – and there are many more who say: I am weak, leave me out; there are many excuses.

God needed all of them to bring about change; he needs everyone of us, the faithful Church-goers and the resting Catholics. Some may think that they don’t know enough. But it is very easy, very practical. It is about doing something we all already know: It is about making friends. This is what Jesus said right in the beginning of the Gospel in Lk 4:18-21: Good News is making friends with the poor. And this is how he will examine our faith at the end: According to Mt 25:31-46 he will not ask about the number or rosaries that we prayed or how nice we sang on Sundays and the books we read. He will ask about our friendship and love.

True Christians make friends with poor people not because they are good and will reward you (Lk 6:35). The poor can be as bad as many other people. But our love for them is purest: No hidden agenda, nothing to expect in return. We don’t just preach about love, we don’t write and read about love, but we live and reveal love. Bringing Good News does not mean just to sing Alleluia, Praise the Lord, and to entertain nice feelings and confuse them with the Holy Spirit. Instead we can experience very extraordinary things: We can become friends even with people whom we do not like or despise.

Just pause for a moment and think what could have gone differently in Marikana if all parties would have tried to befriend one another: the managers the workers, the miners the police, the trade unions and others. Just to sing Alleluia, praise the Lord is not enough if it is not done by friends. It is as friends that we praise the Lord.

This is the mystery of Saints like St Francis or Mother Teresa. St Francis overcame his reservations of befriending the poor when he kissed a leper. St Lawrence said the poor were the treasure of the Church. This is not because poverty is good but because with them we can meet God who is unconditional love (1 Jn 4:16). They are the “class-room” of faith.

The year of faith is a year of your faith. It is a year of your hope. It is a year of your love. It is a year of you. Indeed, this is a year of you as a person created in the image of God (cf. Gen1:26). You and me are meant to be like Jesus Christ “who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). Jesus called us friends (Jn 15:15). You are meant to make friends like him. The most simple and most effective thing you can do to learn about faith is extending this friendship.

Friendship is our very first catechism, our school of faith. So trust and simply follow Jesus: Make yourself a friend of others in particular of the poor, the aged, the disabled and the disadvantaged, of those who “don’t deserve it”. They need an experience of new life, of dignity, respect, of hope and love. They need an experience of resurrection. This is a faith one can really experience. Everybody well see it: it is about love.

We have to plan properly how to hand on our faith and our spirit of friendship to the next generations. Priests, PPCs and PFCs have a great responsibility to take care of this. Our catechetical leaders need all our support and special training (with the Animation Team) to do their best. We have to make sure that our children and youth enjoy becoming friends of Christ: “I have called you friends”.

I call on all our Small Christian Communities, the sodalities and our families to become schools of faith. Each of us needs to do something special this year of faith to strengthen our faith. Make this year of faith an opportunity to becoming more and more the image of Christ. Let us allow Christ to transform us into people of FAITH, people of friendship, into people of hospitality, into people who love the poor whom Jesus loved so much (cf. Mt 25). Reading the Bible meditatively every day is a good way to discover his will. We can also gear ourselves to reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and other catechetical books, as well as spiritual books and books on the lives of saints that will help us deepen our faith by learning how other people clung to their faith and their determination to be Christlike. Let us reflect on the virtues and values that Christ is living (CCC 1805-1809; 1812-1829) and how they respond to the vices (CCC 1866) that destroy so many people.

I am sure: The joy of our friendship with God and one another is our strength. Together with our many leaders, all of us, bishop, priests, and all the faithful can do a lot during this Year of Faith to develop as one our friendship. For example:

  • We will solemnly open this Year of Faith on11 October, 2012, in the Cathedral and the parishes (the following Sunday).
  • In Advent and Lent we can have penitential services (prepared perhaps by your liturgical committee) that emphasise the theme of the African Synod: Reconciliation, Justice & Peace, or the theme of friendship, or use one of the services e.g. in Bongan’ iNkosi.
  • Our preachers will have special workshops on preaching our faith in 2013 before the Bishop commissions them.
  • We will celebrate our togetherness on 24.11.2013 when we close the Year of Faith together.

Let us pray – Loving God. In Jesus Christ you made us your friends. We thank you for all who offer his friendship and soften the heart of others. Strengthen the bond of friendship within our Diocese of Aliwal. Strengthen the friendship between Bishop, Priests, Religious and all the faithful. Make us witnesses of your compassion und unperturbed commitment. Make us missionaries through the spirit of friendship that has the power to unite people and bring peace. Amen!

May God bless you all, X the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!

Aliwal North, 1 October 2012