Becoming a self-sustaining Diocese

The Diocese of Aliwal has started a process of finance and administration improvement, final objective being to reach the self-sufficiency of the diocese. At the present time more than half of diocesan income comes from overseas. To achieve it two volunteers Benoit and Vanessa have arrived from Fidesco (French Catholic’s NGO) at the beginning of March at the chancery in Aliwal North. The “Diocesan Finance and Administration Team” called DAFT have already met all the Parish Finance Committees (PFC) of the diocese. These meetings have enabled them to introduce themselves. It has also been a chance to hear and understand how PFCs are working and what needs they meet and problems they face. It has been a great source of information with very different but also common problems.

Once information compiled and small scales tests finalised the first new tools will be implemented. In regards to the overall monitoring, the first concern is monthly reports: ensure on time reception and good completion. To avoid mistakes, a new Excel® pattern has been designed and is being tested now. Still a major problem needs to be solved: computer equipment.  Findings show that some PFCs are not equipped and do not even have the basic computer skills. Furthermore PFCs are very new in some parishes that makes them very dependent on the priest who used to manage finances. Special support and accounting training will be necessary in these parishes.

Second concern to approach is the collection support. Parishes have shown a lack of communication towards parishioners regarding purposes of collections. It results in global low collections. A diocesan way of communicating is expected in order to better explain the purpose of each collection and so to better involve parishioners. Some efficient parish incentives could hopefully be shared and adapted by others. Aside of this concern is the way finances are reported to the parishioners in order to ensure 100% transparency in finance management.

Third concern is the parish budget planning. It has been done so far straight from last year’s figures instead of basing it on real upcoming needs and wishes. Parishes need to realise the importance of term-managing their finances through: budgeting, reporting and monitoring. DAFT plans to organise together with DFC (Diocese Finance Committee) annual budget meeting with each PFC in order to have them presenting and explaining their figures.

A deeper reflexion on the consistency of finance management throughout the diocese and parishes is on-going. The question is how to split roles between the diocese and parishes. In other words how and how far should the diocese be involved in the finances of the parishes and what level of involvement should parishes have in their own. Should the finances be managed independently in each parish or should parishioners be considered as being diocesan above all and so share according to the different parish needs? Whatever the conclusion is, this reflexion will be translated into new tools and ways of working.

At the diocesan level some work is also being done at the accounting management level in order to optimize finance and administration and harmonise them with parishes. Account management is being completely reviewed with a new consistency implemented. Some reorganisation in the saving management is on-going.

Financial needs to enable proper work on finance and administration: 

  1. Providing each parish with a computer and software will ease records and avoid mistakes.
    For that the diocese is lacking funds for:  15 computers + office pack = 15 x R 6 000 = R 90 000
  2. A diocesan PFC meeting with training and workshops would be a great chance for all PFC to get skills and also share their return of experiences and best practices:  15 PFC X 3 people (transport + catering) = R 15 000

Bishop Michael guest of a German parish

On Trinity Sunday, Bishop Michael met the community of St. Mary’s in Germany to celebrate the Mass and to talk about his important work in Africa. Since last year, St. Mary’s supports the diocese. A big project called Mount Carmel Centre urgently needs material assistance. The centre will be primarily a meeting place for training children and young people. They will be educated about AIDS, get religious instruction and spend their leisure time together.

Read the article:

A German Bishop in South Africa

The German Bishop Michael Wurstenberg has lived for almost twenty years in South Africa. For more than three years, he is far away in the little Episcopal Diocese of Aliwal, a region of tourism, trade and prosperity, but with almost all the problems relevant to South Africa. The small Catholic community under the direction of the native of Westphalia, which maintains many AIDS patients, orphans care, kindergarten children or taking care of quite simply the poorest of the poor in the townships.

Read more in German on Radio Vatican:

South African Local Government Election

4 March 2011: A Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops of Southern Africa to the Catholic Community and people of goodwill

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ

The forthcoming municipal elections present us once again with an opportunity to influence the direction our country is taking. We are grateful to Almighty God that we can confidently anticipate a free and fair election process, the eighth in our 17 years of democracy.

Every citizen has the right to vote, to participate in the choosing of public representatives, and to give a mandate to those entrusted with governance. But it is more than simply a right – it is a duty which rests on every eligible voter. Each of us must use our vote wisely and thoughtfully, in order to help ensure that our cities, towns and districts are run by honest and competent people, to the benefit of all, especially the poor and the vulnerable.

When we vote in a municipal election we are in effect passing a judgment about the way in which some of our most basic needs are being met. Are we satisfied with the provision of services such as water and electricity? Are our streets and public facilities clean and safe? Are we treated with respect and courtesy by municipal officials?

The answers to these questions can help us to decide whether to vote for the same people or party as before, or whether it is time to give different candidates a chance. As we said before the national elections in 2009, ‘our first loyalty must be to our fellow citizens, and to the good of our country as a whole, not to a specific party or leader.’

In these elections people living in cities and towns will be able to vote both for a party and for individual candidates standing as ward councillors. These are the people who should be in very close touch with your day-to-day concerns and living conditions. They should have a strong track record of community involvement and service and should be people with high moral standards and integrity.

Unfortunately, many public representatives in South Africa choose to enter the world of politics because they want power, wealth and status, and not because they are committed to serving the public. This tendency harms our democracy and results in us as citizens not enjoying its benefits.  It leads to corruption, nepotism and self-advancement, at the cost of service-delivery and the well-being of our communities.

Such people do not deserve our support. If we continue to vote for them, we will have only ourselves to blame if our municipal services crumble and our neighbourhoods are not properly maintained.

Some questions may be useful in helping us to decide which party and ward candidate to vote for:

  • Has your existing ward councillor held a public meeting in your area? Were you invited to it? Has he or she ever explained to the community what work they have done to benefit the neighbourhood? Have things improved or got worse in your area since the last municipal election?
  • Who are the candidates for your ward in the forthcoming elections? Have any of them visited your house or dropped off a pamphlet or other information?
  • Which political parties have made the effort to visit your area? Have any of them asked for your suggestions and comments on the way your council is operating?
  • Do the various candidates live in the ward where they are standing for election? Do they have a record of service to the community and involvement in its affairs? Have they shown that they really understand and care about the needs of the community?
  • Have any of the candidates been involved in corruption or other crooked activities? Have they changed parties a number of times, simply in order to hang on to their jobs? Do you think any of the candidates have been put forward just because their party ‘owes’ them a position?

The answers to these questions will tell us which candidates genuinely want to serve us, and which ones only want to serve themselves and advance their own political careers. The answers will also help us to see which political parties truly have our interests at heart.

Let us reflect prayerfully on the opportunity that we have to make South Africa a better country. Let us remember that our brothers and sisters in many places on our continent are still denied the right to vote freely and fairly; it is not something that we should ever take for granted.

Finally, let us place these elections, and the well-being of our nation, in God’s hands:

Lord, we pray that our forthcoming elections may bring about a deepening of our democracy, and that we will carry out our duties as citizens responsibly and with respect for the rights of others. May the choices we make bring hope to the poor, unity to all our people, and a brighter future for our children.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen

For the Diocese of Aliwal

Michael Wüstenberg

Bishop of Aliwal