In my fraternal meeting in 2019, which I gladly recall, with the Great Imam Ahmad
Al-Tayyeb “we resolutely declared that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.
God, the Almighty, has no need to be defended by anyone
and does not want his name to be used to terrorize people.”
(From Pope Francis’ Encyclical ‘Fratelli Tutti’ no. 285)
For this reason I would like to reiterate here the appeal for peace, justice and fraternity that we made together:
“In the name of human fraternity that embraces all human beings, unites them and renders them equal; in the name of this fraternity torn apart by hateful ideological tendencies that manipulate the actions and the future of men and women,
in the name of God and of everything in this statement,
we declare the adoption of a culture of dialogue as the path;
mutual cooperation as the code of conduct;
reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.”
(From Pope Francis’ Encyclical ‘Fratelli Tutti’ no. 285)
The year 2020 was marked by the massive covid19 health crisis, which became a global phenomenon cutting across boundaries, aggravating deeply interrelated crisis like those of the climate, food, the economy and migration, and causing great suffering and hardship.
In paying tribute to physicians and nurses, pharmacists, researchers, volunteers, chaplains and the personnel of hospitals and healthcare centres, I renew my appeal to political leaders and the private sector to spare no effort to ensure access to covid19 vaccines and to the essential technologies needed to care for the sick, the poor and those who are most vulnerable.
(From Pope Francis’ message for 54th World Day of Peace no. 1)
Dear Fathers and Deacons, dear Sisters, dear Seminarians, dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
What shall I start with? With the dark clouds or the light which already shines at dawn? The first reading from the Feast of Epiphany, taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah, speaks about darkness covering the whole earth. This darkness could well be the present covid19 pandemic which lingers on, now already the second wave and, perhaps, another wave is coming. It keeps disrupting our year planning. But next to this darkness there are others, often linked with it. Pope Francis enumerates a number of them in his message for the World Day of Peace, which I emailed to those whose email addresses I have: climate disasters, food shortage in many developing countries, economical crisis and ongoing wars causing mass migration. But there is also light sa the prophet Isaiah proclaims: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” What is this light? What is the star guiding us? We see all kinds of local and worldwide expressions of solidarity reaching out to the poor and vulnerable, even more struck by the pandemic. We ourselves as diocese benefitted from a gift of PMS (for the diocese’s needs) and on deanery a gift through the SACBC meant for the poor (we could help a number of families in different parishes of the diocese). As an expression of this light I would also count – also Pope Francis mentions this in his message – the physicians, nurses, pharmacists, researchers, volunteers, chaplains and the personnel of hospitals and healthcare centres who have made, and are continuing to make, great sacrifices to be present to the sick, to alleviate their sufferings and save their lives. Many of them have died in the process. They put their lives at risk in order to save others. Are they too not that star that leads us to Christ, who gave his life to save us?
We could have our final Presbyteral Council meeting as planned on the 09th of December. What came to the fore was the ravage covid19 made concerning the pastoral planning of 2020 as many activities had to be cancelled or postponed in the areas of training for Child Safeguarding on deanery and parish level, choir competitions, special collections, both parish and diocesan fundraisings, establishment of the SACOP structure on Metropolitan Province level, ongoing formation, training and launching of the new Pastoral Plan. But there was also light and hope for 2021. Hopefully covid19 will not dash those hopes as we are experiencing now a second wave causing the churches to be closed for at least two weeks.
Fr. Khahliso presented his proposal for the setting-up of a media office using social media like Face book and Whatsapp and reviving the diocesan website. A number of reactions came as: the need of guidelines for such an office, having link-persons (especially young people) in the various deaneries and forming a media team. Since then Fr. Khahliso has been contacting young persons (always in collaboration with the Parish Priests) who could be link-persons and members of such a media team. He also put in a proposal for an annual budget. As soon as he will be back from a of the month’s sabbatical at Inkamana abbey he hopes to start full steam.
Fr. Tsolo presented a new catechetical program ‘Echoes’ geared towards the ongoing formation of catechists. Sister Catherine is asking for a study day for the Priests to look at it together more in depth.
Concerning liturgical matters, Fr. Buang hopes to complete the revision of the Guidelines for Choirs and to plan for the music competitions during 2021. As focus for 2021, two proposals were presented, one coming from SACBC asking for a focus on the H. Eucharist all throughout the year and the other one coming from Pope Francis asking for a focus on St. Joseph. Some discussion took place about the feasibility of pursuing both. I suggested to take both but without doing many extra activities: for instance emphasizing the Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker on the 01st of May and encouraging the St. Joseph Sodality (and Men’s Forums) to challenge the men in their responsibility within the family. What the H. Eucharist concerns, practical suggestions were made like for instance concerning homilies (one Sunday every month) focusing on the Eucharist.
Fr. Tumelo gave a financial report which made it very clear that our expenses are much higher than our income (two thirds was from PMS); we survived thanks to a substantial once-off donation of the Bishop. The income we generated ourselves this past year was very little. The Diocesan Finance Committee and the DPC Executive have already looked at proposals which were made by lay representatives, members of Parish Finance Committees, who met together a few months ago to look at our diocesan financial situation. Shortly a letter will be sent to all Parish Finance Committees asking the parishes to implement what has been proposed in order to become more self-reliant as a diocese. We also talked about the diocesan fundraising which had to be dropped this past year because of covid19. We decided to use the same format for 2021. I already contacted the Deans asking them to discuss it in their Deanery Pastoral Committees and let me know which date we are welcome somewhere in their deanery to address the people. Positive news is that the Priests’ house at J.P. II centre has been completed outside and inside apart from some small finishing-off work which has been taken care of by BBTP. We need of course still to furnish it including the electrical wiring. Some more security measurements had to be taken for the Bishop’s house as some burglaries happened these past months; some have been installed already like a fence all around the property is being constructed at the moment (partly financed by the cathedral community). Special collections for 2019 were quite good but in 2020 a number of parishes failed to forward the monies (even before the covid19 lockdown). When lockdown struck, little money was still forwarded to the diocese.
SACOP matters will always be part of the agenda of any Presbyteral Council meeting. During a meeting of the SACBC SACOP Executive a decision was made that SACOP should take root at diocesan level. A meeting had been planned on Metropolitan Province level but it had to be cancelled because of covid19 but they recently had a virtual meeting. Fr. Sifiso is keeping in touch with diocesan SACOP delegates within our Metropolitan Province. Hand-over from the previous SACOP structure has not been done yet. A proposal was made that in order to run SACOP each Priest contribute R200.00 annually.
The diocesan ongoing formation committee has still to work out a program for 2021. They were asked to integrate the following: a catechetical study day and a workshop on the Professional Conduct booklets. From the Diocesan Priests’ side there is a proposal to spend a few days together for reflection and sharing.
2021 is the year for elections of members for new PPCs and PFCs. We decided to go ahead with these elections in the course of 2021. The Bishop is to send out a letter officially announcing these elections. Because of this one can only have the diocesan launching and workshop of the new Pastoral Plan once new committees have been installed. It could take place at the occasion of the 2021 DPC meeting in the second half of the year. Meanwhile parish communities should be reminded about implementing last DPC’s resolutions.
Fr. Dikotsi presented a request to organize and launch the Southern African Union of Catholic Women’s Organisation (SAUCWO) in all dioceses of SACBC. This is a request coming jointly from the St. Anne Sodality and the Catholic Women’s League. The request has already been presented to and has been accepted by Archbishop Zolile Mpambani, who is heading the SACBC Department for Laity. It is now up to each and every diocese to grant permission for such a launching in 2022. The aim is to unite all Catholic women, whatever Sodality they belong to and even those who are not members of a Sodality, to work together.
Fr. Sakhi Mofokeng has accepted to take over from Fr. Lucky Khumalo as coordinator of deanery Youth Chaplains.
I want to express condolences to the Sisters of the Fraternity of the Daughters of St. Francis (F.S.F.) for the great loss they experienced recently having to bury eleven of their Port Shepstone community due to covid19. Others are still in hospital or sick at the convent. Let’s pray that they may recover. Fr. Bangizwe Khoza’a mother also passed away. Condolences to him and the Khoza family. May their souls rest in peace.
Though the whole celebration of the jubilee of 25 years of religious life of Sr. Imelda, CSP, and of the final vows of Srs. Maria Pio, Bridget and Immaculate, CSP, in Reitz was limited to only some family members and Sisters and Priests, it was a nice, more intimate, celebration in their own chapel. The Sisters themselves formed the choir and sang very well.
I was present at the celebration of Deacon Vincent Mohlaping’s 40 year jubilee of faith ful service as a Deacon in Bethlehem diocese: a moment to say thanks to Deacon Vincent and may the Lord continue to bless him in his service.
Fr. Sifiso Thusi finally could celebrate his jubilee of 10 years of Priesthood in this diocese in the presence of a number of his fellow Priests and friends at Rosendal. Fr. Sifiso, thank you and may the Lord give you many more years of Priestly service.
We still could celebrate the Feast of Christmas and of the Holy Family but after that we had to abide to the level 3 lockdown measures and close the churches for public worship. Let’s hope that President Ramaphosa can announce good news on the 14th of January, allowed by a drop of covid19 infections and deaths, and that we can re-open our churches.
What is already sure is that the SACBC Plenary session will be held virtually. Sr. Catherine also told me that the ‘Echoes’ sessions with the catechists, organised for this month will not be able to take place.
To the Seminarians who, after the completion of their seminary studies, were appointed to various parishes, I hope that you enjoyed your pastoral experience so far and I wish you much growth as you are looking forward to your diaconate and priestly ordination. I am looking forward to meet with those who will soon return to the seminary: our meeting is planned for 10-11 January. You are invited for supper at Bishop’s house on the 10th (arrival at 17h00) and will then proceed to J.P. II centre for the meeting which will finish with a meeting with some of the members of Vocation Prayer groups on the 11th of January.
The Bethlehem Farm of Hope got another missionary (volunteer) from Kenya by the name of Lincoln. Another volunteer is still expected in the near future. Fr. Fabiano is surely delighted with this support. He himself has planned a month’s homeleave in Brazil.. I hope that he can travel safely, notwithstanding all the covid19 travel measures, and also will be able to return in a month’s time. The number of persons seeking therapy at Fazenda has now risen to five. The last-added building – a hall attached to the present chapel which, if needed, can also be used as a chapel – is now being completed (putting tiles and ceiling, plastering the walls and installing windows). They had a very nice end-of-year celebration with a braai, lots of singing and dancing and all without a single drop of alcohol (unheard of but possible in Fazenda).
I am making a start, with the help of Frs. Khahliso and Tumelo in getting involved in social media communication like sending out a video message and a streamlined Mass. It’s not yet perfect but we are getting there.
Each year a special Family Year Planner or Calendar is produced. This year’s 2021 calendar has as theme ‘Our World – A Family of Families’. The theme for the year allows family life and creation to be foundational topics as they are used month by month on the Year Planner and it opens possibilities for formation and catechesis, reflection and sharing. For January the theme is ‘Family Beginnings’. ‘In the beginning ….’ Are the first words of the bible. In the beginning there was only God but God had a passion to create, to share, to love and so everything came into being. Humankind was given the task of being stewards of creation. That includes responsibility for our own families.
The Holy Father’s monthly intention for the month of January is ‘Human Fraternity’. May the Lord give us the grace to live in full fellowship with our brothers and sisters of other religions, praying for one another, open to all.
Feasts of Patron Saints of various churches in the diocese:
- 01st January, Mofumahadi wa Kgotso, at Bohlokong (Bethlehem parish)
- 21st January, St. Agnes, at Mamafubedu (Lindley parish)
- 31st January, St. John Bosco, at Bluegumbush (Phuthas parish)
Engagements of the bishop during the month of January:
- 10 to 11 January meeting with Seminarians at J.P. II centre
- 13th January, Sekwele Board meeting at Sekwele
- 14th January, meeting of Diocesan Finance Committee at Bishop’s house
- 20 to 23 January, virtual SACBC Plenary meeting
- 28th January, meeting of Diocesan Liturgical Committee at Bishop’s house
- 30th January, reflection day with Sisters of St. Paul at Reitz
Special Feast days
- Anniversary of Priestly Ordination of Fr. Mokesh Morar on 07th January
- Birthday of Bp. Jan De Groef on 07th January and of Dc. Vincent Mohlaping on 29th January
May the Lord bless them and fill them with His Joy, Mercy and Peace.
I wish you all a blessed New Year,
+Jan De Groef, M.Afr.
Bishop of Bethlehem