2016 Building Healthy Christian Families

Cir. 6/16

We have known a love that is prior to any of our own efforts,

a love that constantly opens doors, promotes and encourages.

(Pope Francis – The Joy of Love)

We need to learn to pray over our past history to accept ourselves,

to learn how to live with our limitations, and even to forgive ourselves.

(Pope Francis – The Joy of Love)

The truth is that family communion can only be preserved and perfected

through a great spirit of sacrifice.

(Pope Francis – The Joy of Love)

Dear Fathers and Deacons, dear Sisters, dear Seminarians, dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

This circular will span over two months due to my going on home leave but I still can be reached via internet.

Dear Seminarians, by this time you will be already scattered throughout the diocese for your parish assignments. I hope you will enjoy and appreciate this time in the parish so that the diocese really becomes your home in whatever parish you may work. Deacon Lerato will be going for a preparatory retreat just before his Priestly ordination which will take place at the Diocesan Marian Shrine at Tsheseng on Saturday 09th July. Invitations are being sent out and also letters asking for parish support towards the event. Let us encourage our parishioners to be generous but especially let us keep Lerato in our prayers.

Fr. Menyatso’s health remains stable though he has to go on with dialysis three times a week and taking medication. He had to spend a night and a day in hospital to receive a new line for dialysis. He also has an appointment with the eye specialist to see whether anything can be done to improve his eye sight. Fr. William Kaupa has agreed to take over the Diocesan Chaplaincy of Bana ba Maria. Fr. Buang went for a clinical operation which, thanks be to God and the successful intervention of the surgeon, succeeded well. Let us pray that he may recover speedily. Fr. Mokhesi’s sister passed away. May the Lord console the family, including Fr. Mokhesi, and may her soul rest in peace.

We gratefully welcome the new confrere of Fr. Emmanuel, Fr. Macjoe Akpan, MSP, who is joining him in Ficksburg parish. He started learning Sesotho in Qwaqwa helped by Deacon Vincent Mohlapeng. I wish him much courage and perseverance.

The Bethlehem Fazenda (Farm of Hope) is receiving very important visitors at the beginning of this month: Frei Hans and Nelson, the founders of Fazenda in Brazil. They want to see the Bethlehem Fazenda and want to discuss with us the process to get it really operative. Other volunteers for Fazenda are expected. One, Jandir Cossa from Brazil, has already arrived. I want to make you aware that the Social Awareness link persons, who attended the workshop organized at J.P. II, were given a questionnaire which ought to be distributed to youth and young adults so as to get some more insight about the need of re-habilitation for young people in our diocese. I hope that we shall get a good response. Please return the filled-in questionnaire to the diocesan office. If you did not see such a questionnaire please let me or Fr. Dekson know. We shall forward one to you.

The workshop for Social Awareness link persons held on Saturday 18th June was very well attended. All Bethlehem projects were also represented. I felt that there was a lot of active participation. Hopefully this will bear fruit so that our social-economic projects may be known more fully in our various local communities and that the collaboration with the parishes may be strengthened. Dear Priests and members of PPCs, if the link persons did not report yet, please remind them. This was the first task given to them.

Youth Day was celebrated either on deanery or parish level in a very meaningful way. I was present in Vrede where youth from the Mpumalanga deanery converged. At the end of Mass there was a lively address by a youth animator from Joburg Archdiocese, called Dillon, who shared with the youth about his own faith journey and Christian missionary commitment. Afterwards, in the hall of Ekwaluseni school, there were inputs from two persons who shared their experience of June 16th 1976. One wish of the youth, which was expressed at the youth gathering in Vrede but also at the link persons’ workshop – participants were youth and young adults for the larger part – is to be more actively involved in the life of the parish and that they may find a listening ear from the leaders.

On the 15th August Aymar and on the 15th September Foucaud, the two Fidesco volunteers, will leave us returning to their home country in France. In the name of you all I want to thank them wholeheartedly for their contribution to our diocesan projects of CCS and Fazenda but also for their inspiring missionary presence in our diocese. Both were living at the Bishop’s house. May the Lord bless them in their future aspirations and activities: Aymar will resume the Seminary in his home diocese in France starting his theological studies; Foucaud is hoping to be employed by a firm which has activities in Romania. Two other Fidesco volunteers, Paul and David, are already allotted to the same projects of CCS and Fazenda. They are in the process of acquiring visas. Let us hope and pray that they may get them without much delay.

I shall forward to you a list with the results of various collections. Some parishes do not seem to have contributed to some of them according to our findings or some more information was needed. Please contact the diocesan office. Please thank your parishioners for the effort. I shall also forward to you the list with the targets for the diocesan fundraising which will be offered at the closing ceremony of the Year of Mercy at the Marian Shrine in October.

What our Catholic schools in the diocese concerns, both Independent and Public Schools on Private Property, I have appointed Owner’s (Diocese’s) representatives for all schools: for St. Joseph’s (Ficksburg) and Tshebedisano (Mariadal) Deacon Benedict Mokheseng, for Ekwaluseni (Vrede) Fr. Anselm, for Sibonakaliso (near Warden) Fr. Lucky and for St. Benedict (Ladybrand) Fr. Mosebetsi. The Deed of Agreement turning St. Benedict school from an Independent into a Public School on Private Property, between the Department of Education and the Diocese of Bethlehem, has been signed. The official handing over of the Deed of Agreement is planned for 22nd August. Let us hope that the present Catholic Ethos may be upheld through the assistance of the School Governing Body.

In the month of August we shall be celebrating the Patron Feast of the Church in South Africa, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It has been the decision of the SACBC to celebrate it on the Sunday following the 15th of August which means on Sunday 21st August. I also want to remind you that we celebrate Bible Sunday on the last Sunday of August which means on the 28th. This would be the opportune Sunday for Lectors to be installed or renew the mandate for this ministry.

Let us pray for our Diocesan Priests who will have their annual retreat in the beginning of August at Coolock House in Natal.

On August the 09th we celebrate Women’s Day. Let us honour the women in today’s society who are the backbone of our society and Church. It is not easy to find a balance between family and work. In his Exhortation ‘The Joy of Love’ nr. 173 Pope Francis writes: “We acknowledge as legitimate and indeed desirable that women wish to study, work, develop their skills and have personal goals” but he also goes on writing: “The weakening of the maternal presence in the home with its feminine qualities poses a grave risk to our world”. In my opinion it is very indicative that Pope Francis elevated the Memorial of St. Mary Magdalen to a Feast to be celebrated on the 22nd July each year. I thereby instruct the clergy and the faithful to do so from now onwards.

As we are still going on with our goal of strengthening marriage and family life even in this Year of Mercy, let us implement what we find in the DPC resolutions like ‘to have a special time once a month in the family to have a home service of reconciliation (Deacon Mokheseng prepared such a service)’ and ‘visitation of families for healing and counselling of couples and families in crisis’. Another resolution dealing with long term marriage preparation concerns youth programs: ‘Have a discussion about the vocation of marriage with the youth. Have a married couple to share with them about their marriage and family life’. I encourage youth chaplains to take this up with the youth groups in your deanery. The Family Life theme for July is ‘Grandparents, Witnesses of Mercy’ and the one for August ‘Men and Women of Mercy’. As you can see, they focus on different groups within the family which all have to do their part to make the family a home witnessing to true love and mercy in their relationships with one another. Pope Francis in his Exhortation ‘The Joy of Love’ has a whole section about life in the wider family in chapter 5. I encourage you to have a look at it.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this circular letter I shall be taking my home leave starting this month on 11th July (departure) until 09th August (return to South Africa). Immediately following there is the Plenary session of the Bishops in Gaborone, Botswana, until 17th August. Please pray for the Bishops that they may be truly guided by the Holy Spirit in all their deliberations.

The Holy Father’s monthly intentions for the month of July and August are: the universal one ‘Indigenous Peoples’ that indigenous peoples, whose identity and very existence are threatened, will be shown true respect and ‘Sports’ that sports may be an opportunity for friendly encounters between peoples and may contribute to peace in the world. The one dealing with Evangelization is for July ‘Latin America and the Caribbean’ that the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean, by means of her mission to the continent, may announce the Gospel with renewed vigour and enthusiasm and for August ‘Living the Gospel’ that Christians may live the Gospel, giving witness to faith, honesty, and love of neighbour.

Feasts of Patron Saints of various churches during the month of July and August:

  • 13th July, St. Henry, Mafahlaneng at Reitz Parish
  • 26th July, St. Anna, Ntha at Lindley Parish
  • 01st August, St. Alphonsus Liguori, at farm Tripolitania (Ladybrand Parish)
  • 06th August, Kriste Lesedi la Ditjhaba, at Tshiame (Harrismith Parish) and St. Francis Xavier, at Tebeng (Phuthaditjhaba Parish)
  • 14th August, St. Maximilian Kolbe, at Letshalemaduke (Makeneng Parish)
  • 15th August, The Assumption of Mary, at Makwane (Phuthaditjhaba Parish)
  • 17th August, Blessed Isidore Bakanja, at Maqheleng (Ficksburg Parish)
  • 18th August, St. Helen, at farm Kommandonek (Ficksburg Parish)
  • 21st August, St. Pius, at Manyatseng (Ladybrand Parish)
  • 23rd August, St. Rose of Lima, at Mautse (Senekal Parish)
  • 27th August, St. Monica, at Petsana (Reitz Parish)

Engagements of the bishop during the month of July and August

  • 01st July Metropolitan Bishops’ meeting at Lumko, Benoni
  • 02nd July Diocesan Catechetical Commission meeting at Kelleter hall
  • 05th July meeting concerning Fazenda at Bishop’s house
  • 09th July Priestly Ordination of Lerato at Marian Shrine, Tsheseng
  • 11th July till 09th August home leave in Belgium
  • 10th August till 17th August Plenary of SACBC in Gaborone, Botswana
  • 19th August CCS Board meeting
  • 20th August meeting of Board of Governors schools at Ficksburg
  • 22nd August official hand-over Deed of Agreement at St. Benedict school
  • 23rd August meeting of Deans at Bishop’s house
  • 23rd August meeting of DPC Executive at Bishop’s house
  • 24th August meeting of Year of Mercy sub-committee at Bishop’s house
  • 25th August meeting of Social Awareness committee at Sekwele
  • 25th August meeting of Diocesan Justice and Peace committee at Bishop’s house
  • 26th August Sekwele Board meeting
  • 27th August participation in Lay Leaders’ Conference in Joburg Archdiocese

Special Feast days

  • Anniversary of Diaconate Ordination of Dc. John Bosco Leluka on 10th August and of Dc. Benedict Mokheseng on 11th
  • Anniversary of Priestly Ordination of Fr. Emmanuel Agborg, MSP, on 01st July; of Bp. Jan De Groef, M.Afr., on 07th July; of Fr. Buang Mofokeng on 11th August; of Fr. Khahliso Mofokeng on 20th August and of Fr. William Kaupa on 27th
  • Birthday of Bp. Teddy Kumalo on 02nd July; of Sr. M Victoria Seale, CSP, on 08th July; of Srs. M Scholastica Maphepha, CSP, and M Crescentia Matlala, CSP, on 10th July; of Dc. Benedict Mokheseng on 13th July; of Sr. Innes Khumalo, FSF, on 18th July; of Sr. M Theresa Ngubeni, CSP, on 25th July; of Fr. Lekhotla Papi Atoro on 27th July; of Dc. John Bosco Leluka on 10th August; of Sr. M Beatrix Khubelu, CSP, on 15th August; of Sr. Justina Matsabisa, SCIM, on 16th August; of Sr. Constantia Sebabatso, CSP, on 19th August; of Msgr. Gregory Van Dyk on 22nd August; of Sr. M Christophora Lephoto, CSP, on 23rd August; of Sr. M Raphaela Khoele, CSP, on 29th

May the Lord bless them and fill them with His Joy and Peace.

Prayer for the Women of Southern Africa

Almighty God, You are father and mother to us, your children.

We thank you for the particular and special gifts you have given to women, the gift of nurturing life, of sustaining and supporting life, the qualities of compassion, commitment, generosity and a willingness to share.

As they progress towards their rightful place in society we request your blessing on all women that they may continue also to hold their rightful place in the family, that women and men together may build a society which will bring about the Kingdom You have promised us.

We call on Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who nurtured and cared for her son and now reigns with Him in heaven to inspire the women of South Africa, to pray with them in their joys and in their struggles and to intercede for them with her Son.

Mary, Queen assumed into heaven, patroness of South Africa, pray for us. Amen

+Jan De Groef, M.Afr.

Bishop of Bethlehem



2016 Building Healthy Christian Families

Cir. 5/16

True love frees us from the sour taste of envy.

It recognizes that everyone has different gifts and a unique path in life.

(Pope Francis – The Joy of Love)

What really makes us important is a love that understands,

shows concern, and embraces the weak.

(Pope Francis – The Joy of Love)

Love lets us experience the grandeur of spending ourselves unstintingly,

without asking to be repaid, purely for the pleasure of giving and serving.

(Pope Francis – The Joy of Love)

Dear Fathers and Deacons, dear Sisters, dear Seminarians, dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

First of all some news about Fr. Menyatso. He has become a resident at Bishop’s house having to go three times a week for dialysis. He also must follow a strict diet. Together with Srs. Veronica and Martina, Frs. Fons, and George and myself we try to help him. As Fr. Menyatso is not able, at least for the time being, to take care of the tasks attributed to him I have asked some of the Priests to take over from him: Fr. Tsolo will be the linkperson between the Priests and the Diocesan Catechetical Committee and Fr. Dikotsi will be the diocesan chaplain of the St. Anne’s and Kemolo Sodality. Also the Principal of Sibonakaliso school, Ms. Rekha Mathew, had to undergo a very serious operation at Mediclinic but she is now back home and slowly recovering. Let us keep both in our prayers.

If some parishes did not bring in the moneys of the Lenten and Good Friday special collections it is more than high time to do so. I would like to remind you that all throughout June we have the special collection of St. Peter’s Pence which benefits the universal works of mercy of the Church worldwide. I also would like to make you aware of the Diocesan fundraising which normally is expected some time in September. For this year of Mercy I find it opportune to have it when we are all together at the Marian shrine concluding the Year of Mercy on diocesan level on Saturday 08th October. Please did not wait until the last moment. It should not interfere with the PMS collection.

I would like to share the good news that the Provincial of the Southern African Province of the Missionaries of Africa, Fr. Stan Lubungo from Zambia, has been chosen to be the new Superior General in Rome. The previous Superior General, Richard Baawobr from Ghana, has been ordained as the Bishop of Wa in Ghana. Let us pray for both of them.

We are still progressing slowly in getting the Bethlehem Facenda up and running having it officially recognized as a centre for rehabilitation. Fr. Dekson is now back after a short visit to his home country. He was able to finally extend his residence visa. Some more volunteers are expected in the near future. Two M.Afr. seminarians will come for a couple of weeks this month to help to build a piggery. Also the Fidesco volunteer, Aymar, will give a hand.

A big concern is our Catholic schools in the diocese. The conversion process of St. Benedict Intermediate school in Ladybrand will hopefully soon come to its completion. Only the finalization of the Deed of Agreement – signing included – is still outstanding. As I said in my last circular we had the first meeting of the Board of Governors for the schools of Ekwaluseni and St. Joseph’s. We mainly looked at the constitution making some changes and additions. Next time they will meet in Ficksburg. Together with Dc. Benedict Mokheseng I am still visiting the schools, meeting with learners and staff. In my opinion there is a very good atmosphere both of learning and of Christian witness. A special thanks to the Principals and staff.

Dear Seminarians, I hope you will enjoy your winter holidays in the diocese partly at home and partly in one or other parish (for 2 weeks) rendering some service and gaining some experience. I heard that Danny and Cliff arrived already but to all of you: welcome home. You are expected in your parishes of assignment by the 04th July and ending on Saturday 16th July. You are assigned as follows: Makibi to Vrede, Lucky and Danny to Phuthas, Mohapi to Reitz, Pablo to Harrismith, Ntefane to Frankfort and Thabiso to Ficksburg. Depending on the response of the Priests and congregations (bans are to be read out from the first Sunday of June onwards) Dc. Lerato Mokoena will be ordained Priest on Saturday 09th July at Phuthas but more information will follow.

During this month we celebrate some important feasts of the liturgical year (as indicated on the list sent out to you in the beginning of the year). On Sunday 05th June we celebrate the Sacred Heart of Jesus and on the following Sunday 12th June the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The latter is the feast of our Diocese’s Patron when we are invited to pray that, together with our parishioners, we may join our hearts with hers.

June 16th surely remains a special day for the youth of South Africa. In our diocese it will be celebrated on local level. I shall be present at the celebrations in Vrede parish. We should not forget that our youth come, in the first place, from families. The Family Life theme for this month takes up not only family and youth but also mercy: ‘Youth for Mercy’. It is the duty of families to provide and educate their young ones while also teaching them responsibility. It is a time of formation for mercy – it does not come automatically – as youth learn the deep meaning of special theme for World Youth Day ‘Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy’. I want to remind you that Fr. Leuta is now responsible for Family Life ministry in the diocese (Sekwele will take up a number of activities supporting family life ministry) and Fr. Lucky remains the diocesan coordinator for the youth.

I would like to encourage all Priests and PPCs to make sure that you have parish linkpersons for Social Awareness. Sekwele together with CCS are organizing a workshop on Saturday 18th June at J.P. II (from 8h30 till 14h00) to help those persons – we very much advocate that you send two persons per parish – to understand their task and how to execute it.

I want to share the good news that the last diocese (vicariate) in SACBC still lacking a Bishop, Ingwavuma, will get one on Saturday 25th June in the person of Fr. Mandla Jwara, CMM. I shall be attending his episcopal ordination at Riverview (Mtubatuba). Let us keep him in our prayers.

The last week of June I shall participate, together with Frs. Dikotsi and Cyprian, in the Canon Law Convention at Lumko centre dealing with the Motu Proprio of Pope Francis concerning marriage annulments.

The Holy Father’s monthly intentions for the month of June are: the universal one ‘Human Solidarity’ that the aged, marginalized, and those who have no one may find – even in the huge cities of the world – opportunities for encounter and solidarity and the one dealing with Evangelization ‘Seminarians and Novices’ that seminarians and men and women entering religious life may have mentors who live the joy of the Gospel and prepare them wisely for their mission.

Feast of the Patron Saints of various churches in the diocese:

  • 03rd June, Uganda Martyrs, at Matebeleng (Phuthaditjhaba parish) and at Moemaneng (Clocolan parish)
  • 03rd June, St. Kizito, at Bohlokong (Bethlehem parish)
  • 05th June, St. Boniface, at Boditho (Clocolan parish)
  • 09th June, Sacred Heart, at Leratswana (Lindley parish)
  • 24th June, St. John the Baptist, at Tshiame A (Harrismith parish)
  • 29th June, St. Paul, at Thembalihle (vrede parish) and at Frankfort
  • 29th June, St. Peter, at Harrismith

Engagements of the bishop during the month of June:

  • 02nd June, meeting of Free State CBE (Catholic Board of Education) at Kroonstad
  • 03rd June, visit to Mariadal school
  • 06th June, meeting with rector of St. John Vianney Major Seminary and meeting with seminarians at Pretoria.
  • 07th June, meeting of Department of Laity at Khanya house, Pretoria
  • 08th June meeting with Dioc. Liturgical Committee together with sub-committee for Year of Mercy at Bishop’s house
  • 08th June, J.P. II Board meeting
  • 09th June, meeting with Department of Education in Bloemfontein
  • 10th June, meeting of Sekwele Board
  • 11th June, meeting of Focolare Council in Joburg
  • 12th June, help with Masses in Makeneng parish
  • 15th June, meeting with Permanent Deacons at Bishop’s house
  • 16th June, participation in Youth day in Vrede
  • 18th June, workshop linkpersons Social Awareness at J.P. II
  • 19th June, help with Masses in Makeneng parish
  • 23rd June, meeting with Fidesco volunteers at CCS
  • 25th June, Episcopal ordination of Fr. Mandla Jwara at Riverview, Mtubatuba
  • 27th till 30th June, participation in Canon Law Covention at Lumko centre, Joburg
  • 01st July, Metropolitan meeting at Lumko centre, Joburg

Special Feast days

  • Anniversary of Episcopal Ordination of Bp. Teddy Kumalo on 07th June
  • Anniversary of Priestly Ordination of Fr. Adrien Hebert, CSSp, on 04th June; of Bp. Emeritus Hubert Bucher on 29th
  • Birthdays of Sr. M. Lidwina Mosikili, CSP, on 02nd June; of Fr. Jean-Pierre Kapumet, CSSp, on 08th June; of Bp. Emeritus Hubert Bucher on 21st June; of Sr. M. Bernadette Ramakatane, CSP, on 29th

May the Lord bless them and fill them with His Joy and Peace.

In this winter time may we warm ourselves at the fire, emanating from the presence of Christ among us, revealed in love and mercy.



+Jan De Groef, M.Afr.

Bishop of Bethlehem


2016 Building Healthy Christian Families

Cir. 4/16

The bible is full of families, births, love stories and family crises.

This is true from Adam and Eve …… to the wedding feast of the Bride and the Lamb.

(Pope Francis – The Joy of Love, post Synod Exhortation on Family Life)

In difficult situations of need, the Church must be particularly concerned

to offer understanding, comfort and acceptance.

(Pope Francis – The Joy of Love, post Synod Exhortation on Family Life)

God’s love heals and transforms hardened hearts,

leading them back to the beginning through the way of the cross.

(Pope Francis – The Joy of Love, post Synod Exhortation on Family Life)

Dear Fathers and Deacons, dear Sisters, dear Seminarians, dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I would like to start this circular letter with a vote of thanks to all those involved in organizing the unveiling and blessing of the tombstones of Diocesan Priests buried in the J.P. II graveyard and of the remembrance stone for those who died and/or were buried outside the diocese. The families of the deceased Priests were well represented. The whole ceremony was conducted in a dignified manner expressing our faith in the Risen Christ, filled with hope bringing consolation and peace to the bereaved. A special thanks to Deacon Lerato in his first engagement as the MC for diocesan liturgical events.

We continue to pray for Fr. Menyatso who had to spend a few weeks in hospital, first in Qwaqwa and then in Bethlehem. His health condition has been seriously effected which has consequences for his future pastoral involvement. He will not be able to go back to the Marian shrine at Tsheseng. For the time being he is staying at Bishop’s house. For the time being I advise the Priests to accompany any parish group who wants to make a pilgrimage to the shrine so that they can benefit from the pastoral care expected.

I want to remind the Priests, and the PFCs through them, to send in the moneys of the Lenten and Good Friday special collection as well as the special collection taken on Vocation (Good Shepherd) Sunday. May I remind you as well of sending in the March head count figures. Only few parishes did so.

Though Bethlehem is a bit off the motorway a few confreres, Missionaries of Africa passed through. One of them was Jean Michel on his way to Merrivale formation house. Jean Michel and I were together for a few months during our stage in Tanzania and I was present at his ordination in Belgium having been ordained a few months before. Another confrere, Serge Boroto, whom I ordained in Bukavu, DRC, in December last year, also passed at Bishop’s house accompanied by some members of his extended family. It was a joy to be able to receive them. To all confreres, Missionaries of Africa, feel welcome. Bethlehem is also your home.

In the month of April we also received another Fazenda volunteer from Brazil, Fernando Silva. May the Lord bless his stay with us. Fr. Dekson went to his native country of the Philippines to renew his visa and driving license. I hope and pray that he will succeed within the period of his home leave and be with us again by the end of this month.

A joyful experience was my visit to St. Joseph’s school in Ficksburg. After Mass there was a whole programme where the learners of different grades presented one or other item showing how they put into practice the Catholic ethos of the school like for instance the importance of prayer and meditation. I must say that I was very impressed. Afterwards there was a short meeting with the teachers and members of the SGB. I am looking forward to visiting the other schools in the diocese. This month of May we shall have the first meeting of the newly established Board of Governors for the schools of Ekwaluseni, Vrede, and St. Joseph’s, Ficksburg, together.

Brother Tumelo will conclude his seminary training at the beginning of this month of May. After a short but well-deserved holiday he is expected for pastoral engagement in Bethlehem parish, Bohlokong. I hope that another pastoral insertion will help him on his way to the Diaconate and Priestly ordination. To the other Seminarians I would say as encouragement: look at your brothers, Lerato and Tumelo, how they reached the end of their seminary training and are now eager to get pastorally involved in the diocese. Though the training may seem long grow in your motivation and your response to the Lord who will complete what He has begun in you at his right time.

The past week I had a meeting with the sub-committee for the Year of Mercy and we came up with some proposals for activities during the remaining months and especially for the diocesan closing of the Year of Mercy. They will be discussed at our next Presbyteral Council meeting. We realized that quite a number of activities are taking place in parishes but unfortunately we did not get any reports nor photos about those events. Please send some report – even if only a few lines – and photos to Fr. Dikotsi, our linkperson with Rome for the Year of Mercy, and to Fr. Khahliso, our diocesan webmaster.

I appreciate very much the recent involvement of Sodalities to uplift and support life in the diocese: the Women of St. Anne contributed greatly to the tombstones for our deceased Diocesan Priests and the Men of St. Joseph together with their chaplain Fr. Leuta organized a men’s pilgrimage – for all men, not just for them – at the Marian shrine in order to celebrate together St. Joseph the Worker. I very much want to encourage all Sodalities to go on in this spirit.

From Ascension on Thursday 05th May (but in South Africa we celebrate this Solemnity on the following Sunday 08th May) till Pentecost we are invited to pray together with Christians of other Denominations for unity among Christians. I already sent to all Priests (via internet) and also distributed hard copies (also to Religious houses) of the prayer leaflet. Let us make use of it.

I sent already an SMS to all Priests working in parishes that we will skip this year the Pentecost sending ceremony at the cathedral for those baptized or received and confirmed during the Easter vigil. This does not mean however that you cannot organize that in your own parish in order to highlight the mission of all baptized Christians to be evangelizers and celebrate Pentecost as the birthday of the Church.

May is traditionally the month of Mary. Let us honour our heavenly mother asking for her intercession for our Diocese as we call her ‘Our Lady of Bethlehem’.

On the 31st May we shall have the second Presbyteral Council meeting of this year. We want to start in time at 09h30 so that we can finish in time. The previous day on the 30th May I shall meet with the consulters starting with lunch at 13h00.

This Bishops’ Conference, since a few years already, has dedicated the month of May for family and life and for this year we also see it in the light of the Year of Mercy. The theme chosen for this month is ‘Merciful Parenting and Family Care’. Parenting is a unique relationship, a pilgrim journey from birth to death. Pope Francis reminds us of what the Lord said: “do not judge and do not condemn” and he goes on saying: “accept the good in the child, forgive and give generously and freely.” Parents are called to practise and teach the Spiritual Works of Mercy also within the family as part of their parental obligation. In the month of May we celebrate two dates linked with family life: on Sunday 08th of May (Ascension) ‘Mothers’ Day’ and on the 15th May (Pentecost) ‘International Family Day’. Let us make use of such days – whether propagated by the Church or society at large – to highlight the importance of family life.

The Holy Father’s monthly intentions for the month of May are: the universal one ‘Women’ that in every country of the world, women may be honoured and respected and that their essential contribution to society may be highly esteemed and the one dealing with Evangelization ‘Holy Rosary for Evangelization and Peace’ that families, communities and groups may pray the Holy Rosary for evangelization and peace.

Feast of Patron Saints of various churches in the Diocese this month:

  • 01st May, St. Joseph the Worker, Riverside at Phuthas Parish
  • 03rd May, St. Philip the Apostle, Sehlajaneng at Makeneng Parish

Engagements of the bishop during the month of May

  • 03rd May till 06th May SACBC Board meeting in Pretoria
  • 07th May participation in St. Anne’s Central Deanery Prayer Day at St. Kizito, Bohlokong
  • 08th May assisting in Makeneng Parish with Masses
  • 09th May opening Mass chapter of Spiritans at J.P. II
  • 10th May participation in Diocesan Priests’ meeting in Harrismith
  • 10th May meeting of Board of Governors schools at Bishop’s house
  • 11th May Diocesan Liturgical Committee meeting at Bishop’s house
  • 11th May BBTP Board meeting at Bishop’s house
  • 12th May meeting of Social Awareness Committee at Sekwele followed by meeting of Diocesan Justice & Peace Committee at Bishop’s house
  • 13th May evening visit to Seminarians at Jt. John Vianney Major Seminary
  • 14th May meeting with Laity Council Executive at Lumko
  • 16th May input in SACBC Orientation Programme at Lumko
  • 18th May John Paul II centre Board meeting
  • 20th May CCS Board meeting at CCS
  • 22nd May assisting in Makeneng Parish with Masses
  • 25th May meeting with Deans at Bishop’s house
  • 25th May meeting of Executive of DPC at Bishop’s house
  • 27th May meeting with SMTs of schools at Bishop’s house
  • 28th May meeting with candidates confirmation Lindley Parish
  • 29th May confirmations Lindley Parish
  • 30th May meeting with consulters at Bishop’s house
  • 31st May Presbyteral Council meeting at J.P. II at 09h30

Special Feast days

  • Anniversary of Priestly Ordination of Fr. Bernard, CSSp, on 01st May; of Frs. Cyprian, Leuta and Sakhi on 13th
  • Birthday of Srs. M Paula and M Veronica, CSP, on 02nd May; of Sr. M Cassia, CSP, on 04th May; of Fr. Emmanuel, MSP, on 07th May; of Fr. William on 17th May; of Sr. M Gabriela, CSP, on 25th May; of Fr. Dikotsi on 27th

May the Lord bless them and fill them with His Joy and Peace.

As we celebrate the birthday of the Church on Pentecost may the Holy Spirit continue to guide the Church and fill us all with His gifts,


 +Jan De Groef, M.Afr.

Bishop of Bethlehem


2016  Building  Healthy  Christian  Families

Cir. 3/16

Mercy is the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person

who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters.

(Pope Francis – Daily messages by Jesuit Institute)

Dialogue, rational and respectful, is necessary

so that we open ourselves to receive God’s healing.

(From ‘A Call to overcome Racism’ SACBC pastoral letter)

Furthermore, we encourage this open dialogue at the level of our parishes,

availing parishioners of the opportunity to look at how people can grow

in positive appreciation of cultural diversity and how this is expressed

in the liturgy and other activities of the parish.

(From ‘A Call to overcome Racism’ SACBC pastoral letter)

Dear Fathers and Deacons, dear Sisters, dear Seminarians, dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We just celebrated Holy Week culminating in the Easter vigil and Easter Sunday. Perhaps it leaves us rather exhausted but full of a deep joy and peace in our hearts. Sunday 03rd April we celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday, which I celebrated with the youth gathered in our Marian shrine of Tsheseng, reminding us that our God is a Father of Mercy from whom Jesus Christ presents us the living face. Though I could not stay until the morning I was touched by the lively enthusiasm of the youth present, coming from most of our parishes. This year’s pilgrimage was particularly blessed with a young couple receiving the sacrament of marriage and another couple renewing their marriage vows in front of all the youth. What a shining example!

I remember gratefully our celebration of the Chrism Mass in the Marian shrine. How right it was to celebrate it there in this Year of Mercy. Thanks to all who gave so generously to the special Chrism Mass collection as a contribution to the expenses for the training of our Seminarians.

Recently the SACBC issued a pastoral letter with as heading ‘A Call to overcome Racism’. Just a couple of days ago I emailed a Sotho version of this letter (thanks to the efforts of Dc. Lerato). I suggest that you pin it up at the notice board in your various churches so that parishioners can take notice of it. The same was proposed for the DPC resolutions – I must say that I am somewhat disappointed not to see it yet on your notice boards. I feel that we are still a long way from that ‘mutual appreciation of our differences’ being eager to learn from one another and show interest in each other’s activities. If we do not take the opportunity to meet with each other we become foreigners to one another and prejudices and judgments easily crop up.

We have concluded the Lenten collection and I hope that the Good Friday collection for the Holy Land was also held. Please do not wait to send in the proceeds. It would be nice that this still happens before the Priests’ transfers of the10th April. Please send also the Mass head count figures of March to the diocesan office.

The AWR organized a few days of workshop/reflections at J.P. II this past week looking at various subjects like liturgy, consecrated life and Year of Mercy. Thank you Sisters for your attendance and thanks to all who gave inputs. I was happy to be with you for one Holy Mass celebration followed by supper.

Dear Seminarians, I hope that you too had a nice Holy Week and Easter celebration and feel rejuvenated to continue your seminary training. Know that you are not only in my thoughts and prayers but also of your Priests and Sisters and of the many members of the vocation prayer groups (I noticed in this year’s statistics that heir number has increased), especially now that Good Shepherd Sunday approaches. You can gage the concern of many parishioners from the generous Chrism Mass collection and the ongoing prayer for vocations at each Sunday Mass.

On the 17th April, the fourth Sunday of Easter, we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. We want to pray together with the Church worldwide for vocations, especially for the Priesthood and Consecrated Life. I thank and encourage the Vocation Prayer groups to continue with their ongoing prayer for vocations and spiritual support for our Seminarians, Novices and young people aspiring for Consecrated Life. On that Sunday there will be a special collection as another contribution to the expenses for seminary training. On Saturday 16th April there will be a Vocations Prayer groups’ workshop at Kelleter hall in Bethlehem. Please remind the members of your Vocation Prayer groups.

A few visits are announced. Bishop Emeritus Hubert Bucher, who recovered well after a serous clinical operation, will be at the Bishop’s house for a few days and Philippe and Anne, responsible for the Fidesco volunteers in Africa, will also stay for a couple of days. They want to see how the two volunteers, Foucaud and Aymar, working in our diocese are doing and discuss with us about their possible replacement when they conclude their stay with us in September this year.

As I announced already at the end of the Chrism Mass there will be a number of transfers of Priests on Sunday 10th April. I thank all Priests for their service in the diocese, and to those being transferred in particular I wish you much courage and dedication as you start anew in a new parish. May you experience joy and peace in your service building a climate of collaboration and trust. May the transfer run efficient and smooth. I have sent out electronically a new address list (a hard copy is in your pigeon holes at Bishop’s office) where the recent transfers are included.

Next to the transfers there are also a number of new appointments to various responsibilities. Fr. Tsolo will become the diocesan chaplain of Bongwana; Fr. Bangizwe has been asked to become a member of the Diocesan Finance Committee; Dc. Lerato was asked to become the new MC for all diocesan liturgical events and Fr. Leuta will take over from Fr. Lucky to animate the marriage and family ministry in the diocese. All these appointments come into effect on10th April.

I would like to encourage the men under your parishioners, in support of his invitation at the Chrism Mass, to take part in the Men’s Pilgrimage to Tsheseng on 30th April.

I would like to thank you for sending in the annual statistics which I already forward to Rome through the Nuncio. What transpires from it is a remarkable drop in the number of confirmations and also less marriages while there is a big increase in first communions and a slight increase in baptisms while there is also an increase in the total number or registered Catholics. A very positive sign of growth is the number of Catholics belonging to various Sodalities and other parish groups: the biggest increase was again Bongwana but also Bana ba Maria and youth association. The Kemolo Sodality increased considerably in numbers but also the St. Anne, St. Joseph and Sacred Heart Sodality.

As most of you will have heard – an invitation has already gone out – we shall have the blessing/unveiling of tombstones of Diocesan Priests buried in the J.P. II graveyard but also of a remembrance stone for the Diocesan Priests who died and/or were buried outside the diocese. The ceremony will take place at the J.P. II on Wednesday 27th April starting with Mass at 10h00. Still a heartfelt thanks to the St. Anne Sodality for funding the tombstones.

The weekend afterwards, on Saturday 30th April, one new Bishop will be ordained as the Auxiliary Bishop of Johannesburg Archdiocese. Quite a number of you know him, Bishop Elect Duncan Tsoke, who was until now the Vicar General. Let us pray that the Lord may bless him and strengthen him to take up this great responsibility. Unfortunately I will not be able to be present at his Episcopal Ordination. I asked Fr. Mosebetsi to represent me. I had already agreed before to ordain a Deacon, member of M.Afr., in Merrivale that same day.

The theme for Family Life for this month is ‘God’s Mercy is Divine Mercy’, chosen in light of Divine Mercy Sunday which we just celebrated. Sr. Faustina experienced Jesus as a fount of mercy and this led to the popular Divine Mercy devotion. Of course it also enters very well in the Year of Mercy Jubilee with as theme ‘Be merciful like the Father’ which challenges all of us to reflect on God’s divine mercy and imitate him first of all in family life but also reaching out to others in various need engaging ourselves in corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Last month I received an extract from an article which appeared in the Johannesburg Archdiocesan News pointing out that the ‘Pill’ used to avoid unwanted pregnancies is not only contraceptive but also abortive. The Catholic Church keeps up her total prohibition of all forms of artificial birth control but encourages couples to use the method of natural family regulation which has many advantages, graces and blessings that strengthen couples, who use this method, in their personal relationships.

I am happy to be able to inform you that we came finally to the conclusion – though the Deed of Agreement is still only in draft form – of the conversion process of St. Benedict school in Ladybrand becoming a Public School on Private Property.

The Holy Father’s monthly intentions for the month of April are: the universal one ‘Small Farmers’ that small farmers may receive a just reward for their precious labor and the one dealing with Evangelization ‘African Christians’ that Christians in Africa may give witness to love and faith in Jesus Christ amid political-religious conflicts.

Feast of Patron Saints of various churches in the Diocese this month:

29th April, St. Catherine, Tambo at Senekal Parish

Engagements of the bishop during the month of April:

02nd to 03rd April, participation in Youth Pilgrimage at Tsheseng

04th April, meeting with new SGB of St. Benedict school at Ladybrand

09th April, AGM of CCS at Kelleter hall

11th to 14th April visit of Fidesco leadership

15th to 17th April, visitation Ficksburg Parish

18th April, meeting with Missionary group at chancery Johannesburg and meeting with Fr. Mokesh and Mark Potterton at Bosco Youth Centre

23rd April, meeting with confirmation candidates at Harrismith

24th April, confirmations Harrismith Parish

26th April, meeting of Year of Mercy committee at Bishop’s house

27th April, Unveiling of tomb stones and remembrance stone deceased Diocesan Priests at J.P. II

30th April, Diaconate ordination at Merrivale, Natal

Special Feast days:

Anniversary of Priestly Ordination of Fr. Mokhesi Mokhesi on 12th April; of Fr. Sifiso Thusi on 17th April; of Fr. Dikotsi Mofokeng on 28th April.

Birthdays of Dc. Daniel Mofokeng on 01st April; of Fr. Mokhesi Mokhesi on 08th April; of Fr. Buang Mofokeng on 12th April; of Sr. Pio Eyo, CSP, on 26th April; of Fr. Sakhi Mofokeng on 27th April; of Fr. Adrian Hebert, CSSp, on 29th April.

May the Lord bless them and fill them with His Joy and Easter Peace,

Wishing you all a blessed time of Easter,

+Jan De Groef, M.Afr.

Bishop of Bethlehem


2016  Building  Healthy  Christian  Families

Cir. 2/16

May this Jubilee year eliminate every form of close-mindedness and disrespect

and drive out every form of violence and discrimination.

(Pope Francis – Daily messages by Jesuit Institute)

Justice and mercy are two dimensions of a single reality

That unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love.

(Pope Francis –Daily messages by Jesuit Institute)

God goes beyond justice with his mercy and forgiveness.

If God limited himself to justice, he would cease to be God.

(Pope Francis – Daily messages by Jesuit Institute)

You cannot come into God’s presence unreconciled with your brother;

reconciliation is the prerequisite for true worship of God.

(Pope Benedict XVI – Daily messages by Jesuit Institute)

Dear Fathers and Deacons, dear Sisters, dear Seminarians, dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The whole of February we were invited to remember Blessed Benedict Daswa, our first South African martyr. He can inspire us in many ways whatever our way of life as Priests, Deacons, Religious or Lay: his faithful commitment and zeal, a true witness of God’s love and mercy.

During the first Presbyteral Council this year on 01st March we shall get a reminder to start implementing the DPC resolutions (a hard copy shall be distributed) especially those for the first year (2016); many among them refer to the Year of Mercy. In order that our various communities do not forget about those resolutions one could pin them up on the notice board and refer to them from time to time and examine in how far they are being implemented. Prayer cards (unfortunately not yet in Zulu) and reflection booklets of the Year of Mercy, in different languages, are now also available: prayer cards at R1.00 each and booklets at R5.00 each. Let us encourage our people to use them personally but especially in various groups like in the family, in the blocks, at meetings of Sodalities and other parish groups. Our resolutions mention also social economic uplifting of our people. BBTP is one of the Bethlehem projects which offers skill training to young people. Unfortunately there are more from outside our diocese who presently make use of it. I distributed invitation letters at the Presbyteral Council meeting. Let us encourage young people from our own parish communities to use this opportunity and register.

The time of Lent which we started with Ash Wednesday should be even more precious to each one of us during this Year of Mercy. I would like to emphasize reception of the Sacrament of God’s Mercy: the sacrament of Confession or of Reconciliation, not just for others but also for ourselves. Priests should make sure that special times for confession are planned and announced. Pope Francis, in his bull of indiction of the extra-ordinary jubilee of mercy proposes another initiative of ’24 hours for the Lord’ to be celebrated on the Friday and Saturday preceding the 4th week of Lent. I am aware that we must take account of our own situation but perhaps there is a way of adapting it to suit our situation. I am also thinking of Women Religious in their respective convents. Part of this 24 hours could be a service of reconciliation including receiving the sacrament of reconciliation. Pope Francis in his message for Lent puts an emphasis on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It would be good to explain to our people what is meant by this and encourage them to engage themselves in such works. I alluded to this in my pastoral letter for Lent. Perhaps you could refresh people’s minds and your own re-reading this letter. One suggestion I made in the parishes where I went for visitation is to organise a pilgrimage to our Marian shrine in Tsheseng with the local parish community, Sodality or parish group and have a day of prayer receiving the special blessing when passing through the Holy Door. I am very happy to hear that a special pilgrimage is being organised for all men on 30th April this year. Let us encourage all men, whether they are members of Sodalities or not, to take part in this pilgrimage. Fr. Leuta distributed posters at out Presbyteral Council meeting.

I heard that the special closing celebration of the Year of Consecrated Life in Bethlehem parish on Sunday 07th February was really a great event. It was still planned with Fr. Mpho, who unfortunately died in a car accident on the first day of the year, but now was taken up by Fr. Tsolo in collaboration with Msgr. George and the AWR committee. Unfortunately I could not be present myself. I think that it also gave a boost to the Association of Women Religious (AWR) who have planned a number of activities this year like to be a few days together at J.P. II centre for renewal and formation for all Religious Sisters present in this diocese.

All Seminarians returned to their respective seminaries. Let us go on praying for them and, of course, you Seminarians to pray for the diocese, the family to which you belong. In my previous letter I announced that there would be two candidates starting a preparatory year at St. Ambrose Formation House near Durban. Unfortunately it is only one who finally made it: Lesetla Gabriel Lengoabala. Let us support him with our prayers.

The Diocesan Priests had their first meeting and recollection at J.P. II centre this past month. The preacher should have been Fr. Mpho but now was replaced by Fr. Bangizwe. A big thanks to him who, at a short notice, prepared a deep and inspired presentation which challenged us in many ways in our Priestly vocation. I am very grateful that I could participate in it. I discovered that tombstones for our deceased Priests were nicely installed at our J.P. II Priests’ grave yard. Thanks to all who contributed, specially the Sodality of St. Anne. We are looking forward to the celebration of the ‘Unveiling’.

As I wrote in my previous circular I could participate in the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines. All together we were 10 persons from South Africa. Among them was Fr. Buang. He told me that he was very grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in this congress. It was for us an eye opener to see such a vibrant expression of religiosity declaring openly there catholicity. Of course Catholics form the overall majority of the population of the Philippines (80%) though there are also a number of sects and on some islands quite a number of moslims. They see themselves as the backbone of the Church in Asia and are aware of their missionary calling entering in dialogue with the different religions present in that continent. I could stay one week longer visiting a Missionary of Africa community in Cebu. But I also visited a ‘Farm of Hope’ (Fazenda) on another island Masbate, which gave me some ideas how to support the farm of hope which has been started in our own diocese.

Finally all parishes contributed to the PMS special collection and again there was an increase this year. A final report will be emailed to all Priests. I encourage you to forward the moneys of the Provident Fund collection held on the first Sunday of Advent to the diocesan office. I am aware that the Lenten special collection is being held all over the diocese as one of the ways to live this time of Lent. Please do not forget to hold the Good Friday collection supporting our Catholic presence in the Holy Land reaching out to the needy witnessing of Christ’s love and mercy.

I would like to mention to you that our two schools which go up until matric, Sibonakaliso (Fatima) and the farm school at Breda, did very well. I appreciate the commitment of the staff and of others supporting those schools and hope they will go on doing well.

I would like to remind you that March is a head count month. Please do the head count wherever you celebrate Mass on the four Sundays of March and to forward the figures to the diocesan office speedily. I would also like to remind you that I am waiting for your statistics so as to be able to do my annual report for Rome.

We are all gearing up for Holy Week starting with Palm Sunday on 20th March. This year we shall celebrate the Chrism Mass at the Diocesan Marian shrine at Tsheseng where we installed the Holy Door, blessed and ceremoniously opened during the diocesan opening of the Year of Mercy. We start at 10h00 (expecting people to arrive before 10h00). Let us also invite our town communities.

The theme for Family Life for this month is ‘Mercy is Justice tempered with Love’. Pope Francis sees justice and mercy as two dimensions of a single reality reaching its highest level in the fullness of love. Use this time for the sacrament of Reconciliation. A simple reconciliation and family prayer meal can heal and commemorate the Eucharist at home (Ficksburg parish composed a nice reflection and prayer which I already emailed to the Priests) and prepare for the joy of experiencing the risen Lord.

The Holy Father’s monthly intentions for the month of March are: the universal one ‘Families in difficulty’ that families in need may receive the necessary support and that the children may grow up in healthy and peaceful environments and the one dealing with Evangelization ‘Persecuted Christians’ that those Christians who, on account of their faith, are discriminated against or are being persecuted, may remain strong and faithful to the Gospel, thanks to the incessant prayer of the Church.

Feast of Patron Saints of various churches in the Diocese this month:

19th March, St. Joseph, Zamini at Vrede Parish

Engagements of the bishop during the month of March

01st March Presbyteral Council meeting at J.P. II

02nd March BBTP Board meeting at Bishop’s house

06th March assisting for Masses at Bethlehem Parish (Bohlokong)

13th March assisting for Masses at Bethlehem Parish (Bohlokong)

14th March meeting with SMTs Independent Schools at Bishop’s house

16th March meeting with Permanent Deacons at Bishop’s house

16th March Diocesan Financial Committee meeting at Bishop’s house

17th March meeting with Fidesco volunteers at CCS

20th March Palm Sunday celebration at Bakenpark

23rd March Chrism Mass at Tsheseng

24th March Holy Thursday assisting in Lindley Parish

25th March Good Friday assisting in Lindley Parish

26th March Easter Vigil at Tsoalong

27th March Easter Mass with confirmations at cathedral

Special Feast days

Anniversary of Episcopal Ordination of Bishop Emeritus Hubert Bucher on 27th March and of Bishop Jan De Groef on 28th March.

Birthday of Sr. Agatha Lepolesa, SNJM, on 05th March; of Fr. Lucky Mahlomola Khumalo on 09th March; of Fr. Ngondo on 12th March; of Fr. Leuta Lengoabala on 19th March; of Sr. M Avellina Kori, CSP, on 22nd March; of Sr. M Martina Mofokeng, CSP, on 23rd March; of Fr. Stanley Bangizwe Khoza on 28th March.

May the Lord bless them and fill them with His Joy and Peace.

I wish you all a fruitful time of Lent, Holy Week and Easter,

+Jan De Groef, M.Afr.

Bishop of Bethlehem

Diocesan regulation concerning the Kemolo Sodality

Bethlehem, 22/02/2015

To all Priests, Religious and Laity, especially members of the Kemolo Sodality and those aspiring to become members,

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I first of all want to refer back to the regulation I wrote on the 20th December 2014 explaining the reasons why I asked to stall any plans for accepting candidates or installing members outside the Parish of Ficksburg. Meanwhile there was an inquiry by Priests who were asked to have a look at the Kemolo constitution (Canon Law requirement, see Canon 314 and Canon 304#1) and their performance in Ficksburg Parish and they reported to the Presbyteral Council meeting held on 17th February 2015. Their report was positive and they recommended to allow this Sodality to operate throughout the Diocese. After some discussion most of the Priests and Deacons expressed their approval.

In the light of this I, as Bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem officially agree that from now on the Kemolo Sodality may be propagated throughout the Diocese (see Canon nr. 312#2) after due dialogue with the Parish Priests who, together with the Parish Pastoral Council, will look at the viability of a new Sodality in their Parish. It is understood that for any visit or animation in a particular Parish one must follow the proper procedures.

I would like however to voice a few precautions. The first one is a waming against over-zealousness in wanting to establish the Sodality in all Parishes all at once. This would be a step towards disaster. Everything must be properly planned taking into account the viability of such a group in a particular Parish. Hand in hand with starting a group there must be proper formation and follow-up. The second precaution is conceming leadership. A movement or a Sodality without proper leadership will easily go astray. I approached Fr. Menyatso to guide the Sodality in this respect (see Canon 317#1). Until now there are no diocesan or deanery structures and these can only be gradually formed. This is one more reason to ask the Parish Priests, who would liaise with Fr. Menyatso, to guide the growth of the Sodality in our Diocese of Bethlehem. Fr. Menyatso is also in charge of the Diocesan Marian shrine and I felt that the Sodality of Kemolo, as part of their Marian focus, could get more involved in the propagation of the shrine (see Canon 301112). The third precaution is to look to it that the Kemolo Sodality in our Diocese follows the constitution recognized by the Bishops of South Africa (I hereby refer to the one produced in Klerksdorp Diocese) and not any other constitution.

I do not want to quench the fire which the present members of the Kemolo Sodality want to see buming in many places but I would like to ensure that it is firmly rooted in our Diocese right from the start and that it may contribute to the life of the diocesan family.

Wishing you all a fmitful time of Lent,

+Jan De Groef, M.Afr,

Bishop of Bethlehem


2016 Building Healthy Christian Families

It is essential for the Church and for the credibility of her message
that she herself live and testify to mercy.
(From Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy)

The Church wants to show herself as loving mother to all;
patient, kind, moved by compassion and goodness.
(Pope Francis quoting St. John XXIII)

The signs Jesus works …. In the face of sinners, the poor, the marginalised,
the sick and the suffering, are all meant to teach mercy.
(From Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy)

In the parable of the Prodigal Son we find the core of the gospel,
because mercy is presented as a force that overcomes everything.
(From Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy)


Dear Fathers and Deacons, dear Sisters, dear Seminarians, dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This is my first circular of this new year 2016 – a double one as it includes also February – and I want to start with wishing you all a blessed and joyful new year. I want to quote some words from the Pope’s message for the World Day of Peace, celebrated on 01st January: “God is not indifferent! God cares about mankind! God does not abandon us!” Pope Francis encourages us all to build a culture of solidarity and mercy to overcome indifference and this has to start in the family as he says himself: “I think first of families, which are called to a primary and vital mission of education. Families are the first place where the values of love and fraternity, togetherness and sharing, concern and care for others are lived out and handed on.” At the end of his message Pope Francis offers some examples of praiseworthy commitment which demonstrate how all of us can overcome indifference. He concludes saying: “Compassion, love, mercy and solidarity must become our true way of life, a rule of conduct in our relationships with one another. This requires a conversion of our hearts: the grace of God has to turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, open to others in authentic solidarity.” Let us make this our New Year resolution.

The Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita on the 08th February keeps us aware of the scourge of ‘Human Trafficking’ and, I hope, that our Justice & Peace groups will continue to remind us of being alert and active in our drive against it. Bishop Joao of Tzaneen diocese, where the beatification of Blessed Benedict Daswa took place last year, invites us to celebrate our first South African martyr on 01st February. He provided us with texts and prayers we could use for the Eucharistic celebration that day.

Everybody who was present will agree with me, I think, when I say that the opening of the Year of Mercy in our diocese on the 12th December at our Marian shrine in Tsheseng was a well-attended (however only few from our town communities turned up), joyful and meaningful celebration. Thanks to all who prepared and animated it. I hope that something happened as well in the parishes after that day and that ‘Mercy’ will be focused on in our pastoral programs all throughout the year. I shall in the course of the week forward to all parishes the resolutions of the last DPC meeting which also include the Year of Mercy during the first year.

Thank your people who contributed so generously to the PMS collection. Two parishes still have to send in their contributions. Please do so urgently. We also expect the moneys of the Provident Fund collection held on the first Sunday of Advent to come in during this month of January.

Thanks for your presence and support for the celebration of the Diaconate Ordination of Lerato Mokoena which took place on 21st December at the cathedral. I wish our new Deacon a fruitful apostolate in Ladybrand parish. Our Seminarians will be (or have been for some) involved in some pastoral work in a number of parishes (including helping with inventories). I hope that it will be a formative time for all of you and I am looking forward to meet with you at J.P. II centre starting on Sunday evening, 03rd January (be at Bishop’s house before 18h00) and finishing on Tuesday morning 05th January for our yearly meeting. Good news! We have two new candidates, Tshepang Vincent and Lesetla Gabriel, both from Bethlehem parish, who will start a preparatory year at St. Ambrose Formation House near Durban on 29th January. Let us support them with our prayers.

I already sent out a liturgical diocesan year program. Please let me have the year programs of Sodalities and Diocesan Committees as far as diocesan activities concerns so as to avoid clashes between various activities. Please do not wait planning with me concerning dates for confirmation and parish visitation (for those parishes I could not visit last year).
The Year of Consecrated Life which we started in February last year will come to a close with the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on 02nd February. This will be celebrated on Bishops’ Conference level in the Sacred Heart cathedral in Pretoria on Saturday 16th January during the Bishops’ Plenary. But on diocesan level there will be a special closing celebration in Bethlehem parish on Sunday 07th February. Let us give thanks to the Lord for the marvellous work done by Religious of various Congregations in our diocese. Let us be united too in prayer and thanksgiving with all those who will take or renew their temporal vows or make final vows these coming days, especially those belonging to Religious Congregations present in our diocese.
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, celebrated on Sunday 10th January, has always been a special day for the catechists known as Commissioning Sunday. From this year onwards, catechists, who have been selected for this service in the Church, will make a temporary commitment in all parishes throughout the diocese. They will then be monitored in their performance by the Parish Priest and those in charge of catechesis on parish and diocesan level and eventually will make a full commitment either on Easter or Pentecost. To have capable and committed catechists is of prime importance for the faith growth of our adult catechumens, our children and youth who are being catechized. Let us pray for them and support them.

As already indicated in my previous circular Priests in our various parishes are asked to organise the World Day of Prayer for the Sick and the Health Care Givers in their parish on Sunday 14th February which is also the first Sunday of Lent.

This year Lent starts early. We start this precious time, even more precious during this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, with Ash Wednesday on 10th February. This time has been singled out to organize activities on parish level celebrating the Year of Mercy. I shall forward to all Priests the Lenten message of Pope Francis in due time. Let us also remember to encourage our people to contribute to the Lenten collection as one of the ways to live this special time. Lenten material will be available at the diocesan office.

We shall have our first Presbyteral Council meeting on Tuesday, 01st March, a bit later than usual because of my participation in the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu from 22nd January till 08th February.

I shall be participating in the SACBC Plenary session from Thursday 14th till Thursday 21st January. Part of the agenda is elections for various departments and offices. I ask for your prayers that we, bishops, may be truly guided by the Holy Spirit.

The year theme for Family Life is chosen in the light of the Year of Mercy: ‘Building Homes of Merciful Love’. January has as theme ‘Merciful Love. A New Vision’ which is the vision of Jesus Christ who is the face of the Father’s mercy. A practical tip for the month: add an image depicting Christ – it could be also a Divine Mercy poster – at the family’s prayer corner at the home. February has as theme ‘Love is at the Heart of Mercy’ recognizing that families need healing from wounds inflicted through selfishness and lack of kindness and tenderness. Let us intensify our actions of charity in the spirit of Lent (corporal and spiritual works of mercy) and reflections on Scripture as Pope Francis suggests (making use of the SACBC reflection booklet) and ask for the intercession of Blessed Benedict Daswa.

The Holy Father’s monthly intentions for the month of January are: the universal one that sincere dialogue among men and women of different faiths may produce the fruits of peace and justice and the one dealing with Evangelization ‘Christian Unity’ that by means of dialogue and fraternal charity and with the grace of the Holy Spirit, Christians may overcome divisions. Those for February are: the universal one ‘Care for Creation’ that we may take good care of creation – a gift freely given – cultivating and protecting it for future generations and the one dealing with Evangelization ‘Asia’ that opportunities may increase for dialogue and encounter between the Christian faith and the peoples of Asia.

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 months of January and February
03rd January Mass at the cathedral
03rd till 05th January meeting with Seminarians at J.P. II centre
05th January special meeting with consulters at Bishop’s house
05th and 06th January participation in AGM of Sacred Heart at St. John Vianney Major Seminary, Pretoria
07th January meeting of Department of Laity at Khanya house, Pretoria
08th January meeting Sotho translators at Bishop’s house
09th till 10th January visitation and confirmations at Reitz parish
12th January meeting with Department of Education in Bloemfontein
12th till 13th January participation in meeting of Missionaries of Africa in Hartebeest
14th till 21st January SACBC Plenary at St. John Vianney Major Seminary, Pretoria
22nd January till 02nd February participation in International Eucharistic Congress at Cebu, Philippines
02nd till 07th February visit Missionaries of Africa at Cebu and Farm of Hope at
09th February BBTP Board meeting at Bishop’s house
10th February Ash Wednesday liturgy at cathedral
11th February meeting of Social Awareness Committee at Sekwele and of Justice & Peace Committee at Bishop’s house
12th February CCS Board meeting at CCS
12th till 14th February visitation of Lindley parish
15th February meeting of Missionary group at chancery Johannesburg
16th February Sekwele Board meeting
16th February John Paul II Board meeting
17th February meeting with Deans at Bishop’s house
17th February meeting of Executive DPC at Bishop’s house
18th February meeting of CBE Free State at J.P. II centre
19th February meeting of Diocesan Liturgical Committee at Bishop’s house
23rd February participation in reflection day of Priests at J.P. II centre
24th February participation in Diocesan Priests’ meeting at J.P. II centre
26th till 27th February meeting of Laity Council at Lumko, Benoni
29th February meeting with consulters at Bishop’s house

Special Feast days
Anniversary of Priestly Ordination Fr. Mokesh Morar on 07th January; of Fr. Lekhotla Papi Atoro on 21st February.
Birthday of Bp. Jan De Groef on 07th January; of Fr. Mpho Mona on 25th January; of Dc. Vincent Mohlaping on 29th January; of Sr. M Michaela Masijane, CSP, on 02nd February; of Sr. M Dominica Seotlo, CSP, on 13th February; of Sr. M Lioba Motjotji, CSP, on 26th February.
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


2015 Building Healthy Christian Families

The Church was encouraged to open her doors,

to go forth with the Lord towards His sons and daughters who walk together,

at times uncertain, at times lost, in these difficult times.

Christian families in particular,

have been encouraged to open the door to the Lord Who waits to enter, bringing His blessing.

But the Lord never forces the door,

He asks permission to enter through ours, although His doors are always open.

(From a talk of Pope Francis at the general audience, 18th November 2015)

We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy.

(Daily Messages sent by Jesuit Institute – Pope Francis)

Mercy is the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us.

(Daily Messages sent by Jesuit Institute – Pope Francis)

Dear Fathers and Deacons, dear Sisters, dear Seminarians, dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

This is my last circular this year introducing the special time of Advent and also the special Jubilee Year of Mercy.

On the 25th November we had the last Presbyteral Council meeting with a few special items as an explanation about the ‘Farms of Hope’ which have a special rehabilitation program for people with addiction (included a DVD presentation) conducted by Fr. Dekson, manager of our emerging farm of hope in Bethlehem Diocese, and a short prayer service at the Priests’ graveyard at John Paul II. Another item on the agenda was the ratification of the September DPC recommendations. I shall forward them to you as resolutions in the beginning of next year. We concluded the meeting with a traditional braai.

The big event during this month of December will be the opening of the Year of Mercy first on Diocesan level on the 12th December at our Marian shrine in Tsheseng (from 08h00 onwards) and then the day afterwards on Sunday 13th December at Parish level. In preparation of this day and of the Year of Mercy I wrote a pastoral letter which should be read (or commented on) before the opening. The February Day of the Sick will only take place on Parish level. On Diocesan level we integrate the prayer and anointing of the sick into the 12th December celebration. I hope that the preparations for this day have started in all Parishes so that people of all Parish communities, of all races, will gather in great numbers at our Marian shrine. Other suggestions were proposed for Parish activities to take up the Year of Mercy in their year plans. Just be creative.

I heard from Tebello that there are still 7 Parishes which did not forward their PMS collections. As it is now more than one month after the conclusion of that special collection please forward the moneys urgently. We receive so much help from PMS. It is only right and just that we send in the little we gather and do that in due time. I hope that you did not forget to hold the Advent Provident Fund collection on the first Sunday of Advent (this meant on the 29th November).

All our Seminarians have by now returned home enjoying some restful days at home. All will get their assignments to one or other Parish (we tried to involve Parishes in all 4 Deaneries) through Fr. Mosebetsi indicating place and time. I heard that three of you will also be helping at the mini WYD. I already planned to meet with you all at J.P. II from Sunday evening 03rd January till Tuesday morning 05th January (departure after breakfast). It is with great joy that I can announce that brother Lerato Mokoena has been proposed for the Diaconate. His Diaconate Ordination is planned for Monday 21st December at the cathedral. Let us keep him in our prayers.

Though the pastoral year is slowly rounding up looking forward to some deserved rest, youth from all over the country (over 40 from our own Diocese) will be gathering for a mini World Youth Day at Bosco Youth centre near Johannesburg from Thursday 03rd December till Sunday 06th December. Let us hope and pray that those participating in this event will return to their Parishes full of evangelizing zeal sharing whatever they gained with other youth.

This month’s Family Life theme ‘Committed Families lead to a Healthy Society’ challenges all family members: parents and children. If all family members worked at their communication, kept their promises and especially loved each other even if they did not feel loving we surely would be on the way to build a healthy society and we will be able to conclude the year in a spirit of thankfulness.

The Holy Father’s monthly intentions for the month of December are: the universal one ‘Experiencing God’s mercy’ that all may experience the mercy of God, who never tires of forgiving and the one dealing with Evangelization ‘Families’ that families, especially those who suffer, may find in the birth of Jesus a sign of certain hope.

Feasts of Patron Saints of various churches in the Diocese:

  • 08th December, Immaculate Conception, at Tsheseng, (Makeneng Parish)
  • 08th December, St. Mary Immaculate, at Ntabazwe, (Harrismith Parish)
  • 25th December, Tswalo ya Morena, at Bohlokong, (Bethlehem Parish)
  • 29th December, Holy Family, at Monontsha, (Makeneng Parish)

Engagements of the bishop during the month of December

  • 02nd December meeting and recollection Diocesan Liturgical Committee at Ficksburg
  • 03rd December participation in study day organized by the Johannesburg marriage tribunal
  • 03rd till 06th December participation in mini WYD at Bosco Youth centre
  • 12th December opening of the Year of Mercy at the Marian shrine, Tsheseng
  • 13th till 15th December participation in Mariapolis organized by Focolare at Assisi (Bloemfontein Archdiocese)
  • 20th December participation in thanksgiving Mass of Fr. Dikotsi at Kgotsong, Bethlehem
  • 21st December Diaconate Ordination of Lerato Mokoena at the cathedral
  • 23rd till 28th December preparation and Priestly Ordination of Serge Boroto in Bukavu

Special Feast days

  • Anniversary of Priestly Ordination of Fr. Mpho Mona on 09th December; of Fr. Menyatso Menyatso on 15th December
  • Birthday of Fr. Cyprian Agene on 05th December; of Sr. M Emmanuela Mokoena, CSP, on 08th December; of Sr. M Antonia Mokhethi, CSP, on 10th December; of Fr. Menyatso Menyatso on 12th December; of Sr. M Imelda Nkatlo, CSP, and Sr. Lydia Tlali, SNJM, on 13th December; of Sr. M Charles Mofokeng, CSP, on 21st December; of Sr. M Clara Motsoari, CSP, on 22nd December; of Msgr. George Wagner on 23rd December; of Sr. Catherine Owens, OP, on 24th December; of Sr. M Stephania Molofi, CSP, on 26th

May the Lord bless them and fill them with His Joy and Peace.

A fruitful time of Advent and a blessed Christmas and New Year to all of you.


 +Jan De Groef, M.Afr.

Bishop of Bethlehem


A Letter From Our Bishop

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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

When we speak about mercy what does it really mean? It should mean much more than some almsgiving, some act of charity to a beggar, although all of this can be part of it. First of all we have to look at the source of true and everlasting mercy: God, the most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Pope Francis writes in his letter (‘bull’) of proclamation (‘indiction’) of the extraordinary jubilee of mercy: ‘Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy’. It is this mercy which has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis writes: ‘Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved for ever despite our sinfulness’. Gazing, contemplating Jesus Christ as the face of God’s mercy (in prayer) we can become – writes Pope Francis – ‘a more effective sign of the Father’s merciful action in our lives’. Just as God is merciful, so we are called to be merciful to each other. The motto of this Jubilee Year of Mercy ‘Merciful like the Father’ very well points at this.

How can we live this jubilee? A number of events have been planned in Rome but Pope Francis challenges us to extend this to our own diocese and parishes. The Holy Year of Mercy is to start on the 08th December 2015 when we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The Pope will open a special door, called the Holy Door (which has been closed for several years), at St. Peter’s so that it may become a ‘Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instils hope’. But the following Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, he will open such a door in his own cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, and moreover he encourages all Bishops to open such a Holy Door somewhere in their diocese, be it at the cathedral or at a shrine frequented by large numbers of pilgrims. This is why we decided to have such a Door at our Marian shrine at Tsheseng which we will open on Saturday 12thDecember during our diocesan pilgrimage.

This should then spill over throughout the whole diocese in the various parishes and Christian communities. I very much encourage all Priests together with their liturgical committees and parish and local councils to be creative and organize activities which highlight God’s Mercy all throughout the year which will close with the Solemnity of Christ the King on 20th November 2016. I challenge also Sodalities, other groups of young and old and diocesan projects to take this up in their year programs.

What could be of particular help in your personal prayer and in your bible sharing at home in your family, or when meeting as blocks or in your Sodality meetings, is to choose one or other parable which speaks about God’s Mercy like in the gospel of Luke 15,1-32. The Southern African Bishops Conference is preparing a reflection booklet in various languages which could also be of a help for sharing and prayer.

Being filled with the love and mercy of God we shall be stimulated to reach out to others in corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Pope Francis invites us to ‘rediscover these corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead’. He urges us ‘not to forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead’.

Central to our celebration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy should be the Sacrament of Mercy, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I very much encourage you to celebrate – I say celebrate and not undergo confession – the sacrament as a joyful encounter with the Lord, full of mercy and compassion, regularly throughout the year.

Other activities will be planned on diocesan level with the help of a committee chosen for this purpose, which will also come up with a number of suggestions for parishes.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, may this Jubilee Year of Mercy be a time of renewal for all of us, members of the one family of God, the Church, so that we, through our outreach especially to those brothers and sisters of ours who have fallen away, may become missionaries of God’s mercy in today’s world.

May Mary, our mother in the faith, intercede for us,

Bethlehem, 08th December 2015 on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

+Jan De Groef, M.Afr.

Bishop of Bethlehem