Oblate Voices is a JPIC blog that follows stories of hope and is about how Oblates and associates live and experience mission work in the spirit of the Oblate founder, St Eugene De Mazenod of responding to the needs of poor and most abandoned around the world.

Friday, October 23, 2015

South Africa: Oblates in frontline ministry in Soweto and Khayelitsha (Cape Town)

By Fr Seamus Finn, OMI

Fr Seamus Finn, OMI recently participated in a mining meeting in South Africa hosted by the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town. While there he visited several local Oblate communities.

During my recent visit to South Africa for an event on mining, hosted by the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, I had the opportunity to connect with three different oblate communities in South Africa. These visits provided a great opportunity to connect with oblates in frontline ministry and mission, to learn about their missionary priorities and challenges, and to celebrate with some members in the local communities.

Alvin Ryan Tshuma OMI, Siyabonga Dube OMI 
and servers in Khayelitcha
The first stop was to an initiative that is very fresh in Mitchell Plain on the outskirts of Cape Town and in the nearby township of Khayelitcha. I had a chance to visit the area where four young oblates are in mission and debrief with them on my reason for being in the area and discuss their work over a very tasty pizza. They also talked about their memories and relationships with Oblates in the US province, specifically with Oblate Frs. Jim Datko, Bill Clarke, John Staak, Paul Waldie and Tom Singer.

On Sunday I had the opportunity to join in the celebration of the Eucharist in a township chapel. It was a very small corrugated iron construction building, squeezed in between a number of domestic dwellings. There was one single file aisle available, which made the different processions and collections that are usually part of the Catholic experience of Mass very interesting. That is saying nothing of the music, movement and swaying that were part of the celebration.

In Johannesburg I visited the well-known Soweto area and on the northern side of the city, the Alexandra township where oblates have maintained a missionary presence for decades, and the retreat center and novitiate at Germiston. The stories that form part of
Left to right: Zweli Mlotshwa OMI, Bufana Ndlovu OMI,
Seamus Finn OM
these missionary endeavors and the oblate characters who came from places like Lowell, MA and Inchicore in Ireland who were part of this long-standing missionary effort are legend here. Their courage and creativity in the face of grinding political oppression and oppressive police and state force, and ingrained and deep racism is inspiring.

Twenty years after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the beginning of the new South Africa, the wheels of development appear to have come off the bus. Unemployment is persistent at over 25% with no clear path to address this debilitating experience for so many. The absence of a substantial opposition political party has allowed the African National Congress (ANC) to dominate the space and control most aspects of society.
Bronze statue of Nelson Mandela
near downtown Johannesburg
Political corruption and graft are expected in every transaction and few institutions have the strength or the presence to respond strategically to these issues.

The country’s energy policy remains very dependent on coal mining and burning and this continues to contribute to very dramatic public health and social challenges that have not been addressed. This, after making great strides in addressing an HIV-AIDS epidemic, made catastrophic by a misguided government policy. The forthcoming global meeting on developing both sovereign and global responses to the issue of climate change puts South Africa at the center of a number of pivotal debates.

The effects of this very tragic and repressive period in the recent history of South Africa are present across society. They are more prevalent and obvious when you visit a township and see the grinding poverty and violence that is deeply rooted. To watch these young oblate missionaries in each of these townships continuing a religious and gospel presence, pastorally comforting the afflicted and aged, and standing in solidarity against oppression and indifference was encouraging and hopeful.

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