A Community of Warmth & Love
BY Phiwokuhle Siyabonga Xulu
In 2011 I was fortunate enough to share in community with the Congregation of the Oratory of St Philip Neri in Port Elizabeth. Before I went there I didn’t even know that there was a saint named Philip Neri, nor was I aware of an existence of an Oratory. But my stay in Port Elizabeth introduced me to a wonderful community of priests and brothers who ran the St Philip Neri Collegium to which my bishop had sent me during my seminary studies.
Although I was just a student from another province and diocese, I never felt out of place around the wonderful priests and brothers of the Oratory.
The Congregation of the Oratory of St Philip Neri was introduced in Oudtshoorn in the 1990s. The community has done tremendous work for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference in regard to the Afrikaans apostolate and the translation of the liturgical text of the Conference. Also in Oudtshoorn, a pre-seminary was established. Many priests and lay people have been touched by the efforts of the Oratorians, as they are called.
In November 2002, when the Oudtshoorn Oratory grew to such an extent that a second formation was necessary, three priests and five brothers moved to Port Elizabeth to form an Oratory in the city. The St Philip Neri Collegium pre-seminary also moved to Port Elizabeth.
The new community worked in various ministries in the diocese. They took over the pastoral charge of St Bernadette’s parish in Walmer, and the spiritual formation of the community of St Dominic’s Priory, a local high school.
The Holy See recognised the community in Port Elizabeth as an independent congregation of the Oratory of St Philip Neri. In August 2008, the Port Elizabeth community celebrated its inaugural Mass with three priests, three transitory deacons and three brothers as members.
Last year, Archbishop Jabulani Nxumalo of Bloemfontein invited the Port Elizabeth Oratory to consider forming another community in his archdiocese.
The PE Oratory reported in a blog that after praying about the invitation, they eventually accepted it. So on January 3 this year, the community of Port Elizabeth Oratory and diocese bade farewell to the priests and a brother who were selected to be sent to Bloemfontein to form what we prayerfully hope is the third Oratorian congregation in South Africa.
The day after, a Sunday, Fr Philip Vietri CO and Br Alan Commaille CO arrived at Bloemfontein’s Sacred Heart cathedral; on January 9 they began their pastoral duties at the cathedral.
The new Oratorian community in formation in Bloemfontein was formally launched at the cathedral as Archbishop Nxumalo introduced Oratorian Fathers John Johnson, Phillip Vietri, Xolisa Mafu, Cyriacus Okoro and Br Alan Commaille to the parishioners.
These four priests are now working in the cathedral, with Fr Johnson as the administrator and Frs Mafu and Okoro as his assistants; Fr Vietri is assisting in the cathedral pastorally along with following his second vocation as a Christian Brothers College teacher.
Br Commaille serves as the master of ceremonies in the cathedral, and at the same time continues with his studies.
We must wish the community in formation to blossom with new and sincere vocations, while engaging in many other apostolates in the archdiocese of Bloemfontein.
Fr Johnson has been a cathedral administrator before: at Emmanuel cathedral in Durban and at St Saviour’s cathedral in Oudtshoorn, a place where the very first South African Oratory was established. He and Fr Vietri have been the founding members of all the South African Oratorian congregations.
I believe that this community in formation will be no different from the Port Elizabeth Oratory, with its warmth and love.
It is the objective of the Oratorians to follow their founder’s footsteps in forming houses of prayer, preaching and the conferring of sacraments. St Philip Neri (1515-95), the founder, was known for his gentleness. He once said: “First let a little love find entrance into their hearts, and the rest will follow.”
In so saying, over 80 Oratories around the whole world have since been made up of members who commit themselves to a life of prayer, living and preaching Christ, and always striving to bring people to the Lord with love and joy in their hearts.
Phiwokuhle Siyabonga Xulu is a catechist and former seminarian. He currently studies law.
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