Our International Catholicism Makes Us the Universal Church
Our Catholicism has always been very international — from the missionaries passing but not disembarking at the Cape to the later generations from France, Ireland and Germany who were our primary missionaries, both to immigrant Catholics and the vast mission territory of the unevangelised.
On what once used to be Social Communication Sunday — remember that? — and as we enter Mission month, I was pondering our South African Catholicism.
We are all here because of an incredible missionary impetus. This impetus pushed the Church to root itself from Cape Town as an immigrant Catholicism and from Durban as missionary Catholicism.
The history of our South African Catholicism has been one of international benefit too. From the Irish churches of Johannesburg built by the mining communities to the Bavarian missions of KwaZulu-Natal and the hospitals and schools.
Universalism is Delicate
This international Catholicism — a universalism — is always under threat.
Any priest will tell you that there is always a person or group when you move into a new pastoral assignment who will tell him: “Father, in this parish/mission/ school, we do things this way…” That usually means that you have your work cut out for you. Or that there will be parishioners moving on to places where they don’t have to deal with your management style.
Put these ideas together and we can understand how our universal Church is easily “captured” by a parochial narrowmindedness and insularity. If a priest succeeds a long-term incumbent he’ll know how this insularity can easily swallow a parish.
How do we face this insularity?
We move people. Priests in the SACBC region have 6-9-year contracts, if their diocesan bishops follow the Complimentary Norms of Canon Law. Most never last that long… This movement of priests ensures that if we are exposed to new leadership styles, we don’t get stale parishes. At the very least, change allows us to agree with the axiom that “the best parish priest was the last one”.
Maintaining Our Links
We also have to ensure that we who no longer are recipients of missionary priests—at least from Europe — maintain our links with the Universal Catholic Church (and I don’t mean the Brazilian pretender exploitation cult that has taken that name).
We do this firstly through the unity of our bishops with the bishops of the world around the bishop of Rome, the pope. We are united not because we are primarily identifying ourselves with doctrines, but rather through our relationship with the bishop who is in relationship with the other bishops and the Holy Father.
Our Doctrines Unite Us
Our secondary identification is with this nebulous set of relationships that make us united across race and language: our Catholic faith. Our links to this faith are in our doctrines and our relationships with one another.
And this gets us to the importance of Catholic social communication. Essentially, we don’t see our bishops often. We often have no relationship with them other than the Malume or Uncle who comes to visit occasionally.
Our real international and even cross-parish contact is in our moments of interaction—be they visits to another parish (maybe because you’re irritated with your current parish priest) to our sodality outings to our Catholic media.
The Role of Catholic Media as Unifier
Our Catholic media is evolving rapidly. No longer are we limited to the paper version of The Southern Cross, vitally important though it still is (we can get it also digitally now, of course). We have Radio Veritas, the Redemptorist Link, diocesan newspapers and many parish newsletters.
We are also part of the global phenomena of the explosion of social media. From our websites to microblogging (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) most of us engage with a Catholic world — even by the WhatsApp groups that are changing the way that our parishes and sodalities are working.
Our Catholicism cannot become parochial and insular — caught up in ourselves. We, therefore, need to make our lives open to a world Catholicism.
We also realise that we are all co-creators of content for Catholic media. We are no longer just recipients of media but also participants.
We have to challenge the narrow-minded insularity that is increasingly the domain of politicians, nations and certain elements within each parish — and each person.