Archbishop Peter Wells: Don’t Use Religion as a Political Tool
By Fr Paul Tatu CSS – Religion should not be used as a political tool or as a form of oppression, apostolic nuncio Archbishop Peter Wells told Catholic delegates at a meeting on ecumenism and interreligious dialogue.
Fifty delegates from South Africa and Botswana met at the Lumko Institute and Retreat Centre in Benoni, Johannesburg archdiocese, to renew their commitment to the ecumenism initiated by Vatican II.
Archbishop Wells said that religion must not be confined, but expressed in the public sphere. It must also educate young people in respect, responsibility and non-violence, which is possible only with the help of the Holy Spirit.
He reminded delegates that Christ himself mandates ecumenism and interreligious dialogue.
“The main mission of the two is to encourage different religions to learn from each other and go against the prevalent culture of staying in a circle of like-minded people,” the archbishop said. Dialogue across faith communities aims to “unite with people of other faiths against nihilism and any kind of injustice”.
Archbishop Wells noted that the Church, with the World Council of Churches, is engaging governments on their policies and economies.
“Many teaching documents are being produced and they must be brought to grassroots level, without a silo mentality,” he said, using a term to describe not cooperating with others pursuing the same goal.
Bishop Jan de Groef of Bethlehem, chair of the Southern African bishops’ conference’s Department of Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue, asked participants to express their expectations and fears. Most wished to strengthen their skills at unity-building and overcoming antagonism and prejudice.
Panellists at the symposium included four members of South Africa’s Church Unity Commission: Dr Ishmael Noko, former general-secretary of the Lutheran World Federation; Pastor Gustav Claassen of the Dutch Reformed Church; Anglican Bishop Allan Kannemeyer; and commission secretary-general Sikawu Makubalo, a Methodist pastor.
Each gave a testimony of their ecumenical pilgrimage through friendships, family ties, shared mission, liturgy, encounters, Bible-sharing, and engagement in the struggle against apartheid.
Representatives of other religions also addressed the symposium.
Bishop Victor Phalana of Klerksdorp appealed to those of all faiths to stand together to tackle xenophobia and gender-based violence in South Africa.
The SACBC has printed booklets of guidelines on ecumenism and interfaith dialogue, which will be made available to parishes.