How We Can Bring Hope to People
Last week we celebrated Heritage Day. This holiday was created in 1995 to celebrate our many cultures during a time of difficult transition for our country.
It was meant to bring healing to a divided nation by rejoicing in what we hold in common and celebrating the richness of our diversity.
Over the last 25 years we’ve had glorious moments in which we celebrated our heritage and the miracle of our transition to democracy.
This month, as we looked back on the life of Chester Williams, we recalled how he and 14 other Springboks represented a country united around its desire to stand proudly among the nations. For a moment, we showed the world what was the best in us. We became Vicky Sampson’s “African Dream”, a song that resonated far beyond that World Cup.
In 2010, we welcomed the world for the football World Cup.
Our critics thought we’d never be able to pull it off amid concerns of “terrorist attacks” and “incomplete” stadiums and roads.
Once again South Africans of all races and backgrounds rallied behind Bafana Bafana who, buoyed by national euphoria and momentary unity, went on to beat mighty France.
Even after our team left the stage, we were gracious hosts. The tourists left our country with a feeling that truly, there is something magical about this place at the bottom of the African continent.
But this year… I’m not sure there was much to celebrate on Heritage Day. We have shown our worst face to the world. We have turned on our African brothers and sisters. We have turned on each other.
Driven by desperation, frustration, anger, disappointment, and poverty, we chose to blame foreigners for our problems. We took our impotence and powerlessness out on our women, violating and killing them in barbaric ways.
Increasingly, our diversity seems to be pushing us further apart from one another.
Our actions have made us the pariah of the African continent. Backyard braais and lofty speeches in stadiums can no longer dull us into believing that we are a united nation, a rainbow nation.
The rainbow has vanished behind the clouds, and an ugly storm is brewing. In the oppressive tension of the storm, we feel suffocated by sadness, anger and fear. And there seems to be no hope of it changing any time soon.
People of Hope
Hope. Another word that seems so out of place in our national conversations at present. But yet, as Christians, we must be people of hope.
Of course, it cannot be a naïve hope that everything will all somehow be alright. Nor can it be the hope of blocking out the world and living in my own bubble of personal happiness.
I recently reread Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Spe Salvi. In it, he calls for a “dialogue with Christianity and its concept of hope”.
He argues that an encounter with hope can come only from an encounter with Christ. However, this encounter, says Benedict, is not “an individualistic understanding of salvation, into hope for myself alone, which is not true hope since it forgets and overlooks others” (22).
He says true hope comes from “communion with Jesus” which “draws us into his ‘being for all’”.
The pope emeritus says that this relationship with Christ “commits us to live for others”. Similarly, our love of God “leads to participation in the justice and generosity of God towards others….the love of God is revealed in our responsibility for others “(28).
What I take from this is that we can’t ignore what is happening in our country just because it might not have touched us personally. But neither can we throw our hands up in despair or waste endless energy blaming the government, the education system, or the flailing economy.
The bottom line is that we have a responsibility for one another. If we follow Jesus who shows us the way and sends us to share the good news with others, we have a moral duty to draw others into a different way of acting and interacting.
Irrespective of the underlying causes for the violence, and despite the fact that we can’t fix the whole world, we can bring hope to our immediate environment with concrete actions.
We bring hope by speaking from the pulpit about what is happening in our country, and by never ceasing to call for peace, respect, and love of neighbour.
We bring hope by reaching out to those whose lives have been destroyed by violence and loss. We can create spaces where they can mourn. We can provide opportunities for them to receive counselling and spiritual accompaniment, thus equipping them to begin the journey of healing.
We bring hope by beginning a dialogue with the members of our communities who are hurting.
Perpetrators and Victims Worship at our Churches
As one priest said to me: both the perpetrators and victims of the violence worship in our churches. People who normally would not interact come together around the Table of the Lord, professing a common faith.
Let us start there. Let us help them to find Christ in themselves and in each other. If they see the Christ they love in themselves and in each other, how then can they continue to inflict violence on their brother?
We bring hope by accompanying our families to become more like the Holy Family: families in which abuse has no place.
We can give families tools to help them see the dignity of each member, to realise that each one is loved equally by God and deserves equal love and. If we can raise up holy families, we are already playing a significant role in reducing the violence in our society.
Hope is never for ourselves alone. In the words of Pope Benedict: “As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise?
“Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.”