This Was 2019 – Highlights and Lowlights of the Year
It was a year in which Church leaders talked tough on abuse, the pope visited our neighbourhood, South Africa was rocked by violence against women and foreign nationals, the world’s youth met in Panama, and the pope convened a synod on the Amazon. GÜNTHER SIMMERMACHER looks back at 2019.
It is announced that Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Abel Gabuza of Kimberley coadjutor archbishop of Durban, with the right to succeed Cardinal Wilfrid Napier when he retires. He is installed on February 10.
The sacraments are not for sale and priests must not demand payment for performing them if the recipient is indigent—but the faithful should pay stole fees if they can afford it, according to Bishop Victor Phalana of Klerksdorp.
For the first time, Christmas Day is an official holiday across the country for all Iraqis.
A gunman kills four people and then himself inside the cathedral of Our Lady of the Conception in Campinas, Brazil.
Veteran broadcaster Pat Rogers, who helped launch Radio Veritas, dies at 87 on December 23.
South African Sister Wendy Beckett, who gained fame in the 1990s for television shows and books explaining art, dies at 88 on December 26 in England.
Catholic schools have again outperformed the national average in the 2018 matric results. The Catholic schools that wrote the NSC exams recorded a pass rate of 84,4% (6,2% above the national pass rate). Schools writing the IEB examination achieved a 99% pass rate.
Our Lady of Montserrat church in Betty’s Bay, near Hermanus in the Western Cape, is totally destroyed in a wildfire. A brave parishioner retrieves the tabernacle before the flames can reach it.
Renowned priest-artist Fr Wilfried Joye OMI of Klerksdorp diocese dies in Belgium at 79 on January 7.
The Vatican denies having had knowledge of sexual abuse allegations against Argentine Bishop Gustavo Oscar Zanchetta before his December 2017 appointment to a Vatican office.
Addressing Palestinian Christians in the West Bank town of Zababdeh, Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town says the Church cannot be silent or neutral in the face of injustice committed against Palestinians.
Bishop Boniface Tshosa Setlalekgosi, retired of Gaborone, dies on January 25 at 91.
The world’s youth gathers in Panama for World Youth Day, with an estimated 600000 attending the vigil and final Mass, led by Pope Francis. He announces that World Youth Day 2022 will be held in Lisbon, Portugal.
Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of Mthatha succeeds Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town as SACBC president.
Three classrooms and other facilities are destroyed in a fire at Holy Cross Primary School in District Six, Cape Town (rebuilding begins in November). A fire also destroys the presbytery at Maria Mamohau church in Orkney, Klerksdorp diocese.
The SACBC introduces a new English translation for common liturgical rites concerning the orders of celebrating matrimony and confirmation, and Eucharistic prayers for Masses with children.
Fr John Masilo Selemela is the new rector of St John Vianney National Seminary in Pretoria.
Pope Francis travels to the United Arab Emirates—the first-ever papal visit to the Arabian peninsula—meeting with Catholics and signing a joint declaration on human fraternity with Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of al-Azhar in Cairo, during an interreligious meeting in Abu Dhabi.
The political and corporate sectors have betrayed the trust of the people, and the May 8 general election “presents all South Africans with the opportunity to renew our vision” for the country, say the bishops of Southern Africa in a pastoral letter.
Pope Francis lifts the canonical penalties imposed 34 years ago on Fr Ernesto Cardenal, 94, the Nicaraguan poet and former member of the Sandinista government.
Pope Francis convenes a summit of the world’s bishops’ conference presidents on handling the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, including holding bishops accountable for handling cases correctly. Bishop Sipuka describes the summit as “a turning point in the life of the Church—things will not be the same”.
Australian Cardinal George Pell, 77, is convicted of child sexual abuse in a Melbourne court, and sentenced to six years in jail. After losing his appeal in June, he pursues further legal avenues of appeal.
Among the 157 who died when a Boeing airplane crashed in Addis Ababa was Kenyan Mariannhill Missionaries Father George Kageche Mukua, 40, who studied at St Joseph’s Theological Institute in Cedara, KwaZulu-Natal. Among the other victims was Sr Florence Wangari Yongi, a Kenyan Notre Dame de Angers Sister.
Five nuns in India complain of Church repression for their support of a former superior general who was allegedly raped by Bishop Franco Mulakkal.
Noting that the bishops of Southern Africa have decided to address the issue of sexual abuse of religious Sisters in the region, Bishop Sipuka says that “women religious must be empowered to refuse any form of abuse by priests”.
After the devastating impact of Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, South African churches collect relief funds and items.
Kenyan Franciscan Brother Peter Tabichi is awarded the $1 million Global Teacher Prize for 2019. He plans to give away the money. He is later named Person of the Year by the United Nations in Kenya.
Mill Hill Father John Melhuish of Rustenburg dies in a car crash on March 23 at the age of 69.
In a document titled Communis Vita, Pope Francis amends Canon Law to include an almost automatic dismissal of religious who are absent without authorisation from their community for at least 12 months.
Fr Claude Grou, 77, is injured after being stabbed in the stomach by a 26-year-old suspect during a televised morning Mass in St Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal in Montreal, Canada.
Pope Francis issues his apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit (“Christ Lives”) on the 2018 Synod of Bishops on the Youth.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II is awarded the Lamp of Peace, a top Catholic peace prize presented by the Conventual Franciscans of the Sacred Convent of Assisi.
On a brief visit to Morocco, Pope Francis addresses dialogue between Christianity and Islam; the Christian mission; migration; and the status of Jerusalem.
Nazareth Care Centre in Johannesburg closes its HIV/Aids clinic and hospice after the Gauteng Department of Health withdraws financial support.
Pope emeritus Benedict XVI publishes a controversial essay which blames the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s for the abuse crisis in the Church.
The roof of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris catches fire, toppling its spire. Much of the interior is preserved, but restoration may take years and cost several billion euros.
At least 290 people are killed and more than 500 injured in jihadist Easter attacks on three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka.
For the first time in 300 years, the marble steps of the Holy Stairs in Rome are free from the thick wooden panels installed in 1723, and will be left uncovered for the public between April 11 and June 9.
Mediating peace talks between leaders of South Sudanese factions, Pope Francis kisses their feet in a lesson in humility.
When South Africans inflict violence on migrants, they recklessly go against the solemn oath of Nelson Mandela that never again shall a human being be oppressed by another human being in South Africa, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg warns in a pastoral letter.
Bishop Dabula Mpako of Queenstown is appointed new archbishop of Pretoria to succeed Archbishop William Slattery. He is installed on June 22.
Canadian Catholic philosopher, theologian and humanitarian Jean Vanier dies at 90 on May 7.
The Southern Cross pilgrimage to Rome and the Holy Land is led by Fr Russell Pollitt SJ.
Pope Francis visits Bulgaria and North Macedonia, including Mother Teresa’s birthplace Skopje.
Pakistani authorities release Asia Bibi, a Catholic woman acquitted of blasphemy after spending a decade on death row.
The SACBC congratulates the Independent Electoral Commission and all political parties for creating an environment conducive to free and fair elections.
Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, retired Maronite patriarch, dies at 98 on May 12.
A bus carrying 25 Catholic pilgrims from Durban is targeted in a terrorist attack in Cairo. Aside from a few minor injuries, nobody is seriously harmed.
The theological commission appointed to study the history of women deacons has not reached a unanimous conclusion about whether deaconesses in the early Church were “ordained” or formally “blessed”.
St Augustine College, South Africa’s Catholic university, confers the Bonum Commune Award—the equivalent of an honorary doctorate, on Archbishop Buti Tlhagale.
The Vatican clears the way for dioceses and parishes to organise official pilgrimages to Medjugorje, but makes clear that the Catholic Church has not recognised as authentic the alleged Marian apparitions there.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate appoint South African Fr Mokone Joseph Rathakoa superior of the order’s general house in Rome.
Johannesburg Catholic journalist Lebo WA Majahe dies suddenly at 35 on May 26.
Bishop Giuseppe Sandri of Witbank dies at the age of 72 on Ascension Thursday, May 30.
Pope Francis begins his three-day visit to Romania.
The new norms and legal, criminal and safeguarding procedures contained in an apostolic letter titled “On the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons”, take effect on June 1.
Thembi Kgatlana, star player of South Africa’s women’s football team and parishioner of Our Lady of Africa in Mohlakeng, Johannesburg, scores against Spain in the World Cup in France.
The Winter Theology of the Jesuit Institute and the SACBC is presented in several centres by Fr David Marcotte SJ of the Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York on the spirituality and psychology of wellbeing.
Bishop Franklyn Nabuasah of Francistown is appointed the new bishop of Gaborone.
Oblate Father Sylvester David, former vicar-general of Durban, is appointed auxiliary bishop of Cape Town. He is ordained in August.
Biological sex and gender are naturally fixed at birth and part of God’s plan for creation, the Congregation for Catholic Education says in a new document on gender.
After the successful cooperation on the 2016 restoration of the edicule in Jerusalem’s church of the Holy Sepulchre, the leaders of the three churches who serve as guardians of the holy site—Catholic, Orthodox, Armenian—sign an agreement to continue with restorations, on the pavement and foundations around the tomb.
Pope Francis declares 2020 a special jubilee year of celebration at the Italian shrine of Our Lady of Loreto, to mark the 100th anniversary of the declaration of Our Lady of Loreto as the patron saint of aviation.
Parishes are warned that Emmanuel Kalenda Bukasa, a Congolese layman who fraudulently presented himself as a priest in Durban, Umzimkulu and Kimberley, has no holy orders.
Pope Francis orders the publication of a document affirming the absolute secrecy of everything said in confession and calling on priests to defend it at all costs, even at the cost of their lives.
Catholic leaders in Cape Town express hope that the deployment of the army in parts of the city will curb gang warfare but also urge that a longterm approach be adopted.
Pope Francis names six superiors of women’s religious orders and a consecrated laywoman to be full members of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Previously, the members had all been men.
St Augustine College marks its 20th anniversary.
Fr Gerard Francisco Timoner, 51, from the Philippines is elected master-general of the Dominican Order worldwide. He the first Asian to lead the order.
Cardinal Peter Appiah Turkson, the Ghanaian prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, visits Gaborone.
Some 300 delegates meet in Kampala, Uganda, for the plenary meeting of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), which also marks its 50th birthday.
Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg and Marie Dennis of Washington hand over their co-presidency of Pax Christi International to Kenyan Loreto Sister Teresia Wamuyu Wachira of Nairobi, Kenya, and French Bishop Marc Stenger.
Bishop Duncan Tsoke, auxiliary in Johannesburg, tells the bishops in their plenary that “the damage that the abuse has done to the Body of Christ is so deep that a mere adherence to the policies and protocols will not restore the trust in the Church”.
Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, president of the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, addresses the bishops, as well as audiences throughout South Africa.
SACBC president Bishop Sipuka says that Church leaders have “retreated to the sacristies and occasional pastoral statements” instead of being present to people who are left alone in desperate situations.
In a case brought by the SACBC’s Justice & Peace Commission, the High Court in Johannesburg rules that sick miners working in the gold mining sector will receive compensation ranging from R50000 to R500000.
Award-winning author and poet Toni Morrison, who took her first name in honour of St Anthony of Padua when she was baptised as a Catholic at the age of 12, dies at 88 on August 5.
In a six-page letter to the world’s priests, Pope Francis calls on the clergy to remain steadfast and prayerful during this time of purification after revelations of abuse by Church personnel, so that there may be a renewal of holiness in the priesthood.
The delegation of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) meets with President Cyril Ramaphosa and several government ministers. It includes Bishop Sipuka, SACBC secretary-general Sr Hermenegild Makoro CPS and associate secretary-general Fr Patrick Rakeketsi CSS.
Bishop Sipuka calls on the Church in Africa to work towards ending violence against people with albinism through its schools and other education efforts.
India’s government expels Spanish Daughters of Charity Sister Enedina, 86, who had ministered to the country’s poor people for five decades.
Dr Jacques de Vos is called to appear before a disciplinary inquiry by the Health Professions Council of South Africa for informing a patient that abortion constitutes the killing of an unborn human being. He has been barred from practising as a doctor.
Pope Francis names 13 new cardinals, including Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The ordination of Bishop Anthony Yao Shun of Jining in China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region on August 26 is the first episcopal ordination in the country following the provisional agreement signed in 2018 between China and the Vatican.
The Church in Ireland confirms that a woman, Marion Carroll, who was seriously ill with multiple sclerosis, experienced a complete healing of all her symptoms at Knock shrine in County Mayo in 1989.
Colombian Cardinal José de Jesus Pimiento, the world’s oldest cardinal, dies at 100 on September 3. The following day, former curial official and papal envoy Cardinal Roger Etchegaray dies at 96 in France.
The cause for John Bradburne’s sainthood is officially launched in Harare on September 5, the 40th anniversary of his murder.
Robert Mugabe, former president of Zimbabwe and a Catholic, dies at 95 on September 6.
Fr Laurence Freeman OSB, director and spiritual leader of the World Community for Christian Meditation, presents seminars and other events in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.
Hundreds of South African Catholics cross the border into Mozambique to see Pope Francis during his visit to Maputo. The pope also visits Madagascar and Mauritius. The Southern Cross co-headlines a pilgrimage to the latter, led by Fr Russell Pollitt SJ, with Radio Veritas and Spotlight.Africa.
The Vatican says that the German bishops’ plans for a two-year process of synodal consultation on key issues facing the Catholic Church must conform to universal Church law and must be approved by the pope.
Domestic and sexual abusers should not be allowed to serve in structures such as parish pastoral or finance councils, according to Archbishop Abel Gabuza, coadjutor of Durban.
Johannesburg’s archdiocesan synod, the first since 2009, takes place from September 20-21 at Cathedral Place in Berea.
Pope Francis declares the third Sunday in Ordinary Time (in 2020 on January 26) to be dedicated to the Word of God.
The international Taizé Pilgrimage of Trust is held in Cape Town from September 25-29.
Cardinal William Levada, who in 2005 succeeded Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, dies on September 26 in Rome.
Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan visit an initiative of the Catholic-based Edmund Rice Justice Desk in Nyanga, Cape Town.
The Church worldwide celebrates Extraordinary Mission Month under the theme “Baptised and Sent”.
Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge, a devout Catholic, becomes the first person to run a marathon in less than two hours, finishing a 42,2km course in Vienna in 1 hour 59 minutes 40 seconds.
The month-long Synod of Bishops for the Amazon begins at the Vatican. Participants propose to address the lack of priests in the Amazon region by instituting new ministries for lay men and women.
A group of Southern Cross pilgrims travels through France, led by Fr Lawrence Mduduzi Ndlovu.
In his new book Giudizio Universale (“Universal Judgment”), Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi warns that decades of mismanagement, shady deals and decreasing donations will leave the Vatican bankrupt.
Radio Veritas celebrates its 20th anniversary with a live transmission from its studios of a Mass celebrated by the apostolic nuncio, followed by a braai at St Benedict’s College in Johannesburg.
Pope Francis changes the name of the Vatican Secret Archives to the Vatican Apostolic Archives.
Bishop Sipuka is appointed the new chair of the National Church Leaders’ Consultation.
Prominent broadcaster Xolani Gwala, a devout Catholic, dies at 44 on November 1 after a long battle with cancer.
The Catholic Church is among the 33 faith-based organisations that will help handle applications to the Motsepe Foundation’s R100 million job-creation fund, according to Archbishop Tlhagale.
St Benedict’s College in Bedfordview, Johannesburg, issues a “Manifesto on Masculinity” to address patriarchal attitudes.
The Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints approves that the sainthood causes for married couple Domitilla and Danny Hyams, founders of the Little Eden Society in Johannesburg, may now proceed together.
Representatives from the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and the Muslim and Jewish faiths sign a joint declaration at the Vatican reaffirming each religion’s clear opposition to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.
The bishops’ Justice & Peace Commission calls on government to impose a ten-year moratorium on mining in 22 strategic watersource areas across South Africa.
Catholic churches are looted and vandalised in anti-government protests in Chile.
Pope Francis appoints Mgr Joe Kizito as new bishop of Aliwal North.
Dominique Yon of Cape Town is one of 20 youth leaders from around the world appointed to serve on the newly-formed international youth advisory body of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life.
The Southern Cross publishes Church Chuckles: The Big Book of Catholic Jokes.
Pope Francis visits Thailand and Japan. Several times he mentions how, as a young Jesuit, he had hoped to be sent as a missionary to Japan.
Southern Cross columnist Mphuthumi Ntabeni receives the prestigious literary prize awarded by the University of Johannesburg for “South African writing in English” in the “Debut” category for his novel The Broken River Tent.
The bishops of Southern Africa issue a “Pastoral Letter On Violence Against Women, Girls And Children”, specifically for Advent reflection.
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