Bishop João Rodrigues: We All Need healing
More than a quarter of a century after apartheid, we are called to a new struggle to overcome the legacy of apartheid, according to the bishop of Tzaneen.
Bishop João Rodrigues noted that “white superiority and black inferiority attitudes were passed on to successive generations” in South Africa, reinforced by what he called “the demonic laws of apartheid”.
Even though “we live in a new democratic nonracial South Africa, we all carry the wounds of the past and inherit the spiritual and psychological complexes of our ancestors, be they black or white”, said the bishop of the Limpopo diocese.
Cape Town-born Bishop Rodrigues has headed Tzaneen diocese since 2010.
“We are called to take part in this new struggle for healing, for justice and equality, and it is an ongoing struggle for everyone in South Africa to work on,” he said.
“It is a complex struggle and requires constant evaluation and vigilance and planning within the various political, civil and religious and economic organisations to which we all belong.
“And every victory in this new struggle, no matter how insignificant it may seem, is a vital contribution towards the building of a truly united and democratic South Africa protected by God in the family of nations,” Bishop Rodrigues said.
The bishop hailed the “wonderful new constitution which took effect from 1997”, but noted that “we are still like the old South African generations in our prejudiced attitudes and behaviour”.
“Of course, I am generalising, because there are many wonderful South Africans who are genuine heroes of this new struggle as well as many more ordinary South
Africans who go about their daily tasks with a genuine attitude of respect and inclusivity irrespective of the colour or culture of people in their relationships.
“But we also have to be honest and face the uncomfortable truth that because life is hard and challenging, in certain instances of crisis or pain, we easily retreat into our old racial attitudes and blame people who are different from our own colour and culture for all our problems. And this is racism,” Bishop Rodrigues said.
He stressed that racism is a sin, “because the revelation we have received from our Creator is that all human beings are created in the same image and likeness of God. There are no two different images of God.”
The bishop described racism as “a terrible sickness in the mind and spirit of a human being because it denies one’s basic common humanity with everyone else”.
Any expression of racism “is a crime and should be punished by law”, Bishop Rodrigues said.
“Racists suffer from a deep spiritual sickness of perceiving another person as inferior to themselves. They see themselves as superior and of greater dignity than others who are different from themselves,” he said.
Healing from racism requires more than “simply seeing people ‘as equal’, because even thieves can regard themselves as equal to other thieves”, the bishop said.
“This sense of an undignified equality does not bring healing but, in fact, deepens the sickness in people’s mind and spirit.
“To be healed of racism means having an understanding of the profound dignity of one’s humanity and realising that this same profound dignity exists in everyone else, irrespective of their culture or colour or origins,” Bishop Rodrigues said.
“And this profound understanding and attitude is possible if we are healed by the Spirit of Christ Jesus so that we can sense that profound Christ-like dignity in ourselves and by extension in all others. God can forgive and heal racists as long as they acknowledge their sin of racism, repent and seek healing,” he explained.
The Church should not be “a place where racists can find a home”, the bishop warned.
“Rather, racists should be confronted by the Gospel of Christ Jesus and challenged to repent and believe in order to be accepted by the Church community. All the sacraments call us to conversion in order to receive the Spirit of Christ and live accordingly.”
The Church also has a part to play in healing from “the wounds of being a victim of racial violence”.
“The trauma of suffering from racist violence needs to be healed, and this is possible if the victim revisits that painful past and places that pain prayerfully and in faith before Jesus Christ for healing,” Bishop Rodrigues said.
“Unfortunately many victims have learnt to repress the painful memories, and by so doing they remain wounded, which has a continual negative impact in their present relationships and attitude in life,” he noted.
“You will know you are healed when you can recall those hurtful experiences in your life yet remain at peace in yourself. The Lord Jesus was treated badly, abandoned by all, tortured and crucified to death although he had no sin or guilt. Yet the first words of the Risen Jesus to his disciples were ‘Peace be with you’ (John 20:19),” the bishop said.
As Christ revealed his glory and victory over sin and all the powers of death, so can victims of racism “also experience victory over the trauma of the past by sharing their trauma with the Lord Jesus in faith and imploring his glorious Spirit to heal them of their pain so that they can enjoy the peace of Christ in their own spirits”, he said.
“You will know you are healed when you can share the past bad and painful experiences and see in them a new strength and personal victory because they no longer hold you hostage with their previous unbearable pain.
“You no longer act with bitterness or a feeling of wanting revenge every time you remember past suffering and injustices. Instead, because you are healed, you are able to act with dignity and offer your family, community, nation and the world a better way of relating to self and others which is inspired by the Spirit of Christ,” Bishop Rodrigues said.