Bishop Sipuka: Successful Ad Limina and Visit to Missionaries
Bishop Sithembele Sipuka reflects on the SACBC’s Ad Limina Visit to Rome – exactly who the bishops met and what they discussed. Photos: Bishop Stanisław Dziuba
I recently returned from a journey that started with the Ad Limina (5 yearly visits to the Pope) followed by visits to the missionaries of our Diocese in Europe. I take this opportunity to share about the Ad Limina visit. The Ad Limina was very hectic as we had to visit many Papal offices known as Dicasteries and celebrate the Eucharist in 3 major Churches of Rome, known as Basilicas, and to our joy, meet the Pope, all of this done in four and a half days.
The Dicastery for the Evangelisation of Peoples
The most important visit was to the Dicastery for the Evangelisation of Peoples, which works with mission areas in various continents, including Africa. This is the Dicastery that facilitates the establishment and growth of the Church in mission areas like ours, the appointment of bishops, guidance and assistance on the training of priests, procurement of missionaries, assistance with funds to help run the dioceses, processing of issues related to priests and bishops, etc.
One major point of discussion was the issue of the growing inability of this Dicastery to provide financial and material assistance to mission areas like ours as well as the need for reporting for project funds received. We left the meeting with a heightened awareness of the need to beef up the self-sustenance drive in our Conference because the overseas coffers from which we traditionally got support are on the verge of drying up. The point of encouraging the priests and laity of our Conference to be solicitous of the Church’s worldwide mission and participate in it through prayer, resources, and offering to be missionaries was raised.
The other Dicasteries are named according to the tasks that they deal with. So, there is a dicastery for Doctrine and Faith, Worship and Sacraments, Ecumenism and inter-religious Dialogue, Integral human development, Priests, Laity, Religious, Secretary of state (Vatican foreign affairs), etc., each led by a Cardinal called “The Prefect”. There is a website for each Dicastery, at which there is much more to learn about its work; all you need is to google “Dicastery for… .va.
We met with all these and shared with them what we are doing in the Conference in relation to the mandate of each dicastery and the challenges we have. With the Dicastery for worship and sacraments, among other things, we discussed the issue of receiving communion under both kinds in the context of the COVID-19 aftermath, healing, and inculturation.
In our meeting with the Dicastery for Doctrine and Faith, we appreciated the thoroughness of processing unfortunate cases of sexual abuse by priests and religious and various issues concerned with the priests. However, we expressed concern about the length of time the process takes, which might be perceived as delayed justice where a victim is involved. The phenomenon of ubongoma, which occasionally occurs even among priests and religious, was also tabled at this Dicastery meeting as well as relativism regarding issues of faith and morals. The need to affirm decisively the teaching of the Church while being pastorally solicitous to people struggling with some aspects of the doctrine of the Church was emphasised.
About the Laity, we were happy to note that the Secretary for this Dicastery is a layperson when in most Dicasteries, it is an Archbishop. We were also commended in this Dicastery for having started the tradition of having a woman Secretary General and continuing it now with a woman Associate Secretary General. It was a cordial discussion, agreeing really on all points of discussion about the laity playing a role proper to them in the life and work of the Church by virtue of their baptism and confirmation and not as extensions of ordained ministry and religious life.
My point of observation here is that while in the past the clergy might have been a stumbling block for the laity to exercise their role in the Church, the laity has grown so used to being passive to the point of liking it. Judging by the lack of enthusiasm to be involved, despite all the persuasion and begging by the priests and bishops, it appears that the laity has become comfortable in not playing their role in the Church. Priests are willing to give the laity space to exercise their role, but the laity is not ready for the most part. There is a need for the re-education of the laity about the imperatives of being baptised and confirmed.
The meeting with the Dicastery for the Clergy was helpful because it provided information about the service of ongoing formation provided by this Dicastery for the priests studying in Rome. What was also valuable in the exchange was the simple advice of the Prefect to the priests, namely, to go back to the basics of priestly life for one to be faithful and effective as a priest, and that is, to do one’s daily prayers, including praying the rosary. I found a lot of wisdom in this advice because while ongoing formation courses and sabbaticals are helpful if a faithful daily life of prayer does not follow them, they are in vain.
Another interesting meeting was with the Academy for Social Science, which concerns itself with research on numerous social scientific issues, assisted by some of the best scientists in the world to help the Church be factual in its statements on various topics. It started in 1601, and Galileo was a member of this academy. Today some of the academy’s members include scientists from the SACBC area.
Another major Dicastery that we visited was the Secretariat of the State (foreign affairs). As we know, the headquarters of the Catholic Church, which is the Vatican, has the status of being a state, with more focus on facilitating peace among the countries of the world and monitoring ethics and morality of legislations of various countries about human rights and ecology. We shared with this dicastery what is going well politically and socially in the Conference and the challenges we face. We also shared about the growing difficulty of getting work visas for missionaries coming to the Conference area.
The other activity that occupied us was the celebration of the Mass at the major Churches of Rome, the first being St. Peter’s Basilica, where the tomb of St. Peter the Apostle and subsequent popes are. The second Basilica we celebrated Mass in was the Basilica of St. Paul, where the tomb of St. Paul the Apostle is, and the last was the St. Lateran Basilica, the Cathedral of the Pope.
Meeting the Pope
The crown of the visit was the meeting with the Pope, which we had given up on it happening because, for most days of our visit, he was in the hospital for an abdominal operation and came out on the morning of the last day of our stay. We were resigned to coming back without seeing him. But then, to our joy, at lunch, we had a word that the Pope would see us at 14:00. We thought that we would just greet him and let him go to rest, but no, he was in high spirits and spent an hour with us, responding to our questions and taking a picture with each of us.
After welcoming him and thanking him for his generosity in meeting us just after coming from the hospital, the Pope said it makes him sad when the bishops cannot see him. He then invited us to ask him any questions, and his message came in the form of answering our questions.
Two of his answers, among many, struck a chord with the bishops. One question was about his advice to new bishops. In his response to this question, he said a bishop must do four things: remain close to God, other bishops, priests, and the laity, and elaborated on each.
I am still thinking about how I could do this better, but I am also inviting all of us to think about how we could do this “closeness” together because, as the saying goes, “it takes two to tango”. This closeness for it to be real requires reciprocity. Let us all work on it together.
Upon being asked about the Synod on Synodality, he clarified that this is not new; it started 60 years ago when Pope Paul VI established the synod for bishops. He then explained that Synod is about listening together under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit with Peter, in other words, with the Pope. Unfortunately, some people come to the Synod with their own ideas and hope that the Synod will endorse those ideas, and when they are not, they get disappointed.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the SACBC communications team for a job well done during the Ad Limina Visit. Bishop José Ponce de León was particularly helpful in the success of the Ad Limina both in its preparation and during its course. On behalf of the bishops, I thank him; he did a wonderful job. Archbishop Stephen Brislin assisted by Bishop José and Sheila Pires, the SACBC communications officer, ensured that people in the SACBC area were kept informed and, in that way, participated in the Ad Limina, so thanks to our communication department. Without pictures, it would be difficult to imagine what the Ad Limina was. In this regard, we would like to thank Bishop Stanisław Dziuba, who captured the images of the Ad Limina at his expense because as the one taking photos, he does not appear in most photos.
+Bishop Sithembele Sipuka