Durban, South Africa: new centre offer sanctuary and hope

Fr Stephen Tully

Fr Stephen Tully

Emmanual Cathedral in Durban, South Africa, is situated near a huge flyover, one of the busiest transport hubs in Africa. Every day, more than 400,000  commuters pass by, among them hundreds of refugees, arriving from Zimbabwe, Congo and other countries. The poor of Durban, these days some of them white, as well as refugees - hungry, ill, homeless, disorientated look to the Cathedral for help and support. When community tensions boiled over in 2008, hundreds of refugees fleeing xenophobic attacks were given sanctuary in the delapidated parish centre.

Fr Stephen Tully, administrator of Emmanual Cathedral, came to Westminster this week, with social worker Pierre Matate, to talk about plans to build a large new centre on the site, providing a well equipped base for healthcare, education, work and community projects. It has been named after Archbishop Denis Hurley who gave visionary leadership to the Church in South Africa through the Apartheid years from 1947 to 1992. In serving the poorest and most marginalised citizens of Durban the Centre will live out Archbishop Hurley's dream that the Church would be a "community serving humanity"

"We looked at keeping the old building but in the end we realised it would be more economical and efficient to pull it down and build a new one" Fr Stephen said.

He explained: "The core of the Centre will be four social outreach projects  on the ground floor which already operate in the Parish Centre:

'Nkosinathi' - Zulu for 'the Lord is with us' - offers cooked meals, clothing  and advice three days a week. Run by a group of volunteers coordinated by a paid worker, the project serves approximately 2500 meals a month.

Refugee Pastoral Care sees between 200 and 250 refugees each month. The services it provides include: accommodation and food at local shelters for an initial period of up to two weeks; assistance with school fees and school uniforms for refugee children; counselling and help in getting work permits and permanent residence; contributions towards hospital bills and funeral expenses. Free language lessons are also provided daily. isiZulu language skills are key to successful integration of refugees into local communities, while English lessons also assist isiZulu speakers to find employment.

Usizo Lwethu Clinic is staffed by two qualified nurses funded by the Archdiocese provides free health services to approximately 500 clients per month. The prevalence of HIV in South Africa is 18% among 15 – 49 year olds.

KwaZulu-Natal is the province worst affected by this pandemic. Poverty has accelerated its effects. Dangerous strains of Extreme and Multiple Drug Resistant TB discovered in the province heighten the challenges. Services provided by Usizo Lwethu include health screening and referral, testing and counselling for HIV and adherence counselling for HIV+ clients. Home and hospital visits are made to clients by the nurses who also provide health education for street people.

The Justice and Peace Office provides information on how to access identity documents, birth certificates and social grants as well as advice on housing, rental and debt issues. They also offer skills training in bead work and sewing. A training programme in computer skills is being established.

Fr Stephen said: "The second and third storeys of the building will house a cafeteria, resource centre and book shop, as well as conference and meeting facilities and a Formation office to coordinate all aspects of the education and training work of the Centre. The facilities on these floors will also be used for social and cultural events."

On the fourth floor, there will be a chapel, residential space for local and overseas volunteers, such as young people on gap years, and further meeting rooms.

The Cathedral is near the Juma Musjid (Great Mosque). Fr Stephen was keen to stress that the different faiths in Durban have always had very good relations. "The Mosque does tremendous work with the poor, especially offering meals each day."  Both Muslim and Jewish community leaders attended the Centre's launch ceremony.

The building design also has many innovative 'green' features,  saving water and electricity, which will enhance the capacity to provide a sustainable service.

“Our approach is very holistic,” Fr Stephen said.  "Most importantly it is faith-lead.  We take as guiding words 'If you deprive yourself for the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, your light will shine in the darkness and your darkest hour will be like noon’ (Isaiah 58-10)

“Yes, we’re building a centre, but its also a spiritual journey," he concluded.

Fr Stephen has appealed for prayers, and if you are able to make a donation, however small,  see:

Bank Details

Bank: First National Bank (FNB)
Branch Code: 221426
Account name: Denis Hurley Centre
Account Number: 62204261002
Swift Code: FIRNZAJ659

After making a donation, please post, fax or email the receipt and your contact details so your contribution can be acknowledged:

The Denis Hurley Centre
Emmanuel Cathedral
cnr Cathedral Road and Denis Hurley Street

For further information see:

Share this story