South African Reflection: The Pastoral Plan - It's over to us

  • Anthony Egan SJ

Yesterday, 26 January 2020, the Catholic Church's new Pastoral Plan for Southern Africa Evangelising Community Serving God, Humanity and All Creation was launched at Regina Mundi Church in Soweto. With its emphasis on evangelisation that serves God, humanity and creation, it sets the Church in a new direction, rooted in the Gospel and seeking the guidance of the Spirit in what we do.

The eight focus areas of the Plan will no doubt be analysed, and hopefully implemented, in various ways in the years to come. Some seem 'internally' focused, on the different parts of the body that is the Church: laity formation and empowerment; life and ministry of clergy; marriage and family; and youth. Others seem to look outward: to justice, peace and non-violence; healing and reconciliation; care for creation and the environment. All of these in various ways feed into its first point, evangelisation.

On closer examination the 'internal/external' dimensions blur. The building up of the people who are Church and their promotion as active servants of God cannot have but an external dimension - as witnesses to the wider society by example, whose lives challenge everyone to the values of community, service and fidelity. The best form of evangelisation is example.

Similarly, if they are to be authentic, the 'socio-political' elements promoting justice, reconciliation and ecology cannot but be the practices of the Church in itself. We must look at how values such as justice, healing and reconciliation may be implemented within the Church in this time of internal division over Church renewal initiated by Pope Francis. In particular, the idea of non-violence might mean for us a wariness at getting into the often verbally violent 'culture wars' waged in Catholic social media.

As with any plan, all of this depends on implementation. If the Pastoral Plan is to be more than a 'wish list', local Catholic communities must discern how to apply its focus areas in their contexts. They must see how they can build 'greener' parishes - while advocating for ecological justice. They must implement new or renewed formation programmes, reach out to youth, and support family life realistically, working with priests, religious and deacons. Healing, reconciliation and dialogue must inform all our efforts, both within and outside the Church.

Above all we shall need to seek and be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday was the first step. Appropriately, that step starts at Regina Mundi. In his writings, many set in the Mediterranean, English novelist Lawrence Durrell used to talk of the 'spirit of place'. It is appropriate, then, that Regina Mundi was chosen to launch the Pastoral Plan. Since the mid-1970s it was the site of many Catholic (and ecumenical) socio-political and religious initiatives that impacted the wider church and society.

The launch is but a moment in this initiative. The success of the Pastoral Plan will depend on how we all, we who are Church, take it up, interpret and apply it in parishes, communities and personally.

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Tags: South African Reflection, Jesuit Institute , Pastoral Plan, Anthony Egan SJ

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