Fr Bryan Massingale’s Reflection on Winter Living Theology 2018

Posted By on August 24, 2019


As I come to the end of my time here in South
Africa, I want to share with you a few of the highlights of my experience here. The first has been just the experience of
being able to see the depth and the breadth and the length of the country. Being able to see places from Johannesburg,
Pretoria, to Port Elizabeth, to Durban, and Cape Town and even an excursion to Swaziland. And what’s important is that for me to appreciate
not only the beauty of the country – and it really is gorgeous! – but just to appreciate
the varieties of the peoples. And that leads to the second highlight and
that is, I really enjoyed having the opportunity to pray with the people here in South Africa. My first Sunday here I celebrated mass in
Soweto and to see the wonder of the people and their exuberance and their excitement
and their energy, it reminded me of black catholic masses at home, where people, you
know, walk to Church, when they bring their collection forward. And The varieties of music, and the excitement
and the exuberance. And the same thing happened when I celebrated
Mass at a black township in Cape Town. To see how people are joyful and excited about
their faith, and realize that we share a common faith even though expressed in very different
ways. Another highlight here has been just an appreciation
of what it means to be an agent of transformation and change. When I first got here people said they didn’t
want to talk about racism in South Africa and many times it was out of fear, that people
told me they didn’t want to talk about race in South Africa because they were afraid if
they did, if the country engaged in honest conversation, it would take them back to the
way it was before, before 1994. And what I found though, is that people, while
they were fearful of the conversation, they were also hungry for it at the same time. And I was really impressed by the willingness
of people to engage in very serious and difficult conversations. It led to one of the differences I noted between
the south Africa and the united states – there are great similarities that we have about
in terms of our racial histories and our current racial dynamics – but at least in South Africa
you know you have a problem and you’re willing to talk about it. Whereas in the United States we don’t…
we are not always good at even admitting that we have a problem. We cannot even talk about whether Donald Trump
is a racist, or even if he’s having racist policies. It’s the third rail – this is an expression
we use about an electrified subway line – that you just do not go there. So I’m very impressed about the openness
in South Africa to at least admit that you have a problem. Another highlight for me was when I could
engage the Bishops of South Africa. I think, by my count, I think I must have
engaged at least one third of the Bishops’ Conference, and that again is a marked difference
from the United States where Bishops wouldn’t take the time to really learn about the issue
of racism. So, the idea of being able to sit with Bishops
and to sit with them in very informal ways and have a give and take and a dialogue with
them, that was a highlight, and it showed me that even though they have perhaps their
limitations at times, that they have an openness to engage the issue and a willingness to learn
and to be in the audience as learners, and that’s something you don’t always see
in those who lead us that often in that role of bishop – so that was a highlight for
me. The last two highlights are more personal. Being here in South Africa has deepened my
own commitment to this ministry, it’s deepened my own vocation. Sometimes when I talk about race, especially
in the United States, I can feel very… it can be very isolating and very lonely. Sometimes you do this work and you wonder
does it make a difference? And my month here has taught me that this
work is worthwhile, it’s worth it, and there are people who are hungry for it and appreciate
it. So the blessing I take with me as I go back
home is that I am doing the right thing – this is what God wants me to do. And that’s a tremendous grace that I can’t
ever be thankful enough for. The last highlight is, well it’s not really
a highlight of my visit, it’s an impression and a hope for the people of South Africa. As I leave here I am convinced that South
Africa has an opportunity, and I would even say a responsibility, to be a model for the
world of what the world needs to become. Because racism is not something that plagues
only America or only South Africa. It’s also a reality in Europe, and it’s
also a reality in other parts of the world. And if we’re going to live together in a
world of peace then people have to learn how to transcend their loyalties to their tribe,
to their class, to their race, to their colour, to their nation. And when I look at South Africa and I see
that you have such a rich mixture of people, not only a people of different races and colours,
but of ethnicities. And that if South Africa can be committed
to the dream of Mandela who said that he was opposed to the supremacy of all forms, whether
black or white. If South Africa can be committed to that vision,
then it can be the model for what the world needs to be. And one of the things I did when I was here,
I visited the Cradle of humanity, the Cradle of humankind, and if South Africa can be a
multi-racial, multi-ethnic, democracy of equals, then it will indeed be once again the cradle
of humanity, it will be the birthplace for a new way of being human. And as I leave here I know the country has
issues and problems and trials, but I also leave with a great deal of hope and kind of
an expectation and a challenge for South Africa to rise and to live out its dream, to live
out its destiny, and to be a model for the world of what we need to become. So it’s been a blessing being here, it’s
been a lot of work, but it’s also been a blast! And I cannot wait to come back. So, until then, thank you to the Jesuit Institute
and thank you for all who made this a very blessed month.

Posted by Lewis Heart

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