Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Archbishop Meets SA Deputy President Ramaphosa

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba met South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa at Bishopscourt today, where they discussed structured partnerships between Church and State.

Areas covered by such partnerships include the National Development Plan, the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), youth employment and the promotion of values which give South Africans hope and help them observe best practices.

After the meeting, Archbishop Thabo made a call for special prayer:

"We pray for peace, stability and courage in our country," he said. "We pray for the South African Council of Churches as it meets over the coming days, and for the SACC's 'unburdening panel' which hears the concerns of public servants who want to share details of corruption.

"Abroad we pray for those killed in the weekend's attack in London. In the rest of the Province, we pray for stable government in Lesotho after their election. Please also pray for the Diocese of Cape Town as we prepare for Diocesan Synod."

In the Bishopscourt chapel, from left, PEO Horace Arenz, Chief of Staff Jerome Francis, the Archbishop and Public Policy Officer Desmond Lambrechts. Father Lambrechts is praying for the Deputy President. 

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Mothers’ Union March Against Violence on Women and Children

An address to members of the Mothers’ Union in St George's Cathedral, Cape Town, at the end of a march to protest violence against women and children:

Members of the Mothers’ Union
MU Diocesan Chaplain
Clergy of the Diocese
The Dean of the Cathedral
Those leading this ceremony
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning to you.

Before I speak, can we all please stand and observe a moment of silence to remember all the victims and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in our country? Let us especially hold in our hearts the families of young girls and women who have recently been affected by this scourge in our society.

[Moment of Silence]

I stand before you today, broken and deeply pained by the escalating violence against women and children in South Africa. Yesterday at Bishopscourt, I met with 12 representatives of different women's groups—from different religious faiths, from the media, from the Trauma Centre and Hope Africa. I heard their pain as they pleaded with me: “You declared apartheid evil and a sin, please declare gender-based violence to be evil and a sin as well.”

“These atrocities are committed by men,” they told me. “Get the men to act.” They asked for a judicial inquiry into gender-based violence, and for young male students at our universities to be taught what consent is. They told me that the press ombudsman should know that newspapers are numbing us by normalizing rape, death and drug abuse. Finally, they cried out: “Men of the cloth, where are you? Arch,” they pleaded, “we have come to unburden, we have marched and prayed, but we need something more tangible than symbolic marches.”

I also hear of similar painful stories in dioceses outside South Africa. We live in a time that is unprecedented. The domestic abuse, rape and murder of women and children is at crisis levels. It is a crisis needing the some energy and commitment as the crisis of state capture, if not more.

Statistics tell us that a woman is killed by a current or former intimate partner every six hours in South Africa. It is also an international crisis, as it is reported that one in three women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of either intimate partners or non-partners in their lifetime.

We condemn in the strongest of terms the escalating violence against women and children in South Africa. The country needs to pause and ask: what are we not doing right? Why are we not stopping the deplorable violence against women and children? It cannot be business as usual while women and children continue to be kidnapped, trafficked, raped and murdered.

As a community and as a nation, we have failed terribly in not protecting the most vulnerable among us, the women and girls who have suffered violence, not once but many times over. We cannot claim to love, care and cherish women and children if their welfare and their lives count for so little.

The situation leaves me heartbroken. I cringe at the thought that a man can harm his own daughter, niece, wife, mother, sister or grandmother.

We are living a nightmare that is not ending. Men have become a threat to the well-being of women and children in our society. We cannot continue like that.

Our faith gives us the foundation to build a violence-free South Africa and world, one where men and women, boys and girls, work together to bring peace for us all.

Therefore, we are here to say that:

  • It cannot be right for women and children to live in fear in their homes, on our streets and in our schools, our universities and our places of worship;
  • The dignity and fundamental rights of women and children in society and in our homes, need to be reclaimed;
  • Women and children: you are not alone. We share in your pain and suffering;
  • We need to get to the root causes of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence;
  • As we worry about the crisis of water in Cape Town, we cannot turn a blind eye on the escalating violence on women and children;
  • We cannot do what we have done in the past to fight the scourge of violence on women and children – the strategy ought to change;
  • The safety of women and children is a collective responsibility;
  • We cannot allow the kidnapping, rape, trafficking and brutal murders of women and children to be normalised in our society;
  • Lastly, as we end Child Protection Week and start Youth Month, I would like to call for a nationwide consultation on sexual and gender-based violence including religious leaders, civil society organisations, SAPS, the NPA, unions, media, universities and political parties. This issue affects us all. One of the key objectives of such a consultation should be to decide on ways to ensure that women are treated with respect in society. Ubuntu demands that from us. 

Before finishing, an appeal to men. Would all the men present, or watching this on TV, stand and confess our bad behaviour and/or our complicity in this crisis, and resolve in future to speak up and ensure that gender-based violence does not happen on our watch?

Recently I watched a movie about Nigerian women who, wanting the state to enforce a law against child brides, embarked on a strike, abstaining from sex. By depriving men of sex, they forced them to join them in escalating the protest. Might this be one way of forcing the appointment of a judicial commission of inquiry into GBV? Or what other real and tangible action can the MU undertake to do so?

We are people of HOPE. The churches, mosques and synagogues were in the forefront of destroying apartheid. Together, we can stop violence against women and children. Let us go out from here and do just that!

God bless you.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

VIDEO: Celebrating 500 years of the Reformation

Video coverage of the festive service celebrating the Reformation, held at Wittenberg, Germany, on May 28, 2017. Archbishop Thabo was the preacher.

A newsclip from the service. Archbishop Thabo's contribution begins 50 seconds into the clip:

The Archbishop reflects on the service in an interview afterwards:

The full service (102 minutes):

Monday, 29 May 2017

Breaking bread together in Luther's Wittenberg

Archbishop Thabo wraps up his reflections on the German Kirchentag after preaching at the Festive Service in Wittenberg to celebrate 500 years of the Reformation: 

Day 5

Sunday was an amazing day. The Kirchentag organisers were happy with attendance, estimated at 120,000. The atmosphere was exhilarating and the celebration of Mass solemn, even in a stadium.

There were altars pitched throughout the stadium, each with a tree branch and a group of clergy and laity concelebrating. Could this be the real meaning of breaking bread together, little altars where the people are?

It was an honour to be the preacher. The 700 trumpets and massed choir and orchestra filled the whole place with a spirit of awe and wonder. President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German head of state, spoke to applause, as did the regional premier, the mayor of Wittenberg, and representatives of ecumenical partners, the Roman Catholic and Baptist churches.

The sky was blue and for a short period a rainbow appeared. May we be radical even as we share our love for justice and Christ's sake. We travel back to South Africa on Monday after one more interview. Thank you to all of you reading this blog for your prayers, I hope you have found my  reflections useful in assisting you to pray for me in this ministry.

Archbishop Thabo with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

The Reformation - "Our inspirational GPS" for the next 500 years

A sermon delivered to a Festive Service celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation at the 36th German Protestant Kirchentag, at the Elbe Meadows, Wittenberg.

Text: Genesis 16: 13; 1 Corinthians 13

Thank you all for your warm welcome. I am honoured to be here on the beautiful Elbe meadows before the gates of Lutherstadt Wittenberg. It is a great privilege to take part in launching the Reformation Summer and celebrating Kirchentag 2017.

Thank you. Danke schön

Here in front of me, I see the true spirit of tolerance, amplified by the understanding of the benefits of a multicultural society. Thank you for your witness to the world. Vielen dank.

The Kirchentag's website reported that 120,000 people attended the service.

Friends, it is impossible to overstate the contribution of Martin Luther to that part of the world influenced by Europe and its thought. His questioning of authority ignited and illuminated a civilization that became the catalyst for millions leaving the Dark Ages. He was one of the true fathers of democratic freedom. He mobilized millions, in an unstoppable movement, to embrace the right to participate. He made it safe to want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

The Reformation which he initiated was more than a theological watershed. It was a defining moment in our sociological and political evolution. But the Reformation is not something which concerns only our past. 

Interpreted in today's context, it can become our guide, our inspirational GPS, our global positioning system for the next 500 years.

The histories of both of our countries — that of Germany in the Nazi era, and of South Africa in the apartheid era — are records of unspeakable cruelty. But they are also histories of God's unfailing faithfulness. They both speak of the challenge to find the Holy One who is, as the hymn says, “standing somewhere in the shadows... and you’ll know Him by the nail prints in His hands.” Our histories are testimony to the power of Hagar's words when she says: “You see me.”

For any African, Hagar's story is deeply etched into both our historical DNA and our contemporary experience. Dolores Williams reminds us that Hagar’s predicament involved slavery, poverty, sexual and economic exploitation, surrogacy, rape, domestic violence and homelessness. Black people generally but particularly black women in South Africa know exactly the same realities. They know that in so many contexts, “black lives do not matter.”

But as we read the Hagar story further, we find that alongside this litany of suffering and exclusion, there is also the story of a God who acts in a powerful way. When Hagar finds herself vulnerable on the periphery, God gives her the resources to survive.  Just like the Syrian refugee you have welcomed into Germany, Hagar stands as a beacon of hope to all who suffer, to the oppressed around the world.

Paul’s words today also speak to the heart of our human responsibility and the values that cradle it. The radical love that he describes – agape – is the love of God, unconditional love, love in action. It is a love that reassures us that God indeed does see us. But can we say in turn that we see God? The answer is “No.” Because  God's love is a love so wide and deep we can never fully comprehend it. As Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.”

But until the time comes when we see God face to face, what we can do is to strive to make our lives — my life and your lives — a mirror of God's love for the world. Does our neighbour, the foreigner, the refugee, my enemy, see in our lives something of God's unconditional love? We will never truly understand the extraordinary nature of that love. But we can try to live in such a way that others might see in our lives something of the uniqueness of God's love.

Paul reminds us that in essence we are seen and we are transformed into God's likeness to do the very things God does: to be present in times of suffering, to liberate ourselves and every unjust situation from the multiple bondages that hold so many millions in captivity, to speak a word of hope in moments of despair. We are challenged to bless others with our love, to see them as they are seen by God and in seeing them to journey with them through the world of injustice and brokenness.

Let me end with a special challenge to those of you who are young. As you live the Kirchentag, I charge you to hear the cries of others and of our planet as God would. My prayer is that you will be radical; that you will give love away — even as you recognise your frailties and limitations, even if you are daunted by the enormity of the task of transforming the world. Even if you feel that you are seeing the challenges only dimly, please do something, at least one thing, for love's sake, for dignity's sake, for freedom's sake, for Christ's sake. 

Martin Luther King Junior famously spoke about a dream that he had for his country. Like King, I have a dream for the world: that one day soon all the narcissistic, nationalist, isolationist ramblings of our current times will disappear. I have a dream that instead there will arise a global awareness that we are of one humanity. I have a dream that we will all sit together to decide: “What is in the best interests not of this or that group, but of all of society?” I have a dream that your children, and mine, will one day live in an Africa and in a world that has an abundance of unlimited and equal access to education, to health care, to water and sanitation and to economic opportunities.

Will you, young people and older people, help me realise that dream? Please help me. 

God bless you, God bless your families and God bless Germany. Danke schön, and Amen.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Meeting Merkel & Preparing for Preaching with Precision

Archbishop Thabo continues his blog from Berlin, where he and his wife, Lungi, are attending the "Kirchentag" See photos at the end of his post. 

Day 3

I had a fast-paced day, which was scheduled to begin with a meeting with Bread for the World | Brot für die Welt. But it did not happen because the person we were to meet was ill. So I used the time to walk around an exhibition hall, where church and other NGO and government networks were marketing themselves in an impressively coherent manner, with beautiful and informative stands.

Then we took a 90-minute drive to the tiny city of Lutherstadt Wittenberg through beautiful countryside, where all was green and fields stretched to the horizon. We arrived to be met by the imposing tower of the church associated with Luther, then crossed over the gentle River Elbe to the venue for Sunday's great outdoor festive service. There we saw the huge venue planned for the tens of thousands who are expected to come, and pictured it filled with the crowds tomorrow.

A huge makeshift outdoor amphitheatre has been pitched there for the service. The orchestra was rehearsing and welcomed me warmly, then I rehearsed the sermon as if preaching. My homily was five minutes too long so I had to cut it down to 10 minutes! The precision with which they are planning the service is mind-boggling. I met the main director and other leaders of the big operation. It was a great experience and the arrangements are out of this world.

Then we travelled back to Berlin, where we rested for a few minutes in an exhibition centre lounge before I appeared as a panellist at a discussion on religion and development organised by the German Ministry of Social Development's International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD). After being transported back to the hotel through the high security arranged for President Barack Obama's visit the previous day, I immediately changed and joined a reception for international guests hosted by Bread for the World and Kirchentag. It felt like home, I met a lot of South Africans, friends from elsewhere in Africa and people from the ecumenical community, including the Archbishop of Sweden, Antje Jackelén, who was in Cape Town last weekend.

Then into a taxi and headed to the hotel for the last interview of the day at 20h00. I am not going to the gym this week but the programme makes me feel as if I don’t need to as I am always running.

Day 4

A quieter day, with one meeting as I still myself before preaching tomorrow.

The sermon is now 9.5 minutes and has been sent to the TV presenters and translators. I have no words to describe a church festival so well attended, relevant to old and young and the popular mood very positive. Some attendees can be seen jostling in the sun, on the grass and just enjoying the spirit. Perhaps for South Africans, the nearest comparison is the ZCC's great Easter gathering at Zion City, Moria, or perhaps what Angus Buchan organised recently in the Free State. But they seem a fraction of the sophistication I am observing here.

On a personal note, it being summer here, the pollen from the trees is flying like snowflakes so I am battling with my chest and sinusitis is affecting  my voice. I am nursing my voice for Sunday so that I am not “invincible in the week and inaudible on Sunday” as the joke goes about some clergy.

Today I bumped into Bishop Ebenezer Ntali after breakfast. I had only one meeting, with Dr Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany's Minister of Finance and the current Chair of the G20 nations. Now I am retreating from the crowds to rest and recoup before my sermon tomorrow. I will go for a swim later.

With Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bishop Bedford-Strohm

With Bernhard Felmberg of Eine Welt.

Planning for Sunday.

Rehearsing my sermon in front of empty seats - 9.5 minutes!

With Dr Wolfgang Schäuble and Renier Koegelenberg.

With Volker Faigle and Ambassador Stone Sizani