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By Bishop Rubin Phillip
I welcome all of you, especially President Jacob Zuma and Premier Dr Zweli Mkhize, to this prayer service in honour of one of the greatest sons of the African soil, Archbishop Denis Hurley.
We are honouring him in this centenary year of the founding of the ANC. And it is fitting that we should be doing so. Hurley’s contribution to the life of the Church and society in general is well-known. But perhaps he is best known for his fierce opposition to apartheid and his stand for peace and justice.
Hurley became known for his prophetic leadership, especially in relation to worker rights, trade unions, consumer boycotts, the active promotion of the open schools policy, support for the victims of forced removals, detainees and their families, as well as conscientious objectors. This is how he chose to fulfil his priestly calling.
For Hurley, there was a connection, not a disconnection, between the sacred and the secular, between the spiritual and the material, bet-ween the word and the world.
In Luke’s Gospel, we are reminded of Jesus’ own mission or mandate, from which we, the Church, take our cue. Entering the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus read these words from the prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free.
Here we see, dear friends, preaching matched by good works, such as liberating the imprisoned, healing the blind, freeing the oppressed.
These words of Jesus gripped the hearts of the listeners. Why?
Because they longed for the fulfilment of that prophecy in a time when their whole experience was one of oppression. And the impulse to revolution and uprising was close to their hearts.
Jesus knew very well the explosive political context that gave urgency to the words of Isaiah, but he was not interested in uprising or violence. He came rather to preach and to work for the real meaning of Isaiah, which was the reign of God, the rule of love, justice, equality, and mercy in each heart and in society.
In a word, he preached a Gospel of liberation, liberation from all that would bring pain and suffering, shame and humiliation, hunger and homelessness – from all that dehumanises and degrades. Jesus came, in the words of John, that we might have life, life in all its abundance.
At his resurrection, Jesus passed on this mandate to his Church. We are now to continue the work of bringing the Good News to the poor, of proclaiming release to the captives, of working for a just and equal society, of working for the fullness of life. We dare not neglect this mandate because we have attained political freedom. No, the truth is we still have a long way to go towards attaining the kind of society that most of us dreamed of and suffered for.
There’s a song which includes these words:
Look around you, can you see
Times are troubled, people grieve
See the violence, hear the cries
O my people, weep with me.
Can we say this about our country – that times are troubled?
Yes, I think we can. Just yesterday, South Africans heard of the brutal story of a 17-year-old mentally impaired teen who had been gang-raped by seven young men. To add to her humiliation, they had video-taped the brutal attack and splashed it on the internet.
We, as men, ought to hang our heads in shame because of this evil deed. Javu Baloyi, spokesman for the Commission for Gender Equality, had this to say: “The rape of this mentally disabled teenager really highlights the degree of exploitation and abuse of the most vulnerable members of our society. The question we need to ask ourselves is: ‘What has gone wrong with us? Who are we as a nation?’”
Who are we as a nation?
In this centenary year of the founding of the ANC, amid the celebration and jubilation, it’s a question that we as a nation ought to be reflecting on, and doing so with honesty and seriousness. Of course, there is without doubt much that we have achieved since 1994. We would be amiss – even petty – not to recognise these achievements, many of which are of fundamental importance to the creation of a new nation. We must also recognise with gratitude that this is the centenary of struggle for a democratic society.
We should also recognise that many who fought for freedom lost their lives. We must not take for granted, dear friends, that freedom came at a great personal cost, which is all the more reason why we should not only guard and cherish it, but also amplify and build on it.
However, we know all too well that times are troubled, that we still face massive challenges, such as in education, health, race relations, the growing gap between rich and poor, our treatment of women and children, and the plight of shack-dwellers. And then there’s that dark cloud, which seems to get even darker each day: greed and corruption. May we be delivered from this scourge, which is eating away at our achievements, destroying us as a nation and impeding our progress towards a vibrant and functional democracy.
If Archbishop Denis Hurley were alive today, you can be assured that he would be making his voice heard on these matters. But it is now up to us, his friends, the Church, to continue to speak truth to power – our prophetic role – and to preach the Good News to the poor and work for justice. We should not shy away in this quest from developing partnerships with the government and NGOs, just as long as we do not lose our independence and freedom to speak and act freely.
We give thanks for the life and witness of Archbishop Denis Hurley, a great son of our soil, a deeply spiritual man, a simple man, an anointed man. He actioned justice, loved kindness and walked humbly with his God.
May Hurley continue to inspire us to give ourselves completely, as he did, to the building of our country.
– Archbishop Denis Hurley at St Paul’s Anglican Church, Durban.