Lenten Message

Repent and believe the Good News

It is nearly a year since Pope Francis took over leadership (service) of the Church at its highest level – Bishop of Rome. And what a year it has been!

He has not taken very long to impress and inspire an enormous number of people of all ages, more by his actions than his words. In saying that I am well aware of the many pithy, but most penetrating saying that are being repeated almost daily. For example when urging clergy to be close to their people Pope Francis has said: The shepherd must smell like his sheep.

I am reminded often of his first action as he was elected Pope. It was to confess that he was a sinner! As he accepted to lead the Church of Jesus Christ he said: “Even though I am a sinner, I accept.

Since then virtually his every action has spoken out loud, informing us at the deepest level of our being what it means to be a Disciple of Jesus Christ.

Season of Lent

The time of Lent which we are about to begin, is as blessed and sacred a time as has this past year under the leadership of Pope Francis. It’s as if every year God asks us the same question that Pope Francis was asked: Do you accept? Do you accept to be a true disciple? Do you accept to heed the call and challenge that my Son is putting before you with the opening words of his saving mission: Repent and believe the good news!

Pope Francis began his ministry a Pope with a clear answer. Now it’s up to each one of us to answer for ourselves:

Even though I am a sinner I accept.

Indeed, because I am a sinner, everyday I commit myself to your call to repent; everyday I commit myself to listening to your Word and believing in what you are saying to me through it; everyday I commit myself to accepting and living what it tells me, and what Jesus your Son has shown me I must do in order to be truly your beloved son or daughter.

Practical Action

Consequently I commit myself to the following:

a)    Because you have given me ears to hear, I will listen to what you are saying to me. But my listening is going to include doing. So I’m going to acquire a Bible or New Testament. Then I’m going to read it, reflect on it, pray in response to your word, and simply spend time letting you inspire me to know what you want.

b)    Every day of Lent I am going to set aside 15-30 minutes for listening to and being with you.

c)     Thereafter, just as Pope Francis never tires of telling us, I am going to do something specific that is going to benefit the poor, the lonely, the marginalised, the abandoned. True I will pray or them, but even more I will try to find ways of being with them, just as Jesus did, in those moments when they needed him most.

d)    I will try to be there for Him and with Him.

During Lent for the past 50 years and more, the Church in our Southern African Region has been helping us to do and to be what I’ve described above by participating generously in the Bishops’ Lenten Appeal Collection, which is used to assist the poor, but also to enable the Church to continue doing the many works demanded by its Mission to evangelise.

These works include running our Seminaries (St Francis Xavier, the Orientation Seminary in Cape Town and St John Vianney, the Major Seminary in Pretoria) as well as the Departments of the Bishops Conference, in particular those to do with the ‘core business’ of the Church – Evangelisation, Catechetics, Liturgy, Education and Healthcare.

In order to ensure that the Church of the future will continue to have the resources for its work, the Conference is building up a reserve called the “SACBC Foundation”. The main sources for the Foundation are a) the Special “Once-off” Collection which each Diocese is asked to take up and b) the Lenten Appeal Collection. So far the Foundation has reached just over R14million.

Last year the Lenten Appeal brought in R9.25million an increase of R500,000 over the previous year. Grants to the works of the Church amounted to R5million and to the Foundation R3.3million, leaving a reserve of just under R700,000.

As I wish everyone a very fruitful Lenten Season, I renew the appeal which we make at this time every year please make a good Lent, by making your repentance from sin and belief in the Gospel visible by contributing generously to the Lenten Appeal, and if you haven’t already done so, making your Once-off donation to the Foundation.

God bless you and give you all the graces you need to make this a special time for him and his Church.

+  Wilfrid Card Napier OFM

+  Archbishop of Durban.