Homily of Rt Rev Bishop Duncan Tsoke, Holy Trinity Braamfontein, 16 October 2016
In the aftermath of the shooting by police of Fr Graham Pugin SJ at the chaplaincy to Wits University, Bishop Tsoke, auxiliary bishop of Johannesburg, came to celebrate the Sunday evening student mass. Fr Pugin was shot when police and #FeesMustFall protesting students clashed on the streets around the university. Below is a transcript of his sermon.
This evening we come to Mass into communion with the Prince of Peace, who lives and gives his peace literally in person. This is the peace he wants us to share with each other. He wants us to offer each other the sign of peace which we will have the privilege to do in a few minutes. We offer Jesus and pray that his peace may inundate us. We will pray that the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, may drop onto us spiritual serenity. He will grant us peace and we will ask him to strengthen us to go in peace at the end of this Mass. We find the Lord by allowing our lives of peace even in the midst of the hardship that may come. Oh Christ, Prince of Peace, strengthen us to live in and spread that peace.
Our families are torn by violence, our communities are destroyed by violence, our faith is tested by violence. We have an obligation to respond. Violence in our homes, our universities, schools and streets, our nation and world is destroying the lives, dignity and hopes of millions of our sisters and brothers. Fear of violence is polarising our communities. The celebration of violence in much of our media, music and even video games is paralysing our children. Beyond the violence in our streets, is the violence in our hearts. Hostility, hatred, despair and indifference are at the heart of the growing culture of violence. Verbal violence in our families, communication and talk shows contribute to this culture of violence. Our social fabric is being torn apart by a culture of violence that leaves children dead on our streets and our families are frayed in our homes. Our society seems to be growing numb to human loss and suffering. As a nation we can turn away from violence. We can build communities of greater peace and it begins with a clear conviction: respect for life.
Respect for life is not just a slogan or a programme, it is a fundamental moral principle flowing from our teaching on the dignity of the human person. It is an approach to value the lives of people over things. Respect for life must guide the choices we make over things and, as a society, what we do and won’t do. As individuals and as a society, what we do and won’t do, what we value and consume, who we admire and whose example we follow, what we support and what we oppose determines that respect. Respect for human life is the starting point for confronting a culture of violence.
My brothers and sisters we need dialogue. We need to dialogue. Dialogue is what brings peace. Peace is impossible without dialogue. All wars, conflicts and the troubles we encounter with each other are because of a lack of dialogue. There is always the danger that two people with firm identities and the inability to be open to the other will fight instead of dialogue. We dialogue to meet each other, not to fight. Dialogue involves asking the other: “Why do you think this?” or “Why is that culture, authority this way or that?” Then listen to the response. First listen then talk. That’s uniqueness. If you don’t think like I do and you can’t convince me to think like you do, that’s ok. We can still be friends. Give and take is important in dialogue. Forgiveness. Dialogue. Reconciliation. These are the words of peace. Let us pray for reconciliation and peace. Let us work for reconciliation and peace and let us all become, in every place, men and women of reconciliation and peace.
God is not a God of violence and fighting. Make violence and fighting cease, I plead with you! Both are against God and your neighbour. Be at peace with all. Consider that character, God saves you through him. “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.”
Peace is always possible and we have to seek it. May there never again be violence but always the desire and commitment to peace and fraternity among peoples. Prayer is at the root of peace. Peace making calls for courage, much more so than warfare does. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict; yes to dialogue and no to violence. But such courage is beyond our own power because the evil one subverts the human efforts we make at peace. That is why we need the help of God.
I know there might be people full of anger and wanting for revenge. Please, we should never seek revenge for anything. Not because vengeance is evil but because our God is a God who demands justice and vengeance is his. I want to also what the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference said in a statement that was released on #FeesMustFall campaign last week. The Catholic Church, I want you to know, agrees that the student protest has foundation. We are aware of the presence of inequality, of inopportunity for the poor to access third level education. And, as bishops throughout the country, we have assisted students with our limited resources. But the majority of the deserving students we have not been able to help. What the students desire is more equality in access to education at university level. We support this request but we do not condone the violence, looting and vandalising of property by students and the use of force by police.
We also want, on behalf of the Archbishop, to extend our sincere sympathy and prayers for a speedy recovery to Fr Graham. You know that Fr Graham was wounded by a direct strike from a rubber bullet to the face while engaging in offering refuge to fleeing students. Fr Graham you are a true soldier of Christ. You are truly an ambassador of Christ. You now bear a scar that represents the struggles of university students for a fee free education. Continue to be courageous.
We also want to thank, in appreciation, all our Catholic chaplains who have been close to our students at this anxious time. They have been there for them.
We encourage university authorities to do all in their power to complete this academic year. It is important that it not be wasted. Let us remember to ask for help when we need it. My dear students, especially help in prayer. We, as the clergy, are there for you.
It is not just ourselves at Holy Trinity that are concerned about your struggle, this is something that is shared by the whole church. Indeed, I can tell you, Fr Graham has had the Nuncio phone him four times to speak to him. Such is the concern of the Pope’s Ambassador to South Africa because of what has happened here in this past week.
The Jesuit Fathers in Rome, who on Friday elected a new Superior General from Venezuela, have prayed for us. We are feeling the effects of their prayer and I ask you to join yours with theirs so that the entire company of heaven may intercede on your behalf.
Let us ask God for the courage not to give up in our prayer. Finally, let us let God to give us faith so that we can remain confident that God will answer our prayers and bring peace in our days and justice in our time. Now I want to call you “compatriots” – if you don’t mind – please be strong. You must be strong my brothers and sisters. You must be strong with the strength that faith gives. You must be strong with the strength of faith. You must be faithful. You need this strength today and tomorrow and forever more than any other period of our history. You must be strong with love, which is stronger than faith, stronger than death. When we are strong with the Spirit of God, we are also strong with the faith and there is, therefore, no need to fear. Do not fear. So I beg you, never loose your trust. Do not be defeated. Do not be discouraged. Always seek spiritual power which countless generations, including our fathers and mothers, have found. Never detach yourselves from him. Never lose your spiritual freedom.
I want to end with this beautiful prayer: “Lord make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred let me sow love, where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Oh divine Master grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. Amen.”