Jerusalema!? What about the Jailhouse Rock?

President Ramaphosa announced that we are to move, at last, to Level 1. Most welcome, for many I’m certain, is that religious gatherings will now be permitted with congregations at 50%, up to 250 persons indoors and 500 outdoors, but only 100 for funerals. Importantly “Health protocols, such as washing or sanitising of hands, social distancing and mask-wearing, will need to be strictly observed.” These health protocols will be standard for the foreseeable future.

This will, I’m sure, be welcomed by many churches, though I still expect some caution from those in the pews. Let’s hope that all the churches have used this time to prepare so that as they return to worship the ‘health protocols’ can be assiduously applied. Failure to do so will be an act of wilful harm to all involved.

The President also called for us to celebrate Heritage Day, this coming Thursday, 24 September, with ‘family time’. He suggested we reflect together “… on the difficult journey we have all travelled, to remember those who have lost their lives, and to quietly rejoice in the remarkable and diverse heritage of our nation.” Perhaps this was a hidden plea to not lurch into level 1, but rather to ease into it… as many of us have probably had a lot of ‘family time’ already! But he is right. We have had a difficult journey. That’s even an understatement. Family and friends have died. The poor have suffered and been neglected, and thieves have brazenly pilfered funds on an unimaginable scale.

But the ‘remarkable and diverse’ heritage of our nation reminds us that we are not all bad or corrupt. Indeed, the origin of this public holiday is not meant to be a nostalgic, or even lamenting, looking back; but rather it is connected with looking forwards, and building our nation. President Mandela said: “When our first democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.”

As we rebuild, we need to come together and propose new models for an inclusive and more just society that benefits the many and not just a few. We need to put the common good at the heart of our recovery plans. We need to help each other. Simply being kind is one small way to do this. As we celebrate Heritage Day quietly together around a braai, and with perhaps more friends than just family, let’s use that time to talk creatively, positively and concretely about the future we dream and desire to build.

The President then challenged us to the “Jerusalema dance challenge” to show the world what we are capable of. That’s nice. For me, however, I’ll still be humming ‘Jailhouse Rock’. If we are to show the world what we are capable of, we should be committed to remaining utterly intolerant of all corruption. Fundamental to rebuilding SA is holding all those who destroy, rather than build our country, to account.

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ entered the Society of Jesus in 2005 and underwent the usual course of studies in his formation, which took him to such varied places as Canada, France, Ireland, Kenya, Spain, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Matthew manages the background technical aspects of much of the Institute's work and is involved in the Spirituality work whilst completing the Advanced Spiritual Directors Training Course and Spiritual Exercises Training run by the Institute. He is a member of Spiritual Directors International and is also a part-time lecturer in Sacred Scripture at St Augustine College of South Africa. @mcharlesworth
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