Racial Justice: South Africa has an opportunity and a responsibility

For the past month Fr Bryan Massingale, professor of theological and social ethics at New York’s Fordham University, has been speaking around South Africa on “Racial Justice and the Demands of Discipleship”. Fr Massingale’s talks were very well received by bishops, clergy and many lay people. During his visit, Massingale was interviewed on Radio Veritas, SAfm and TalkRadio 702. He also wrote a guest column for the Sunday Times.

The day before he left South Africa, the priest from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, reflected on his time in South Africa.

He said that he enjoyed praying with the people in South Africa, especially at liturgies in Orlando West, Soweto and Nyanga in Cape Town. “My first Sunday here I celebrated mass in Soweto and, to see the wonder of the people and their exuberance and their excitement and their energy, it reminded me of black Catholic masses at home: where people (you know) walk to Church, when they bring their collection forward, and the varieties of music and the excitement and the exuberance… And the same thing happened when I celebrated mass at a black township in Cape Town. To see how people are joyful and excited about their faith, and realise that we share a common faith even though expressed in very different ways.”

Massingale said that when he first got to the country people said that they didn’t want to talk about racism. However, he said, that he found people were willing to engage in conversation. “I was really impressed by the willingness of people to engage in very serious and difficult conversations. It led to one of the differences I noted between South Africa and the United State. There are great similarities in terms of our racial histories and our current racial dynamics.  At least in South Africa, you know you have a problem and you’re willing to talk about it, whereas in the United States we don’t… We are not always good at even admitting that we have a problem. We cannot even talk about whether Donald Trump is a racist, or even if he has racist policies.” He said that he was very impressed by the openness in South Africa to admit that we have a problem with racism.

He went on to say that one of the key highlights for him was that he got to engage with bishops across South Africa. Massingale said that this was a  “marked difference from the United States where bishops wouldn’t take the time to really learn about the issue of racism.” He said that he was able to dialogue formally and informally with almost one-third of the bishops. “It showed me that even though they have perhaps their limitations at times, that they have an openness to engage the issue and a willingness to learn and to be in the audience as learners and that’s something you don’t always see in those who lead us in that role of bishop,” Massingale said.

Massingale goes on to speak of two very personal highlights of his time in South Africa.

He said that being in South Africa deepened his own commitment to the ministry of working for racial justice. “It’s deepened my own vocation. Sometimes when I talk about race, especially in the United States, I can feel very isolated and very lonely” the priest said. He went on to say that sometimes you wonder if it really makes a difference. But he said that his month in South Africa has taught him that working for racial justice is worthwhile and that there are people who are hungry for it and appreciate it. “So the blessing I take with me as I go back home is that I am doing the right thing – this is what God wants me to do!”

The second personal highlight for Massingale was, he says, the impression that South Africans can once again become “the birthplace of a new way of being human” and a “model this for the world”. “One of the things I did when I was here, I visited the Cradle of humanity, the Cradle of Humankind. If South Africa can be a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, democracy of equals. Then, it will indeed be once again the Cradle of Humanity – it will be the birthplace for a new way of being human. And as I leave here I know the country has issues and problems and trials, but I also leave with a great deal of hope and kind of an expectation and a challenge for South Africa to rise and to live out its dream, to live out its destiny, and to be a model for the world of what we need to become.”

WATCH the full interview:

Recordings of Fr Massingale’s lectures can be purchased from the Jesuit Institute South Africa.

Image: Russell Pollitt SJ


Fr Russell Pollitt SJ

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Institute and is interested in the impact that communications technology has on society and spirituality. He regularly comments on South African Politics and various issues in the Catholic Church.

director@jesuitinstitute.org.za @rpollittsj
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