Growth and Expansion
Comprising three countries as it does, the Botswana Province has a linguistic, cultural, political, economic and pastoral richness which stimulates and challenges. The church in Botswana and Zambia has great freedom, is respected, its views are listened to and in some situations is consulted by political leaders. The Bishops feel free to voice their opinions on justice issues, corruption, social evils and moral issues.
Though we are working in three countries I want to limit my remarks to Botswana. Much progress has been made here since our arrival 28 years ago. Take, for example, education: after independence in 1966 there were only 9 secondary schools in the whole country. By 1981 that number had risen to over 300, not to mention a University and other tertiary institutions. Great strides have been made in the fields of communication, mass media, transport, medicine, to mention a few. Botswana has a multi-party system, though one party has dominated the political arena since independence, and is a democratic, progressive nation.
The Catholic Church has also made great progress. Until 1998 there was only one diocese for the whole country. In 1998 the north was created as a Vicariate and the first bishop is Frank Nubuasah, SVD. The majority of the pastoral workers are still foreigners with a few local priests and religious whose number, thankfully, is slowly increasing. The Catholic population is 5% and steadily growing. The laity have become aware of their role and responsibilities in the mission of the Church They have taken up various ministries such as funeral leaders, Eucharist ministers, catechists, ministers to the sick, leaders for Sunday services in the absence of priest, preachers during Mass etc. Parish Councils help in running the activities and administration of the parishes and faith communities. Small Christian Communities (SCC) and Bible Groups through their prayer meetings and sharing help build up Christian community and create an awareness of Christian obligations in their respective areas or cells.
At the request of the bishop and with an intention of expansion of the mission in the Vicariate the SVD have relinquished 3 established parishes and have moved to other new areas to begin and establish Churches presence. The Society is involved in youth and Bible ministry, family apostolate, social communication and also in AIDS awareness program.
No doubt we have experienced and enjoyed tremendous development both in Church life and in the secular field. It does not mean that the country and the Church have no challenges to face. Despite the country's wealth there is a big gap between the haves and have-nots. Unemployment, corruption, drugs, alcoholism and other social ills have crept in and they are on the increase. The Church really faces big challenges if she wants to be a prophetic voice for Botswana of today. Young people make up the majority of the population. In spite of great efforts many young people are either not involved in the life of the Church or leave the Church to join the more exciting Pentecostal churches. The reason may be that Catholic Church is still western to a great extent, not sensitive to the needs and culture of the People. We have to make the Church relevant to them so that their hopes and aspirations are fulfilled. Other areas where the Church is facing challenges are: lack of deep Christian Faith as a result of which some run to traditional healers in times of crisis; insufficient religious, catechetical and other Christian literature, lack of proper understanding of Christian marriage, single parent families, divorce, AIDS, orphans etc. These are really big challenges for the Church if she has to be a light and hope for the present day changing Botswana.
In a nutshell, it's a story of the inception and growth of SVD presence in Botswana. It was the Spirit of Christ at work - silently prompting, encouraging, guiding and fulfilling to see the fruits of 28 years of mission work of the Society. As it is elsewhere in the world we can apply the parable of the "sower, sowing the seed in good soil, producing 30, 60 and 100 fold fruits, also true in the case of Botswana (Mt 13:1-8).
My own experience taught me ‘how God is active through his own plans, brings to completion using human instruments, though weak and frail, yet great in his eyes.’ Bishops, priests, religious, lay people and the SVD Generalate have been instrumental for this growth and progress. Community means neither dependency nor independency but interdependency. It is this interdependency of our community that allowed this progress of our SVD mission in Botswana. "Hallowed be His name and may His kingdom spread...."
The priority of the Church in all three countries is the building up of Small Christian Communities. More and more importance is being given to the role of laity in the mission of the Church and in society. Liturgy tends to be very lively, since in prayer and worship Africans express themselves by singing, dancing and playing indigenous instruments. Offertory processions and freely formulated Bidding Prayers reflect their own cultures.
New ministries have emerged, and laity minister to the community in the absence of a priest by leading Sunday services, conducting funerals, and providing pastoral care of the sick, the aged and the poor. Small Christian Communities and Bible groups are effective methods in building community spirit and deepening the faith. Women's organizations have been outstanding in their active involvement in the spiritual and apostolic life of the Church in all the dioceses where we work.
A great percentage of the population consists of youth. Despite great efforts, it remains a sad fact that many young people are either not involved in the life of the Church or leave the Catholic Church to join others, especially Pentecostal Churches. The dichotomy between Christian faith and daily life is a big problem. Relevant inculturation is a must and a great challenge. We need to find ways to make the Church more meaningful to the youth. The Church is far from being self-ministering, self-propagating and self-supporting, although this is the aim of all four dioceses in which we work.
The province is vast in terms of distance. Working in three countries, six dioceses, and many language groups is an enriching but also challenging experience. On the down side we must deal with the distances between us, the different pastoral realities, the difficulty in getting visas, and problems involving personalities and attitudes. Coordinating so many different apostolates and organizing common activities is difficult, but generally there is a good feeling of belonging to one province. The structure of the Districts has developed and the District Superiors play an important role in encouraging a better and more effective missionary presence.
We pursue with zeal the priorities of the local Church. Lay participation and the development of Small Christian Communities has been encouraged. Our own unity in diversity is a witness to the local Church. The confreres are very much aware of our SVD missionary charism and priorities: the Bible Apostolate, Communication, Mission Animation, Justice and Peace, youth, inculturation and lay formation. Most confreres make these concerns a part of their pastoral involvement and integrate them into their normal pastoral activities. Our efforts and presence are very much appreciated by the local Church and the bishops.
A good relationship exists between Catholics and mainline churches in all three countries. Many Pentecostal Churches (sects), aided by groups in the USA have sprung up. These have had a great impact on our young people through brainwashing and the promise of a dramatic change of life. The Independent African Churches claim that they are better able to deal with witchcraft and disease. They attract people by the warmth of the reception they offer to their members. They are very active, even aggressive, and they have no shortage of personnel. The road to being a preacher or a community leader in these churches is a short one. Some Catholics and other Christians also fall back to African traditional religion during times of stress.
Although the number of Muslims is not great (compared to Christians), they are much more active than they were previously. They have built more mosques, which are better attended now than some years ago.
AIDS is a great problem looming over the population of all three countries. In spite of government and Church efforts, the AIDS situation continues to worsen. The early death of so many workers, breadwinners, and intellectuals has had a serious effect on the economy. The rapidly growing number of orphans is an added strain. Aged and unemployed grandparents have often become the sole support of children who have experienced the trauma of losing both their parents. The increasing number of deaths, funerals and hospital admissions as well as the need for home care services has led to a disruption in life at both the family and parish levels.
The HIV-AIDS pandemic has been compounded recently by years of drought, which have further weakened the coping mechanisms of the communities. The breakdown of family life, especially in urban centers, is a major problem. Divorce is on the increase in all sections of the population, while the number of abortions is frightening. Unemployment, migration to urban areas and to South Africa (especially from Zimbabwe and Botswana), high alcohol consumption, drug abuse among the youth, promiscuity, marital infidelity, the rapid spread of AIDS, destitution, teenage pregnancy, street children, increasing crime rates, and lack of housing are everyday realities affecting the people and the Church.
- The knowledge of the faith is often shallow. - Secularization and materialism have gained too much influence. - Apathy and indifference to the faith are felt in some communities. - There are many Catholics who lead a double life. In times of crisis they turn to traditional or sect faith healers. - There is insufficient religious, catechetical, and spiritual literature. - Ignorance of local culture slows down Evangelization. - There is still a great over dependence on a providing Church. - A very high percentage of Catholics live in canonically invalid unions and many lack a proper understanding of Christian marriage. Original text by Fr. Victor Noronha, SVD, edited by Fr. Mareko, SVD