Institute Cultivates Spiritual Resources for South Africa

Article excerpt

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - "Rainbow Nation" is South Africa's moniker. It's particularly apt, as it captures the country's racial diversity and conjures hope that 49 million people can overcome their tormented, complex past.

Much augurs well for their future. As the continent's richest nation, South Africa's resources, both natural and human, are substantial, its infrastructure first-rate, and its universities renowned. And then there is the miracle of1994. Apartheid ended, bloodshed was averted, a constitution was promulgated, and a new democracy was born. Truth-telling and attempts at reconciliation were made. Political power continued to be transferred peacefully; no "big man" has emerged to threaten democracy.

These remarkable achievements are only half the picture, however. South Africa has the second most uneven distribution of wealth among the world's nations, an unemployment rate of 24 percent, and the world's highest rate of HIV/AIDS-affected adults. There are more rapes and assaults per capita in South Africa than any other place in the world. Anger and resentment persist below the surface and seep out in widespread corruption and endemic violence. Life is made even more difficult by the refugees from neighboring Zimbabwe and Mozambique who flood in searching for work.

South Africa can host the World Cup in style while millions of its citizens live in townships lacking basic amenities. Here a First and a Third World coexist, divided no longer principally by race, but rather by economic disparity Ubiquitous fences, walls and razor wire are the physical manifestations of this separation.

But it is impossible not to hope for the realization of the dream of a "Rainbow Nation"; too much is at stake. Hanging in the balance are not only the lives of millions of citizens, but the example of democratic, nonviolent change that South Africa offers the sub-Saharan continent. One resonates with the universal aspiration for hope expressed by the poet Denise Levertov:

How could we tire of hope?
--so much is in bud ...
there is too much broken
that must be mended,

too much hurt we have done to
  each other
that cannot yet be forgiven ...

So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,

so much is in bud.

South Africa is a nation that "cannot tire of hope." It has the economic, technological and intellectual resources to move through these next crucial decades, but spiritual resources for the long haul also must be cultivated.

During the period of segregation and apartheid, religion served both as a bulwark of the status quo as well as a contributor to anti-apartheid opposition. Desmond Tutu, Anglican archbishop of Cape Town; Denis Hurley, Catholic bishop of Durban; and the Rev. Allan Boesak of the Dutch Reformed church were important leaders in the struggle for social justice. Today most South Africans are allied with some Christian denomination. Independent churches claim about 36 percent of the population, and Zion Christian and Pentecostal/charismatics about 20 percent. Dutch Reform and Methodists each make up about 7 percent, while 4 percent are identified as Anglicans.

Only about 7 percent of the population is affiliated with the Catholic church, but among them efforts are being made both to address systemic social problems and to deal with the spiritual formation of congregants. The Jesuit Institute South Africa (www.jesuitinstitute.org.za), founded in Johannesburg in 2006, brings a faith dimension and the church's social justice teachings to bear on social and religious issues. By stimulating reflection, research and dialogue, the institute works to form Catholics and other Christians.

At the heart of the Jesuit Institute is its spirituality work> which includes retreats offered in the townships and the suburbs of Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as programs in spiritual direction and spiritual leadership. …