Feb. 25, 2016
Is racial reconciliation possible after times of segregation and extreme injustice?That was the question posed last week by South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, archbishop of Durban, during a lecture in the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center at The Catholic University of America. Though Cardinal Napier believes reconciliation is possible, he thinks it can only happen where there is a serious respect for equality and human dignity. Cardinal Napier's speech, which was titled " Pax et Bonum - a pious greeting or a life changing challenge?" chronicled his integral role in the South African Catholic Church during the end of apartheid. During those years, church groups worked to build peace by bringing together black activists and the white-ruled government to reconcile their differences. Cardinal Napier said he believes those efforts helped limit violence and a possible civil war.
At his Feb. 17 lecture, Cardinal Napier said he drew strength during that time from the motto he selected at his bishop's appointment. He chose " Pax et Bonom ," Latin for peace and goodwill, because it was a favorite greeting of St. Francis of Assisi. As time passed, Cardinal Napier began to see it as "a life-changing challenge to make the Gospel a reality." He became committed to creating peace and goodwill in all of God's creation, including "God's human family." As vice president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference in the 1990s, Cardinal Napier was involved in the negotiation with national and Church leaders. He was also present for key events like the signing of the 1991 Peace Accord and the subsequent 1994 elections, the first elections in which South African citizens of all races could vote. Over the years, Cardinal Napier has built ministries across his diocese to foster a sense of community and peace. He stressed the importance of listening, saying that he would often hold meetings to discuss community needs and desires instead of deciding on his own what would be best.
Cardinal Napier believes that the act of listening demands mutual respect. He says that respect is still needed in South Africa, which continues to struggle with racial equality, and in the United States, where the Black Lives Matter movement has brought to light long-unresolved racial tensions. "You can't deal with the problem until you look at the real issue," he said. "We look at South Africa and we say, 'What is the real issue? Why are we at each other's throat 20-something years after independence and this new democracy?' We have to look at the real issue, identify those. And then we have to look at what are the causes of those issues."Cardinal Napier's lecture was preceded by a brief introduction from William Mattison, interm dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies (STRS) and associate professor of moral theology. "It might be tempting to think that a talk addressing racial reconciliation is not needed today, especially given all the celebrated advances toward racial equality in the 1960s in the United States," Mattison said. "Events in the last two years, like [the riots in] Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement, reveal how premature that assessment of racial healing is. "Our Catholic tradition offers rich resources for reconciliation, including at the social level," Mattison continued. "It is a topic at the heart of our faith, which is of course a faith in a merciful God ever inviting us to reconciliation with him and with one another."
In addition to his talk on racial reconciliation, Cardinal Napier delivered the University's annual Cardinal Dearden Lecture on Feb. 18. During that talk, he discussed his experiences of synodality as a cardinal archbishop in South Africa and around the world. Established in 1982 by several American bishops, the Cardinal Dearden Lecture honors its namesake who was known for his dedication to promulgating the teachings of Vatican II in the United States. The lecture series, hosted by STRS, is a testament to the late archbishop of Detroit's wisdom, dedication, and leadership in the Church.