When Fr. Rampe Hlobo, SJ, the parish priest at St. Mary’s, Nyanga, in Cape Town, invited me to speak with the youth, I could hardly resist. I had visited the city twice in 2015, and was completely taken in by the beauty of the city.
Cape Town city is home to the Cape Flora Kingdom – one of only six floral kingdoms in the world, consisting of at least eight and a half thousand species that includes numerous bulbs, heathers, grasses and proteas; the Table Mountain – one of the oldest mountains in the world; and the Kirstenbosch Gardens home to Southern African flora.
However, my primary mission was to meet with the young people, and the first opportunity arose a day after I arrived. As Fr. Rampe and I arrived at the parish, the altar servers were having their meeting, which included rehearsals, under the leadership of their chairperson, Sinalo Tulwana. This first visit to Nyanga also provided me with a first glance of the social and environmental challenges that residents face, akin to many urban areas in Africa.
The 2013 State of the Environment Report for the Western Cape Province, summarizes these challenges: “The relationship between people and the natural environment is important in a developing province characterized by unemployment, poverty, prevalence of HIV/AIDS and a widening gap between rich and poor. The prevalence of poverty and inequality has a detrimental impact on the biophysical environment as people become more dependent on ecological goods and services, and conversely their vulnerability and lack of resilience to environmental degradation and pollution increases.”
As we drove through the streets of Nyanga, Pope Francis’ words in Laudato Si’ came to mind – “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach in to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” (LS. 139).
There is only one Mass one Sundays at St. Mary’s, and so it was not long before I got to meet the rest of Sinalo’s colleagues, youth members at the parish, to share about the Magis program and CYNESA. Before my current role at CYNESA, I was responsible for ‘Magis’, an Ignatian program for young people that integrates spirituality, companionship and service, as a way of seeking and finding God in all things. It was therefore very interesting for me, even as I offered my experiences of CYNESA and Magis, to see the confluence of the two, through a social justice lens.
One of the most striking things I heard from the young people at St. Mary’s, was their profound sense of inter-generational equity, intertwined with recognition of their own responsibility in the context of the climate crisis. “We know that the generation before us, is responsible for many of the environmental challenges we face today, but that does not mean we should sit back and fail to address what we are doing now”, said Zandile Ndunge, one of the participants at the meeting. After a most inspiring day, my afternoon was capped with a meal and sight-seeing at the Water Front, and later Mass at Kolbe House, the Catholic Chaplaincy at the University of Cape Town. Thanks to the chaplain, Fr. John, SJ, I had a few minutes to share with the students, key points of Magis and CYNESA at the end of Mass. Judging from conversations I had later with a few students on the corridors of Kolbe House, the input was a welcome relief from the FeesMustFall debates they had been having for several weeks.
My gratitude to the parishioners and young people at St. Mary’s Nyanga, UCT Catholic Community and the Jesuits in Cape Town (especially Fr. Rampe, Fr. Matsepane, Fr. John and Fr. Jean Claude). I look forward to the next visit! Until then, Laudato Si’!
Founding Executive Director, CYNESA.