The Grandparents’ Faith Café welcomed Cardinal Wilfred Napier.
Theme: MARRIAGE & FAMILY – THE BASICS OF MAN’S HOPE & FUTURE
Born in the small midlands town of Matatliele on 8 March 1941, Wilfrid Fox Napier is one of seven children – five boys and two girls, who remain close to this day. He attended the Ixopo Catholic School. At the end of his matric year he joked that he was ‘off to Ireland to pick potatoes’. Six months later, he entered the Franciscan Novice House in Killarney. After his novitiate, he spent three years at university in Galway acquiring a BA degree with Latin and English as his majors. To this day, he retains fond memories of Ireland and the many wonderful people he met there. Wilfred Napier returned to South Africa where he was ordained a priest on 25 July 1970 and spent the next years in the Parish of Lusikisiki, until being ordained Bishop of Kokstad in 1981.
President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference from 1987 to 1994, he was deeply involved in mediation and negotiation during this tubulent time in South Africa’s history, and was present at the signing of the Peace Accord in September 1991. He also served on the Council of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops and participated in two assemblies of the Synod of Bishops.
He was appointed Archbishop of Durban on 22 June 1992 and raised to Cardinal by His Holiness, Pope John Paul II on 21 February 2001. In 2005, Cardinal Napier was one of 117 cardinals entrusted with the task of electing the new Pope, Benedict XVI.
Pope Francis, accepted Cardinal Napier’s resignation from the pastoral governance of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Durban on 9 June 2021.
Commenting ahead of the December Faith Café, Catherine Wiley, CGA Founder said, “I am very much looking forward to welcoming CardinalNapier to our next Faith Café as our guest speaker. He is an exceptionally warm, compassionate and down-to-earth man with a ready sense of humour. He is loved and respected by everyone who comes into contact with him. We have been joined by him already on one or two of our Faith Cafés where he has generously shared his wisdom with us.
MARRIAGE & FAMILY – THE BASICS OF MAN’S HOPE & FUTURE Address to Grandparents Faith Cafe
Introduction The seventh Day of October 2023 could well go down in history as the 9/11 for the global human family. With each missile and rocket launched by Hamas the die was cast for some unfortunate and totally innocent Family on either side of the divide, between the world of the Israelis and the world of the Palestinians. For them life would never be the same again!
Strategic Issues Since that fateful day, hundreds of thousands of Families have had their lives turned upside down. And what’s more, the millions of people who were not directly involved have nevertheless been inevitably drawn into this latest “World War”. Whether they like it or not, whether they are aware of what is going on or not, and why, they are daily more directly affected by this war, which once again will have consequences for humanity as a whole. By humanity I mean both the individual human person who by social nature is drawn to live together with others, as a unique being each created in the image and likeness of God, but also humanity as a species of being. Where I wish to take this issue is perhaps best explained by what happened when Covid turn our lives upside down. When the Covid-19 pandemic was raging at its worst, we kept on being told that ultimately hope of getting on top of this latest and unprecedented scourge lay in sufficient numbers of the population in each country being vaccinated so that as a global human family we would attain the critical level of what was called “herd immunity.” That is, we, the “herd” of humans, would have developed sufficient resistance to the coronavirus, so that its devastating effect on the lives of those with compromised health systems would be minimised. What sounded strange at the time, seems to have been a ‘prophecy’ which came to be fulfilled even in our day!
A Strategic Method For the human family to come to that tipping point, a regime of extreme self-discipline had to be put in place, if only to give our overstretched medical services the space to continue their valiant battle to bring us to what was by all standards a modern day miracle. And this had to be achieved in an environment which was full of conspiracy theories, predictions by doomsday prophets; utterly immoral politicians, clueless medical “experts”, and profit-chasing pharmaceutical companies, etc, etc. In that atmosphere of confusion brought on by contradictory scientific explanations (or “narratives”), the Church had to make some really tough decisions, unprecedented in its two thousand year history. Thanks to global television and media coverage, even we in “remoter” areas of the world were able to keep in touch with the best scientific data available, and so were able to make crucial decisions without too much additional stress. An iconic image from that time was that of Pope Francis walking all alone through St Peter Square, up the front steps and into the Basilica. That happened during the most sacred time of the Church year, and so provided us with an object lesson on how a Christian should meet and deal with totally new and precedented adversity. There’s only one way, each one has to take the decision alone, to walk alone, seeking the presence of Jesus! In a sense what Pope Francis did was a reminder that when our day to leave this earth comes, we have to walk it alone, but we still have a major decision to make. Will we walk alone aimlessly, or will we walk decidedly with Jesus next to us, because he is always there to accompany us?
Strategic Lessons from Covid-19 For anyone who has taken the time to reflect deeply on what really happened in those three critical years 2019 to 2022, the only answer to the question: How did the human family find its way out of that morass of confusion and hopelessness? It was by divine intervention! Yes, the “hand of God” was guiding us through dangers hitherto unknown. That we’ve been seriously chastened by the experience is beyond doubt. But what is still in serious doubt is whether we have learned the deeper lesson, which demands a radical life change! This question arises because though we might have made it through the “biological World War of Covid-19”, using “isolation”, physical distancing, vaccines and other medical strategies, it remains to be seen what we have really learned, and whether we will be able to apply those lessons to the threats posed by an even more serious form of pandemic, namely “moral and spiritual Covid” – the total loss of moral conscience by our culture and those who are driving it. This moral and spiritual pandemic is threatening not only living men and women, but the very future of humanity as such!
Strategic Method Fighting the Moral & Spiritual Pandemic Now, let’s change gear from the physical and social to the moral and spiritual, because even a superficial glance at what is happening in the world confirms that the “Third World War” is not on the bodily level only, but on the level of the moral and the spiritual, two areas where the Family is the key to mankind’s success or failure to achieve the status which God intended and achieved when he created Adam and Eve to be “his image and likeness”. God’s creative intention does not end there. His next creative action makes that clear. Even as Adam and Eve struggle to understand their created reality, God gives them the clearest directive possible as to what they are to do. They are first and foremost his image and likeness, and it is as such the he gives them his first commandment: And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” Genesis 1:28 That is a brief but comprehensive description of man’s reason for being on this earth, namely to be like God, to live as his image and likeness, even to the extent of co-creating with him using the powers he has given them to generate an ever-increasing number of new images and likenesses of God! Given that glorious start by Adam & Eve, which is expressed by their intimacy of walking in the garden with God in the cool of the day, how did we get to the state we are in today? Why is it that in every part of the world, human beings are at war with themselves? Comprehensive media coverage making it impossible not to be aware of the dire state in which the human family finds itself. No amount of bluster about this or that country or nation being the greatest or the best, or the most successful, can shield us from the fact that every nation, whether it is conscious of it or not, is in serious trouble. Because humanity as such is in serious trouble!
Strategic Causes How indeed did we get to this pass? It is my contention that most of this was “achieved” by concerted twin attacks: one, the attack on God, and two the attack on Man as commissioned to live in Marriage and the Family. And what unites these two attacks is the same phenomenon as that which caused Adam and Eve to break their covenant with God. Instead of humbly submitting to God’s commandment: you shall not eat of the fruit in the midst of the garden, Adam and Eve chose to “play God” or be their own “God” rather than be the unique image and likeness of God! Let’s look at what’s been happening in the last 100 years. The unimaginable changes brought about by World War 1 & World War 2, which were both in turn the biggest attack of human life and dignity, and therefore on the One who gave man that life and dignity! World War 2 was followed by the “cultural revolution” in the West. This included a continued attack on human life in general but on the sources of that life – marriage and the family in particular! As with Adam and Eve the common ambition was to “play God” to the extent of taking over and exercising greater control over human life in general, but the processes for generating human life, the institutions of marriage and the family in particular. Hence the unremitting effort on all fronts to separate sex from love and commitment; sexual pleasure from fertility; reproduction from marriage; and marriage from being the institution where human life is procreated each as the new image and likeness of God. The logical next step in “playing God” was to arrogate the right to decide which life is worth allowing to be born and which could be terminated and disposed of. Today’s world features “playing God” by extending the power to determine what lives have value and which don’t! Hence the normalisation of Contraception, Abortion, Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, which are now the ideal and norm for those who want to “play God”.
Strategic Plan – Back to Basics Enough of the negative. Let’s set out what we can and must do! And our first step is to commit ourselves to going “BACK TO BASICS!” Our starting point has to be the Word of God, in particular the Book of Genesis. That’s where the origin of the human species is described; where its fall from grace explained and the way back to a proper relationship with God promised and foreshadowed. Here we notice how God asks Adam and Eve to state where they are! They obviously were not where he usually met them! When they tell him why he can find them, he asks them to explain what happened. Then he explains the consequences but not in a condemnatory way, but rather in a way that gives hope of with a new start. And he promises to give them the necessary assistance.
Strategic Goals When Pope Francis was elected it was on the clear understanding that most of the Cardinals saw the urgent need for a far-reaching renewal of the Church, so that it would be equal to the challenges facing the Family of Man in the 21st century. In order to meet those challenges the Church would need to go Back to Basics! It was no surprise therefore when the Pope’s first action was to call an extraordinary Synod, i.e. the Presidents of Bishops Conference and therefore the Heads of the Catholic Church throughout the world. They were invited to reflect on “The Challenges facing Marriage and the Family in the contemporary world!” No sooner had he got that process underway than he announced that there would be a second stage to address “The Vocation and Mission of Marriage and the Family.” Clearly the thinking was: if you want to have good and strong Church communities who will transform Society effectively, then you must have good and strong Families; if you want good and strong Families you must have good and strong Marriages! And if you are going to have good and strong Marriages then you must have good and thorough Marriage Preparation! Much of what Pope Francis says and does even today comes down to these BASICS – Precious Human Life, conceived and born into a Good Family, built on a Solid Marriage, out of which the Church can make a real impact on Society.
Conclusion When we sit back and reflect on what we as Church are called to be, I can’t get it out of my mind that our one and only vocation and mission is to keep responding to God’s question from where we are: Where are you? Our answer must be a clear and distinct: We are here where you have placed us; where you assigned us to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and take care of it in your Name! We are walking with Jesus, building up his Church and witnessing to those who do not know him! Thank you for your attention!
And may God bless you!
+ Cardinal Wilfrid OFM