RENEW Africa Launches in Port Elizabeth

Sr. Marie Cooper, SJC traveled to South Africa in September in anticipation of the launch of RENEW Africa: Gathered as God’s Family. At the invitation of Bishop Michael Coleman, RENEW International is bringing this new process to the Diocese of Port Elizabeth. RENEW Africa flows from RENEW International’s mission to reach out beyond the confines of our own country. For over 20 years, RENEW has worked in African dioceses including Rwanda after the genocide, but is pleased to be able to offer for the first time a RENEW process rooted in African culture. This process began with the visit of our Executive Director, Sr. Theresa Rickard, OP, and Sr. Marie to hear the needs of the church in Africa today and dialogue with folks on the ground in order to respond effectively.

Sr. Marie and the RENEW Publications team have been coordinating the work of African authors and graphic artists, contributing to the mapping out of the themes for the faith-sharing materials, and collaborating in the creation of handbooks and workshops. During her visits to South Africa, Sr. Marie delivers the training workshops in English, and collaborates with members of the diocese who provide the workshops in Xhosa and Afrikaans. All the printed materials are provided in the three languages as well.

The response has been overwhelming. Over 500 members of RENEW Africa Core Communities (lay leadership groups) from over 70 parishes participated in two series of workshops in October, 2007 and again in February/March, 2008. Following the parish Mission Team trainings of February/March, each parish conducted a three night mission which also gave members a “taste” of RENEW Africa and stirred up enthusiasm for forming new communities and assisting existing communities to grow and develop.

During September, Sr. Marie provided training workshops for the parish liturgy committees and for the leaders of the small Christian communities in the theology of the kerygma and in group facilitation skills.

Under the coordination of Father Jerry Browne and the Diocesan Liturgy Committee, four regional Diocesan Launches of RENEW Africa recently took place. Bishop Michael Coleman presided over the celebration of Eucharist, accompanied by the priests of each region. At the Port Elizabeth Launch on Sunday, October 5, over 2500 people attended the festive gathering in historic Centenary Hall in New Brighton (site of the first anti-Apartheid rally. Representatives of each parish carried in the parish banner and a cup of soil from the parish grounds in the entrance procession. The soil was presented to the bishop who mixed it all together in a large container and spoke of the sign of unity in coming together for the Launch. A combined choir from the parishes led the singing of hymns from all the cultures of the region and introduced the RENEW prayer set to music by the choir director Bernie Bonessi. At the end of the liturgy, each parish again came forward, this time to receive a lighted RENEW Africa candle from Father Jerry and a cup of “common soil” from the bishop.

Later in October, the communities will begin meeting on the theme for the first season, Meet Christ Today! with the assistance of a trained facilitator. After six weeks on the theme, communities will continue to meet, reflecting on the Sunday Gospel. During Lent they will again participate in an intensive six weeks of reflecting on the theme Healing, Forgiving, Reconciling, and then return to the lectionary based materials. They will continue in this rhythm of two specific themes each year alternated with reflection on the Sunday readings.

Stories from the RENEW Africa Parish Missions...

On the opening night of the mission at one of the churches a Portuguese man approached thinking that it was Mass. A friendly Mission Team Member welcomed him and explained about the mission. He found a seat up front and came back again for the second and third nights. He told the Mission Team that he was all alone without any family in South Africa and that the mission meant so much to him and that he had found a parish to call home. 

Another parish had such a good experience with the mission that they now have a monthly “event” based on the Mission idea. 

Three small rural parishes combined their Missions and had one night at each church. The members were delighted to come together and celebrate with their “neighbors”.