On 22 May 2014, Fr Peter-John Pearson of the SACBC Parliamentary Office delivered a very stimulating and interesting Public Lecture titled: “Politics, The Highest form of Charity”

One cannot deny the fact that the topic is quite attractive, and sounds paradoxical at the same time in terms of the terminology used. Because the initial reaction to it is, “how does politics connect with Charity”?

The topic was well expounded and phenomenally laid out by Fr Peter-John Pearson of the Archdiocese of Cape town (Director of SACBC Parliamentary Liaison office), in his presentation during the Public Lecture held at St John Vianney Seminary – Politics, the Highest form of Charity!

Fr Peter-John highlighted various important factors with regard to the nature of politics in South Africa, and how they affect the poor and the marginalized. How are politics affecting the poor? This is a question which was put before the audience. How does politics become Charity? Are the poor taken care of? These questions capture the heart of a person who is concerned about the well-being of others in a country where the poor are often taken as mere objects of political party campaigns. The content of the presentation touched on various elements of the political sphere, such as the importance of elections, which is one of the most effective instruments in enhancing Democratic processes. Citizen participation in elections is the basic impetus in advancing the human cause in a democratic society. The Speaker pointed out that participation in elections is actually about having an active voice, and this is how the poor can express their feelings in matters of governance. The previously held elections in our Country are a true reflection that ‘there is a power that citizens have and must use to hold politicians accountable’. However, he also highlighted the fact that elections alone cannot bring about social transformation, and that there is a need to reinforce values and uphold democratic principles. Social Transformation can be bought about in the next upcoming Local Government elections, and therefore it is essential that we too, as members of the Church, become part of these elections in advancing the common good of all. The presentation was detailed and full of content in terms of the role of politics in connection to services done for the poor as a form of charity.

In responding to a question regarding the effectiveness of the Church in influencing matters concerning the state, Fr Peter-John maintained that the role of the Church cannot only be to maintain a privileged position in matters of civil government, but most essentially it is to ensure that the Church’s voice is always ‘out there’ and that it is being heard. The Church engages herself in matters of civil society and it is part of the cause for social transformation. The Church continues to try to ensure that legislation does not constrain the needs of the marginalized and the poor through offices such as the SACBC parliamentary Liaison, Justice and Peace, and so forth.

The vision of Faith must be at the core of society, in order that Church leaders may enlighten the reason and intellect of politicians. Politicians need to be conscious of the needs of the Poor. In order to grasp the core understanding of Charity, one needs to think of it ‘as grace, an expression of something deep in us’, as such that the poor can regain their dignity and identity.

The Church is effective and its social teachings should be strengthened as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI asserts that the “Church is duty-bound to offer, through the purification of reason and through ethical formation, her own specific contribution towards understanding the requirements of Justice and achieving them politically” (Deus Caritas Est, 28). The Church has a role to contribute to society, by enhancing the ‘Spirituality of Sharing’, a way of connecting with our neighbours. The good ordering of Society and the active participation by all citizens will restore the principles of sharing and humanness – as such we can speak of Politics as the highest form of Charity.

By Boshom Mpetsheni