In his Lenten message, “Welcoming the Stranger,” the Archbishop of Johannesburg, Buti Tlhagale, prods consciences of the faithful and of his compatriots. He asks difficult and awkward questions about how they treat strangers especially migrants and refugees.

Paul Samasumo – Vatican City

The Archbishop of Johannesburg, Buti Joseph Tlhagale, in his Lenten message, has made a passionate appeal to the faithful of the Archdiocese and to South Africans, in general, to become more welcoming of strangers. He proposes that during the Season of Lent, the words of Scripture, “I was a stranger, and you made me welcome,” found in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 25: 35 – 37, be the guiding words for every Christian of the Archdiocese.

A surplus people

“These words of Scripture are read in the context of the harrowing living conditions of many migrants and refugees who have become the surplus people, the homeless people, the unwanted people, the ‘scum of the earth.’ We must also include in that context people who live in the informal settlements. They too are virtually homeless. Their living conditions are unpleasant and brutish. People have been painfully deprived of their sense of decency and God-given dignity,” the Archbishop writes.

The Johannesburg Prelate decries the indifference that he witnesses in the City of Johannesburg concerning the living conditions of strangers.

You have become indifferent to the pain of your own

“You are indifferent to the suffering of strangers. You are indifferent to the pain of your own homeless, hungry and diseased children!” The Archbishop speaks of the City of Johannesburg.

Most migrants in South Africa come from countries such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe, the Kingdom of Eswatini, Lesotho, Somalia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, DRC and Nigeria but also from some Asian countries.

Refugees and migrants lack proper documents

Archbishop Buti notes that most of the migrants and refugees are “unemployed because they do not have proper documents or even the requisite qualifications and skills. They have unavoidably been reduced to being beggars…Many migrants and refugees do not have a proper home. They live in overcrowded conditions. Some sleep in the open like animals. Where do they shower? Where do they wash their clothes? What toilet facilities do they use?” he asks.

The Archbishop further says South Africans have become numb and insensitive to the harsh living conditions of migrants and refugees.

The stranger is made in the image of God

“We see them as an inconvenience and an embarrassment, a nuisance. We prefer to forget that they too are human beings. They too are made in the image of God. They too are members of the Body of Christ. We accuse them of burdening our health services. Stateless children of migrants have extreme difficulties in getting access to our educational facilities. We have hardened our hearts like our Fathers at Meribah and Massah. (Ex 17: 7). We should do penance for the gross negligence, indifference and at times even our open dislike for the people we consider strangers, as foreign nationals,” he asserts.

New friendships, new solidarities

Archbishop Buti wishes for South Africans to use the period of Lent to consciously build new welcoming communities, forge new friendships and explore new solidarities.

Since 1994, South Africa has had a growing problem of xenophobic violence against foreign nationals living in the country.

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