A life of service

2017-11-05 06:13
Chris Langeveld

Chris Langeveld

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‘The Church, together with the dominant forces in society, has long looked at history from the top, in other words, from the position of people with privilege and power …

Even when the Church has made good statements on behalf of those who are struggling against their oppression, it has always been on behalf of the people and now is the time for the Church to speak with the people.”

(Chris Langeveld quoted in 30 Years and 50 Years of The Freedom Charter, Raymond Suttner and Jeremy Cronin, 1986 and 2006).

The life of Chris Langeveld, who died on Thursday night, is a mosaic of deep faith, principle, curiosity, generosity, simplicity and warmth.

He bound his life to that of the majority of South Africans, especially the poor.

He was a learned and open-minded man, whose understanding of the world was drawn from a number of sources, including Marxism, phenomenology, existentialism, Sigmund Freud and the famous Jewish prophet Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Chris Langeveld had none of the outward accoutrements of greatness.

He lived a simple life. When he visited Rome, he declined a permanent post there, preferring rather to remain in South Africa.

In the 1980s, Father Chris Langeveld of the Phiri parish in Soweto, offered sanctuary to all who walked through the gates of the church, including members of youth congresses and Umkhonto weSizwe operatives.

Some of the people who took refuge there came with “heavy bags”. He never asked what was in those bags.

Langeveld was not an ally of poor people, he was one of them. His former congregants stayed in contact with him long after he left the Catholic Church.

Langeveld asked to be released of his vows and left the Catholic Church because he fell in love with a woman.

They later married. I tell this personal story, which to some may seem as a scandal and failure to live up to the vows of celibacy. But there was no scandal and no failure.

This is a story of a man whose life evolved, just like his politics and faith. At the core of his spirituality was a deep commitment to truth, justice and a gospel of service.

He was among radical clerics in the sense of his commitment to fundamental change and freedom from an unjust world built on structural inequality.

Together with people like Father Albert Nolan, Oom Beyers Naude, Sister Bernard Ncube, Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa and many others, Langeveld was among those who wrote The Kairos Document.

Drafted in 1985, it was a Christian, biblical and theological comment on the political crisis South Africa faced at the height of apartheid.

It was an attempt by concerned Christians to reflect on the situation of death and a critique of the prevailing theological models that determined the type of activities the church engaged in, to try to resolve the problems of the country.

It attempted to develop an alternative biblical and theological model that would lead to activities that would make a difference to the future of the country.

Oom Chris has left us at a time when South Africa is bankrupted by excess and greed. As we bid him farewell, we must reflect on his values and humanity.

He would have encouraged us to “see, judge, act” and to do so patiently, carefully and without sparing ourselves.

He is survived by his wife Barbara and their children Shaun, Bruce, Nicky, and grandchildren. 

May 18 1951-November 2 2017

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