I recently discovered the African philosophy of Ubuntu watching a video of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, sent to me by a church leader in Brazil where I served as a missionary for 38 years. However, since it was presented in Portuguese, I needed to find English versions to share. I found two in English, one by Archbishop Tutu and another by Gertruid Matshe. Both were very attractive.
Basic messages describe Ubuntu, an African philosophy which proclaims: “I am, because you are”. Ubuntu is a word from a Zulu proverb: “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, “expressing the belief that a person is a person through others, which means that we as humans share a common humanity.
Thus, the philosophy includes values of respect for human dignity, compassion, solidarity and consensus, as well as expectations of commitment and loyalty within and for the group. A deep sense of community is one of the important building blocks of Zulu society, according to Tutu in his delivered No future without forgiveness. It is in fact a pan-African building block.
The respect, compassion and solidarity of Ubuntu are much needed in Brazil these days. Our Sisters of Saint-Louis living there reported on how Brazil struggles with a fragile social system that often excludes the many poor and vulnerable. Resources to fight COVID-19 have been limited and the situation has dramatically exposed the country’s inequalities and poverty.
Politically, too, national leadership has been weak. President Jair Bolsonaro has minimized the situation, leaving it to the local authorities to plan and cope on their own. As a result, lockdowns have only been partially implemented as people, listening to their national leader, do not take the situation seriously. The economy is failing too, which has been the president’s goal, rather than the fate of the health of the people. The commitment to justice is lacking.
the Ubuntu the philosophy, in addition to calling for compassion and solidarity, also requires a commitment to justice so that dignity for all is possible. Archbishop Tutu reminds us in his book: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on a mouse’s tail, and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. “
Listen to the explanations of the African Ubuntu stressed again for me how much we can learn from others and how truly interconnected we are. Watching the videos, I also realized that our St. Louis sisters in Nigeria and Ghana may be very familiar with this philosophy.
His message resonates in all our African, Irish, English, Brazilian and American communities in Saint-Louis. Our mission statement begins, “We, Sisters of Saint-Louis, faithful to our call ‘May all be one’ (John 17:21) commit ourselves to living the love of God for all creation, and above all to being in solidarity with those who have no choice – the poor and the marginalized. “
The spirit of ut unum sint (let them be one) guided our founder, Louis Marie Eugène Bautain. His passion for a world, healed, unified and transformed continues to inspire everything we do today. We are thus dedicated to achieving unity and healing in a broken world. Many religious congregations, men and women, also share this call, as do many organizations committed to creating a better world.
Day after day, we are reminded that our world is in dire need of healing. COVID-19 has claimed the lives of millions of people, sickened millions more and forced us to discover and live in a “new normal”. However, being confined like most of us gives us the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of life and the deepest values we hold. We often hear: “We are all in the same boat”. Are we? Today we hear more and more about healthcare workers, teachers, workers in factories, restaurants and beauty salons, and others joining forces, feeling for each other. others and proclaiming: “Your fight is my fight”.
Recently I read a liturgical reflection on Creighton University’s online ministries site for January 28, 2021. Author Eileen Burke-Sullivan brilliantly wrote:
We may not have the gift of multitasking for the sake of the kingdom, but perhaps we have an unusual capacity for patience, or kindness, generosity, wisdom, insight – so many living gifts. – the true expression of divine existence which is given to those who desire them – bring their own expansion through practice. The Letter to the Hebrews which provides the first reading today challenges us to help one another find and exercise these gifts for one another. When this happens, our mutual hope and love will lead us far beyond any isolated pursuit of good. What is truly a gift for each of us will be for all of us, endlessly.
Eileen thus developed Hebrews 10: 19-25 where he says: We must think about how to awaken one another to love and good works.
All over the world we have seen and heard many stories on the Internet and on television of people who are in fact discovering these deeply held values of our “oneness” with others and creation as well. The BBC, for example, talked about Ubuntu at the end of his famous Podcast on January 1, 2021. It is amazing that this beautiful philosophy is and will be very relevant today and, hopefully, will spread in the future.
May this beautiful philosophy spread everywhere and give us hope that all will be well!