May 18 1951-Novem­ber 2 2017 A LIFE OF SER­VICE

CityPress - - Voices -

‘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 open­minded 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.

– Nom­bon­iso Gasa

CHRIS LANGEVELD

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