When Cape Town Archbishop Stephen Brislin met Pope Francis in Rome, he told him that when they serve the flock of God they should always extend mercy and love, resembling Christ.
“I will continue to use the pope’s words to us as I continue to serve in this new role of cardinal,” said Brislin as he prepared to take on a new role as cardinal.
Brislin who, along with bishops from around the world, met the pope shortly after he was discharged from hospital, said he looked forward to his new role.
Earlier this week, Pope Francis announced that he would elevate 21 churchmen to cardinal, including a bewildered Brislin.
Brislin, the second archbishop of Cape Town to take on the role of cardinal, said this new role would not change his dedication to serving people, showing compassion and extending the mercy of Christ.
“I received a call from Thailand on Sunday at 1.40pm, and the voice behind the call asked me if it was true? I asked him what he was talking about. Shortly after, I received a call from the communications officer of the church in Pretoria, who also asked the truth behind the announcement of the pope.
“The communications officer asked me to put out a statement, I said it was best we get confirmation first before doing so. Of course the news was abuzz, with plenty of confirmation at the time and then it sunk in,” he said.
Brislin has been the archbishop of Cape Town since 2010 and said the announcement came as a surprise to him.
“The cardinals serve as special advisers to the pope and provide counsel to him. The engagements take place in Rome, face to face. Though these engagements will require me to travel frequently to Rome, I will still continue my duties as the archbishop of Cape Town,” he said.
Brislin, who describes himself as a “small town boy” from Welkom in the Free State, said he knew early on that his life was to be a life of service.
“There was always a feeling deep within me that I was called by God. My friends in high school felt it too. After matric, I left for UCT to pursue a BA in psychology, as I felt that my life was for people and to serve them. In my second year, I left for St Johns in Pretoria to study philosophy while simultaneously studying psychology through Unisa,” he said.
Brislin returned to UCT the following year to complete his psychology degree, and while there he continued to immerse himself in ministry and the work of the church.
Brislin was ordained as a priest in Kroonstad and began working in townships. He was active in denouncing apartheid.
“I was fearful. The church and the priests were often under attack as they allowed political formations to gather, as they had nowhere else to go. The fear did not deter me, however, I knew mine was to serve the Lord’s work and dismantle injustice,” he said.
Brislin said that the battle the church fought against apartheid was intense but necessary and continued even after the end of apartheid.
He said his family could not believe he was now a cardinal.
“I guess it’s because they know me way before I became any of what I am today,” he said.
Brislin paid tribute to his family and said that although he had always been busy travelling and serving the people of God, he and his family remained close and had planned a family reunion in Gqeberha this festive season.
“I remain committed to serving the people and teaching the love of God that we all need in these trying times, with everything happening around us,” he said.
When asked if the church had compromised on God’s word to accommodate the standards of the world, the archbishop responded: “The church has not compromised on the teaching and doctrines of God, it has merely understood that the preaching of God's love is more important,” he said.
The archbishop and cardinal received well wishes from President Cyril Ramaphosa and Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, among others.