Pictures by Paul Fetters
Travelling into Durban’s CBD from the Berea, one is met by two iconic and historic city landmarks. In the foreground the spires of the red brick Roman Catholic Emmanuel Cathedral while just behind, the two gilt-domed minarets of the Juma Musjid Mosque.
In what can be described as a profound demonstration of interfaith solidarity, respected leaders across the faith spectrum, including leaders of the Juma Musjid Mosque gathered earlier this year to pledge their support for the Denis Hurley Centre project: a community outreach initiative spear headed by the Emmanuel Cathedral under the guidance of Fr Stephen Tully and project coordinat
The new centre will be an innovative outreach facility to better serve the growing number of poor and homeless people in the area.
The proposed centre is to be named after the late Archbishop Emeritus Denis Hurley who served at the Emmanuel Cathedral for 60 years of his life and is remembered for his many and significant altruistic contributions to the city of Durban.
I meet Father Stephen Tully in his office which forms part of the 105 year old Cathedral complex.
“This is one of the most beautiful churches in one of the most run down places in the province”, he say pressing his fingertips considerately together. “Our vision for this new centre is a twenty-four seven drop-in centre, where anyone with a problem at any time can get help. It doesn’t matter who it is, or what religion. Quite frankly the criteria is that you have to be a human being to walk through the door.”
Over the years the Cathedral has come to the aid of many thousands of people through outreach projects based in the dilapidated parish centre adjacent to the Cathedral. If permission is given by Amafa KZN this building will be demolished to make way for the Denis Hurley Centre. With a new purpose-built structure it will be possible to assist many more people with health, skills training, paralegal advice, as well as a feeding scheme that provides clean clothes and showering facilities for the homeless.
“The fact that God wants to be here is without question.” say’s Tully guiding me on a tour through the Cathedral complex, our path intercepted by tardy worshippers, crossing chests and curtseying at the door before settling into the pews for the service.
“The raising of finances to support such an operation can only be made possible through the support of the surrounding community and in order to achieve this we have begun networking with our brothers and sisters of other faiths around the city.”
Such networking has seen the Emmanuel Cathedral enter into an amicable partnership with the neighbouring Juma Musjid Mosque. It’s a relationship that was strengthened during the 2008 xenophobic attacks during which 500 refugees were housed in the Cathedral’s parish centre while the surrounding Muslim community ensured victims were supplied with blankets and daily meals.
At a recent Sunday afternoon service, where the Iqraa Trust publicly presented a cheque to the Denis Hurley Centre to the value of R200 00.00 the Chairman of the Trust, Mahmoud Youssef-Baker, best summed up the sentiments of the project when he remarked that “Focusing on divisions will never unite us ”“ only humanity will.”
With these words in mind, I depart from the shaded parking lot of the Cathedral and cross into what feels like a different continent. It’s a two minute stroll through the bustling Eastern Madressa arcade before one arrives at the gate of the Juma Musjid Mosque.
It here that I’m met by chief trustee of the mosque ,Mr A.V Mahomed. After removing our shoes we begin padding the football field sized prayer rooms: three stories of identical rooms each containing palatial carpets, pressed ceilings and rows of twinkling chandeliers.
As with the neighbouring Cathedral, the Mosque provides a refuge from the heat and squalor of the adjoining street. Once behind closed doors the agro hum of the city subsides into a reverent silence.
Mahomed has worshipped at the mosque since he was a small child and recalls how as a boy he used to pray on the rooftop garden whenever the congregation size exceeded the building’s three thousand capacity.
When talking about the Mosque’s relationship with the Cathedral Mohamed’s face lights up and he chats fondly about Fr Tully and the two faith centres’ enduring friendship.
“There is not known to have been a dispute on record since the advent of Mosque and Emmanuel Cathedral in this city.” he insists, revealing a handful of newspaper clippings as evidence.
“We live side-by-side with the great philosophy of love thy neighbour. We have taken meals together in one another’s respective houses of worship to discuss how we can jointly better the lives of all people in our city. We are of the unified belief that we are all equal, irrespective of our colour, the language that we speak, or the cultures we belong to.”
Key to both the Mosque and the Cathedral’s longevity is the fact that they have constantly evolved and transformed with the multi-cultural communities existing around them.
Tully claims that Sunday mass of around 3000 worshippers (with members from Eretria, Kenya, Congo, Zimbabwe and Nigeria) are held in English, followed by a multi-lingual service in Zulu, English, Swahili and French while Mahomed tells me that over the last decade they have also grown to welcome a far more cosmopolitan demographic through their doors.
“We are being patronised by more foreigners then locals these days, and that’s great. It adds flavour. What was once 95 percent locals and 5 percent foreigners now consists of 50 percent locals and 50 percent foreigners, with members originating from countries as far afield as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malawi.”
As I depart the city that afternoon I feel both inspired and reassured in the role religious centres can and must play in our society. My afternoon flitting between the respective religious centres in Ethekwini’s CBD, reminds me of just how effective collective compassion can be when supported by concerted action.
It is after all, action, beyond passive acts of prayer and ritual, that has the ability to produce tangible miracles in our lifetime and action which will ensure that the Denis Hurley Centre soon serves its purpose in Durban’s forgotten city centre.
For more information,
Phone: Paddy Kearney 031-2013832/072-8064417 firstname.lastname@example.org
Denis Hurley Centre Fund, Account No. 62204261002, FNB, Durban Branch, Code: 221426.
Please inform us if you make a deposit, so that we can acknowledge your contribution and keep you informed about the project.