At Holy Trinity Catholic Church In Braamfontein, Johannesburg, there is a white crucifix which seems to stand like a silent sentinel over a troubled city. I often wonder what this Christ has witnessed through the years, like The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde, where the statue of a prince looked down upon a city full of violence and unhappiness, the juxtaposition of insane wealth and abject poverty. Does he pity us? Judge us? despair at our stupidity? Why is his head turned slightly away, and downwards? Is he turning from us, as if watching has become too painful? Why is His head not turned upwards – to heaven? Longing for his agony to end, is he yet reluctant to abandon those in the street below?
These last few weeks the pale, naked, crucified prophet would have seen running battles with student protesters and police: rocks hurled and stun grenades thrown; rubber bullets and teargas fired. He would have witnessed vehicles set alight, windows smashed, buildings and books burned, and everywhere kindness and respect sacrificed on the altar of militant, often racist, at times anti-semitic vitriol.
The crucifix is looking worn and vulnerable from years of exposure to the sun, wind and rain – the city’s extremes take their toll- although it is easy to imagine the erosion of Christ’s features is due to some inner weight of woe. This is the Crucified Savior of the world: fixed by nails to that cross in Braamfontein, is He weary from watching the street below? Is He exhausted from his long crucifixion, which every day and night demands he bear silent witness to the folly of men? He has seen the worst brutality of apartheid: other students and police and soldiers, other blood. Not a day has passed when He has not observed the perpetual scandal of poverty. He has seen untold numbers passing by: businessmen, imams, politicians, students, professors, hawkers, beggars, drug dealers, prostitutes, priests, freedom fighters, soldiers, street-vendors, rubbish collectors, terrorists, thieves, police, the elderly, youths, children. It seems little different in this respect to another City, long ago, where Jesus was also raised up on a cross.