What's in a name?

St Peter & Paul Parish is the "last born" parish of our diocese. Officially opened in January 2017, it was entrusted to the Consolata Missionaries. Last Sunday they launched the first issue of their new magazine called: "Singumndeni". Below is what I wrote for the magazine.

* * * * *

I sometimes think of the power of “brands” in our lives. Some brands are linked to good value for money, quality and reliability. Others, exactly the opposite: we find them poor, risk and, expensive for no real reason.

Many times we are seriously influenced by that at the moment of choosing what to buy: an electrodomestic, a phone, a vehicle...

It is also true that sometimes a brand is not really linked to any of the things I mentioned. Some brands “talk” about “being able to afford it” and “fashion”.

In every case, though, brands are able to give us a message. 

Each one of our parishes has a name. It is not by accident. The name of the parish should also talk to the parishioners and to the diocese. It should give them a message. It should give them an identity and constantly remind everyone of who they are. That is why it becomes more and more important that every parish and outstation celebrates the “patronal feast”, their “feast name” as a way to celebrate their particular identity and call.

Being called “Saints Peter and Paul” means carrying the name of the two special pillars of the Church. We have just finished our Easter season during which we read daily from the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Probably half of it tells us about Peter and half about Paul. That is how important they are!

Both Peter and Paul wrote letters to the communities that are part of the New Testament and which we read on most of our Sundays.

Carrying the name of these two apostles is a call to build your lives and parish on the strong foundation that is Jesus but also to continue to share him with others like they did.

I do believe, though, you carry more than one name. You started as a parish together with the arrival of the Consolata Missionaries in our diocese. “Consolata” and “missionaries” are also your names. Their presence, their charism, their lifestyle has made a mark on you from the very beginning. Their name is giving shape to your community.

Peter, Paul, Mary Consolata... All of them had Jesus at the centre of their lives:
  • “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” (Jo 21: 15)
  • “For to me life is Christ” (Phil 1: 21)
  • “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38)

All of them shared the good news of Jesus to all.

All of us in the Diocese of Manzini want to reminded of them when we see you by the way you celebrate your faith, the way care for each other, the way your community grow with new members, the way you are able to reach others in their spiritual and material needs.

God bless you all

+ José Luis IMC

Couples for Christ: 'Clergy Lay Congress'

I spent some days in Manila (Philippines) invited by "Couples for Christ" to join the celebration of their 37th anniversary. One of the events on the week before the anniversary was the "Clergy Lay congress" which brought together 11 bishops, over 200 priests and more than 600 lay people. 

Coming from the "Kingdom of eSwatini" I was asked to share a few words on the theme of the day: "The Church rejuvenates"

* * * * *

"I would like to share with you something of the context where I serve as a bishop. 

In 2012 I was appointed administrator of the diocese of Manzini (Kingdom of Swaziland) after the death of Bp Louis Ncamiso Ndlovu OSM. 

In 2013, one day, after a meeting at our Catholic Centre, a woman came to me and said: "Bishop, I believe Pope Francis will appoint you bishop of this diocese". I had been bishop in South Africa for just 4 years and was not expecting any change. I therefore replied: "That will never ever happen. Bishops 'marry' a diocese and 'my wife' is the Vicariate of Ingwavuma in South Africa". She looked me and immediately said: "Bishop, here we are polygamous. You can have as many wives as you want".  

True. That is one element of our context: we are polygamous. 

Another one is the fact that we are a Christian country divided in thousands of Christian churches which many times do not share our Christian (Catholic) vision of marriage and family. Pastors might get divorced and marry again with great freedom. We are therefore a minority in our understanding marriage as a sacrament, for example.

Our country has been badly affected by HIV/Aids which left us with thousands of orphans. Sad as it is, it also revealed the great heart of our people as families took home all these children.

The relationship between "Couples for Christ" and the "Diocese of Manzini" is what I call: "work in progress". My request is that we work together to set up a "family desk" at diocesan level involving all the different forces in our diocese dealing with family: sodalities, youth, catechists... and address together particular challenges such as:
  • couples coming to us to help them prepare not for a lifetime together in marriage but just for the celebration of their wedding;
  • they soon discover that marriage is not what they thought and need to be helped and strengthened;
  • girls many times want to have a child but not to get married as they do not trust men;
  • having so many orphans we need to help them look forward to a better future than they had in the past.

As you see, ours is a very particular context but the same applies to many other situations where you are present. I heard the testimonies of couples and priests serving in Mongolia, Kuwait, Solomon Islands, Saudi Arabia, Papua New Guinea, China and Kenya among others.

By asking ourselves how to proclaim "the joy of love" (using Pope Francis' expression) in that particular context, the Church constantly rejuvenates.

You are present in 118 countries and if you are able to share the local reflection with the whole movement you would remain young and be a blessing to the whole Church all over the world. 

We need to reflect together: laity, priests and bishops. We are all "missionary disciples" called to listen to each other and to discern together how to help our families have the fullness of life Jesus offers us. It is clear to me because I was asked to serve as a bishop in a country where I had never lived before. Swaziland is not South Africa and therefore I constantly need to listen to all in order to be able to lead others.

Thank you for being presence in our diocese. Thank you for the invitation to join you during this week. May you continue to be a blessing to all.

Happy 37th anniversary!"


The fear to ask "why"

During May I was asked to address members of the "Swaziland Council of Catholic Women" (SCCW) on “The Spiritual and Social approaches of the church to the suffering of the world”.

Preparing for the talk I remembered a story Bishop Barry Wood OMI used to tell us. Barry was the auxiliary bishop of Durban and a good friend. He died a year ago. We used to sit down next to each other at the bishops' meeting. 

I shared the story with them in two moments like I do here adding also part of my comments on that day.
“Once upon a time, there was a town that was built just beyond the bend of a large river.  One day some of the children from the town were playing beside the river when they noticed three bodies floating in the water.  They ran for help and the townsfolk quickly pulled the bodies out of the river.  
One body was dead so they buried it.  One was alive, but quite ill, so they put that person into the hospital.  The third turned out to be a healthy child, who then they placed with a family who cared for it and who took it to school. 
From that day on, every day a number of bodies came floating down the river and, every day, the good people of the town would pull them out and tend to them – taking the sick to hospitals, placing the children with families, and burying those who were dead. 
This went on for years; each day brought its quota of bodies, and the townsfolk not only came to expect a number of bodies each day but also worked at developing more elaborate systems for picking them out of the river and tending to them.  Some of the townsfolk became quite generous in tending to these bodies and a few extraordinary ones even gave up their jobs so that they could tend to this concern full-time.  And the town itself felt a certain healthy pride in its generosity.”

This story – which does not end there – is a good parable of our Church. In the book of Exodus (3: 6 - 7) God tells Moses: “I have seen how cruelly my people are being treated in Egypt; I have heard them cry out to be rescued from their slave-drivers. I know all about their sufferings, and so I have come down to rescue them..." We too, as a church, "see - hear - come down"

Just think of some of the initiatives the Catholic Church in Swaziland is running:
  • Care for 
    • orphans (school fees, two-roomed houses, food, clothes...)
    • refugees at the refugee camp
    • teenage girls donating sanitary pads
    • the sick through a hospital, clinics, visit to the sick, parish nurses, healing services and a hospice
    • poor through St Vincent de Paul and Caritas in our parishes and diocesan office
    • those affected by drought through the provision of water tanks
  • Fight against
    • human trafficking
    • Gender based violence
I could go on and on and people in our parishes can add others to these ones.

These projects did not start this year. Like the ones in the story, our Church too has been caring for the most vulnerable ones for a long time and year after year we strive to improve our service.

But the story continues:
“However, during all these years and despite all that generosity and effort, nobody thought to go up the river, beyond the bend that hid from their sight what was above them, and find out why, daily, those bodies came floating down the river.”

Do we ever ask “why”? 
  • Why HIV/Aids spread so fast and took away a generation leaving us with thousands of orphans? "Eswatini has a high prevalence of HIV, affecting 26 percent of the population between the ages of 15 and 49. Life expectancy is 49 years, and 45 percent of children are orphaned or vulnerable" (World Food Programme)
  • Why do we have refugees in the country? Where do they come from? What is the situation in their country?
  • Why – in a so-called Christian country – we have so much Gender Based Violence? "Eswatini is ranked 128 out of 188 countries in the Gender Inequality Index. Factors contributing to increased vulnerability among women and girls include poor access to income-generating opportunities and social services; and gender-based violence." (World Food Programme)
  • Why do we have so many poor people? "Despite its status as a lower middle-income country, 63 percent of people live below the national poverty line." (World Food Programme)
What we do is great because people need to experience God's love and their true dignity as children of God. 

Asking "why" is something we cannot avoid. If you have a headache you need to know if it is because of flu, stress or a brain tumour.

Interesting enough, the moment I asked at the meeting if they ever ask "why" someone reacted saying: we cannot!. I wonder why...

World Food Programme - Eswatini

Speeches and entertainment after Mass

The three hour procession and Mass at the "Conversion of St Paul" church (Mlindazwe) was followed by speeches and entertainment.

Enjoy the videos!

During the Sibhaca Dance, Fr Mabuza (parish priest who was seated next to me)
could not resist it and joined them dancing. You can see him in the video below.


'Conversion of St Paul' Catholic Church

Arriving in the Diocese of Manzini in 2014, I started visiting the parishes and outstations in the same way I had done in the Vicariate of Ingwavuma since 2009: "unannounced". With the help of the local priests I was able to visit 90 of 120 communities we have in the Kingdom of Eswatini. They always found someone to lead me to the place but never told the people the bishop would be there on Sunday.

In May 2016 I visited the Catholic community at Mlindazwe (Good Shepherd Parish, Siteki). I might have been one of the first to arrive to the place because I had a vivid memory of the face of the people when they saw the Bishop's car was there. On that particular Sunday there were a bit confused about the time Mass would be celebrated and therefore they started phoning each other to let them know they would be having Mass with the Bishop.

The place was small but behind it - as I saw after Mass - they had started building their church. They had been able to reach "windows level" but there was one problem: they had run out of money.

Two years' later, on 02 June 2018, I went back to Mlindazwe to bless their new church.

The procession to the Church started 1.5 km away led by the "Salesian Brass Band" from Manzini. They are a powerful presence that made the people of the area come out of the their homes to greet us.

These are "community events" and not just a Catholic celebration. Everyone would be welcomed for lunch and therefore I found a good team of women making sure everything would be ready by the end of the Mass and speeches. 

The name of a new church is chosen by the bishop. The Parish Pastoral Council presents three possible ones. In this case, I was only given one indication: to include the name of Paul the apostle remembering Mr Paul Bhila who had donated the land. Their challenge was that already one of the outstations of the parish carried the name: St Paul

During the homily I announced that the Church will be called: "the conversion of St Paul" and their patronal feast will be celebrated on January 29.

It is the first church to carry that name in our diocese and reminds us that the Risen Jesus looked for Paul and made him an apostle. It is a reminder that it is not enough for us to follow Jesus. We need to look for those who are "outside" and joyfully share with them the Good News we have received.


Not the "bush fire" but the one of the Holy Spirit!

Last December I wrote to the priests, religious sisters and parish pastoral councils letting them know the idea of launching the "Sodality of St Cecilia" in the diocese of Manzini. I knew them from the time I served in Daveyton in the (now) archdiocese of Johannesburg. The decision was part of the steps we are taking to improve our liturgies. 
"The sodality of St Cecilia commended by the church is an association of choristers, men and women, who ensure the proper performance in the celebration of the sacraments and encourage the active participation of the faithful in the singing of sacred music in the liturgy" (from their constitution)
The first step then was to invite them to our diocese to explain us in detail who they are and their spirituality. They immediately agreed. In my mind they would send their "executive committee" (maybe 6 people) to do so.

They were much more generous than that. Just over 20 members arrived on Friday evening and ... another 60 on Saturday morning!

Those who arrived on Friday led a workshop on Saturday morning with delegates from all our parishes, members of the parish pastoral councils and their choirs. It was the first time we called for a diocesan meeting in order to present to everyone a new sodality. For over three hours we heard about their beginnings in 1982, the first diocesan structure in 1989 and their journey since then.
"We have been given the talent to praise God with our voices... We then make sure our liturgies are attractive and beautiful and they take people to God." (Mr O. Molapho) 
They insisted that this is for them a ministry which requires serious commitment as it is their path to sanctify themselves but also to bring people closer to God. Not only they promote sacred music in the celebrations but also promote compositions of sacred hymns in line with traditions and customs of the local faithful.

Their explanations were so clear and detailed that there were very few questions at the end and they basically related to practical issues like their relationship with other parish choirs, if any of their members belong also to another sodality and how they manage to be in both...

In my final remarks I pointed that someone commented during the singing that "people were on fire" and it should not be confused with the "Bush fire" happening in the country but this one was brought by the Holy Spirit.

At the end of the meeting they agreed to join both the 9.00 and 10.30 Masses at the Cathedral. It was very impressive to have a second choir and the congregation were deeply grateful for their presence.

They did not need to explain "who" they were or "what the goal" of their sodality is. They sang and led the community in prayer making sure everyone was involved. 

We now look forward to those who the Lord will call to take up this ministry in our Diocese.

Click on the photo below
for Flickr photos of the event

Sodality of St Cecilia

Pentecost at Our Lady of Assumption (Cathedral)

Every year the communities of the Cathedral come together to the "mother Church" for the celebration of the feast of Pentecost. On that day all those who were baptised and confirmed on the Easter Vigil celebrate in a special way the gift of the Spirit received through those sacraments.

It is also the "end" of their formation journey because they still met weekly after Easter to deepen on their faith.

For Pentecost they had asked for a special blessing upon them. I therefore called them all closer to the altar and reminded them that on the Easter Vigil they had committed themselves to different services in the community: serving the poor, being ushers, teaching catechism, joining the choir... "I believe it would be a good opportunity for you to report back on what you have done in the last 50 days". Some were more than ready to do it. Others looked down not sure what to say.

After Mass (and the group photo!) following a tradition, we all went out for lunch with the catechists and godparents. We were asked to say a few words before the meal. 

Godparents underlined the importance of their service and they would continue to journey with them for the rest of their lives. 

Sr Alexia (their catechist) invited them to a monthly meeting so that they would continue understanding their faith better. 

They thanked all of us who patiently helped them reach such an important moment in their lives. 


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