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. 


A distress cry from the bishops of Cameroon

The bishops of Cameroon have sent us a statement they issued last May 16, 2018

* * *

"I have seen the afflictions of my people" (Ex 3:7)

"We, the Bishops of Cameroon, united in one accord, are once again confronted by the socio-political crisis that prevails in the two Regions of the North-West and South-West of Cameroon.

In fact, since October 2016, the North-West and South-West Regions have been passing through difficult times, marked by inhuman, blind, monstrous violence and a radicalisation of positions which leaves us worried."

See the full message clicking on the image below 


New maternity wing at St Theresa's Clinic

On 14 May 2018, the Minister of Health and the US Ambassador 
officially opened the new Maternity wing at St Theresa's Clinic. 
Below is my speech during the event

* * *

Honourable Minister
USA Ambassador
US Representative of Defense Corporation
Members of Parliament
Principal Secretary
Regional Administrator
Members of the Regional Health Administration
Chief Executive Officer- Manzini City Council 
St. Theresa’s Governing Board
Reverend Fathers, Sisters and Brothers
Staff of St. Theresa’s Clinic 
Honoured Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

For the Catholic Church, Easter does not end on Easter Sunday. We have what we call “the Easter Season” which lasts 50 days and goes from Easter Sunday to the feast of Pentecost (which will be celebrated next Sunday). During this time, we daily read from the book of the Acts of the Apostles.

It is in the book of the Acts of the Apostles (5: 15 - 16) that we read: “Many signs and wonders were worked among the people at the hands of the apostles so that the sick were even taken out into the streets and laid on beds and sleeping-mats in the hope that at least the shadow of Peter might fall across some of them as he went past. People even came crowding in from the towns round about Jerusalem, bringing with them their sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and all of them were cured.”

Two things seem to be clear from the beginning of the Church: 
    • the first one is that the very first Christians understood that their faith should make them care for those that were sick and tormented by unclean spirits and continue what Jesus had always done;
    • the second one is that, they did it in new ways! It is interesting to read that “the sick were even taken out into the streets and laid on beds and sleeping-mats in the hope that at least the shadow of Peter might fall across some of them as he went past”. We never see anything like this in the Gospel.

From the time of the resurrection of the Lord until today, the Catholic Church has always cared for the sick and has done it in different and new ways: hospitals, clinics, hospices, visits to the sick, parish nurses, healing services in Church... Probably most of them do not appear as such in the Bible but we do believe each one of them is an expression of the Holy Spirit working through us.

That is why we celebrate today the extension of St Theresa's Clinic with a new maternity ward. We believe it is an expression of our Christian faith and an expression of God's tender care for his people. 
There is, though, something else that I believe has always been clear in the minds and heart of our Church: that we do not work alone. That is why today we are particularly grateful to the US government, for such a sign of trust as they accepted the Clinic's request and generously contributed to the building of the maternity ward. Indeed, the Clinic has grown over the years through the support of many people and institutions. This include His Majesty’s Government, International Partners and friends, local community, last but not least the staff present here at the clinic. 

Honourable Minister, St. Theresa's clinic has always been a point of reference for people who come from all over the country, aware of the good services and care received by the patients. This maternity ward will certainly increase access to quality Health Services offered by the clinic. 

We are excited about the maternity ward but our excitement is cut short by the unavailable of equipment to make it function properly.

Honourable Minister we are happy to inform you that St. Theresa’s Clinic has received an ambulance and two dental chairs from the Papal Foundation valued at E1.3000.000. However, due to the shortage of funds we are unable to hire paramedics to operate the ambulance. We humbly request the Honourable Minister, if she can, to assist the Clinic engage the services of paramedics. The needs for the Clinic are ever increasing. We hope and pray the Honourable Minister does not grow tired of listening to the Church.

Honourable Minister, we wish to express our sincere thanks and gratitude for the significant support we get from His Majesty’s Government, especially through the annual subvention and medicine. Such efforts make us relevant to the needs of the many sick and poor people from Manzini and beyond. May this assistance never cease but increase.

Honourable Minister, we formally register our excitement about the planned taking over of the Catholic Clinics’ payroll by His Majesty’s Government, as this is really urgent. This will help the Clinic to be able to retain staff for longer periods. We wish to know how far the plan has gone now.

The many needs of the people of Eswatini mean that we have to work together in addressing them. In addressing these challenges you can count on my support, on the support of St. Theresa Clinic Management Committee and indeed the support of the Roman Catholic Church in the Kingdom of Eswatini.

Once again, I wish to thank the Honourable Minister, the US Ambassador and US Representative of Defense Corporation for honouring us with your presence today. I also wish to thank all members of the health sector present here today. Let us continue praying for each other and wishing each other well.

* * * * *

Click on the photo below
for more photos of the event
St Theresa's maternity wing opening

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