Centenary celebration: Called to serve in another diocese

The celebration of the Mass was presided by archbishop Buti Thlagale OMI, archbishop of Johannesburg. The diocese of Manzini is part of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Province together with the dioceses of Witbank and Klerksdorp.

The main concelebrants were archbishop Stephen Brislin (archbishop of Cape Town and SACBC president) and cardinal Wilfrid Napier OFM (archbishop of Durban). 

I sat among the bishops at the side of the altar.

Archbishop Thlagale led the celebration explaining the different moments. It was the first time in the history of this diocese that a new bishop is not ordained in Manzini but "installed".

He started quoting Pope Francis when speaking to the priests in 2013 said: "This I ask you: be shepherds, with the “odour of the sheep”"

"The Swazi Observer" picked it up in one their editorials a couple of days after the celebration:

"Yes, a good shepherd smells like his flock

During the Roman Catholic centenary anniversary celebrations mass at the Bosco Skills Centre on Sunday, Archbishop of Johannesburg Buti Thlagale encapsulated the church’s service oriented ethos when he told the gathering that he hoped new Bishop Jose Luis Ponce de Leone was a good shepherd.

He further said a good shepherd should always ‘smell like his flock,’ which was as good as saying the Bishop should always be synonymous with the people he led.

Smelling like your flock is as good as becoming one of them. When they starve, you starve with them and when they share a bountiful harvest, you also enjoy with them.

Smelling like your flock means becoming a part of their whole, crying with them during painful moments and also dancing with them when they celebrate.

You become part of them such that they can simply flare their nostrils and smell wherever you can be. 

This ethos is probably the basis of which Jesus Christ lived by during his time on earth and it is quite heartening to see the Roman Catholic Church living by this supreme ideal, in a bid to simplify the myths of religion, while opening the doors for all and demonstrating that they are most welcome.

The Roman Catholic Church has been quite exemplary on this and since their arrival in the country their missionaries have been living by this ideal, which is probably why it was easy for them to win the hearts of the people."

( You can read it all by following this link: http://www.observer.org.sz/index.php?news=58182 )

The Papal Mandate was read and I was invited to sit at the bishop's chair and then was given the pastoral staff. I chose to use the one of my predecessor in this diocese, Bp Ncamiso Ndlovu OSM.

Bishops came one by one to greet me while Sr Hermenegild Makoro (SACBC Secretary General) introduced them to the people. It was the first time that all (but one) the bishops were in Manzini and people did not know many of them.

They were followed by the priests, the religious and the laity that came forward to welcome the new bishop and promised to work together with him. The laity were represented by the chairperson of the fifteen parish councils.

Each one of the priests, religious and lay people received a copy of "Evangelii Gaudium" (The Joy of the Gospel) the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis on the proclamation of the Gospel in today's world. It was presented last 24th November 2013, just a few days' before my appointment to Manzini.

Being the celebration of one hundred years of missionary service in Swaziland, I felt this exhortation could lead us at the beginning of the next centenary. 

Having been installed, it was me who was then presiding the celebration until the end of the Mass.

The readings were done in Portuguese, English and Siswati as it is usually done at the most important celebrations of the diocese.

During the homily I insisted it is now on us to continue what others started. It is us who are being called by Jesus to "be good news", to be light to those walking in darkness, to be fishers of men and women.

(Remember that the homily is available by clicking HERE)

During the offertory I shared with the MC, Fr Sakhile Mswane, my concern on the lack of space as people had taken every possible space. He just told me not to worry and that everything would be fine. He was right.

One of the beautiful things of our celebration was that a number of things did not happen "as planned" but everyone was quick enough to find an alternative way. 

Bishops had been asked to distribute communion to the people and they were all more than happy to do it. I was taken to the opposite side of the Bosco Centre and I was grateful it was so. They remembered that was what I wanted. Usually the presiding bishop would remain in front of the altar but I like the idea of going to those that were "far away".

People had been asked not to take photographs during Mass and most of them accepted the request but the moment the bishop was near them giving communion was too tempting to resist...

Before the final blessing was the time for the speeches... but that will be for another day.

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Bishop of the Diocese of Manzini (Swaziland)

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