Last Sunday I celebrated confirmations at "Sacred Heart Parish" (Nhlangano, Swaziland) on the border with South Africa. As I was going to the Vicariate of Ingwavuma (South Africa) after Mass, I decided not to take the shortest way but a longer one, via Sulphur Springs and Berbice.
Berbice (in the photograph above) was my first appointment in South Africa at the end of 1994. It was a farm between our two main centres: Piet Retief and Pongola. From there we would travel between 50 and 100 km to the different outstations. One of those buildings was our house.
We were two priests. One would work in the "North" of the area and the other one in the "South". By 7 in the evening we were both back home for a snack (for some reason we never had supper) and shared about our "adventures" during the day.
Passing Berbice on the way to Pongola, I enjoyed remembering "events" in the different communities. Like the time when two different groups were fighting each other and only few "courageous" people would go into that community. We used to do it hoping they would "know" the priest's vehicle (and respect it!).
A very cold day
There was one community (it happened only once in my life!) where arriving for Mass on a Sunday I found absolutely no one because it was very cold. I had driven 70 km to the place and could only choose to try to keep warm in my bakkie and wait for the next Mass in another community.
Another Sunday arriving in a community nearby I felt "something was missing". I guess I do not have a photographic memory or much less than that. In fact a tornado had blown away a prefabricated structured next to the church where we had our creche! Thank God it had been insured and we were able to build one with bricks.
The area to Pongola has developed enormously and what were houses scattered along the way has now become intensively populated for around thirty kilometers. The hospital at Itshelejuba looks really different. It was around 20 years' ago when the director brought a team of seven or eight Cuban doctors to stay at the place. They really made a difference in the area as they were well prepared and worked generously for the people of that rural area. I looked like one of the doctors and each time I arrived there they would ask me if I was visiting my brother. I always said "yes" (of course).
Not far from Itshelejuba a car knocked and killed a child. I just remember the story while driving. The driver stopped and said he was "the priest of the Catholic Church in the area" and would pay for all the expenses of the funeral. Of course he was not. I had been away for a meeting in Newcastle for a couple of days. The following Sunday the people told me the story. Our Catholics had explained it could not have been me but... unless the relatives would see me they would not believe! We then decided to go together and visit the family to clarify the matter.
These are just a few stories.
Stopping at Pongola for a cool drink someone said "I remember you..." and we spent some time getting the "latest" news of the last year.