"Our yearly pilgrimage to Ingwavuma seems to get better each year" one of the priests shared with me this morning and that is what I was thinking yesterday evening while driving to Mtubatuba.
It is not easy to reach the place. Ingwavuma is on the border with Swaziland but there is no border post with that country. You do not go to Ingwavuma on your way to any other place. You go and... come back on the very same road.
The road, by the way, has "enjoyed" road works for at least two years. Part of it has improved but part of it is getting worse and worse and adds extra time to your journey.
Arriving from Manzini (Swaziland) on Saturday evening I found people sleeping in the church. Their pilgrimage had started at 6 in the morning. They climbed to Ingwavuma (700 mts high) from Bhambhanana which is 25 km away. They prayed, had a healing service, confessions and Mass.
A couple of weeks' ago, at the meeting of the priests of the Vicariate, we had committed ourselves to try our best "to start on time". So, two other priests arrived on Saturday evening to be ready to start at 09.00.
Sunday morning the place was misty, wet, drizzling, cold-ish...
Two more tents had been added to the usual one which belongs to the sodalities of the Sacred Heart and St Anne.
No matter the road, no matter the weather, the people were there. Even more than last year. The tents were full to capacity. More and more chairs were being brought to make sure no one would stay outside.
This is second year that the one in charge of the main homily is a priest from the Vicariate. Last year it was Fr Sifiso Mchunu OSM and this year Fr Mandla Msweli.
In one way or another others priests were involved too: Fr Mchunu OSM was the MC and led the prayer at the cross (done inside because of time and weather), Fr RS Mthembu led the healing prayer, Fr V. Mthembu (back from Nairobi two days' before) led the prayer of thanksgiving and, of course, Fr D. Mhlongo who was the main coordinator as priest-in-charge of Ingwavuma.
The first moment of the pilgrimage was the penitential service. Following Fr M. Msweli's reflection, we all made ourselves available to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. Chairs were put behind the tent so that we will be nearby but a bit away while people continued with the prayer of the rosary. The weather started getting worse and umbrellas were brought to all of us. Still, nothing seemed to be a problem.
Then, of course, like every year, there is the very special moment during Mass when one of the parishes bring their special donation. Some years' ago I decided they money would be destined to develop the place where we gather in September. This year was Mtubatuba's turn. They brought a cheque for R 120.000!
Though we started more or less on time, we finished a bit later than expected but no one seemed to be in a hurry. Even if it was Sunday afternoon and people had still a long journey back home on a difficult road (some reached their parish after 8 pm and still had to continue home).
I shared with them our intention to move the pilgrimage to Saturday evening. It is something being spoken for a long time. Hopefully next year. Next November at the AGM of the priests we will make a clear plan of action to make it possible. It will be very demanding in many ways but the experience is that ... with God's grace and our commitment, we should make it.
Yes. The pilgrimage to Ingwavuma gets better and better each year. The spirit of prayer, the growing attendance, the commitment of the priests and so many lay people are just some of the signs it is so.