Bishop Kevin Dowling: 'Your Servant for Jesus'

Not that I am always aware of Silver Jubilees well in advanced but it was a year ago when I realised Bishop Kevin Dowling CSsR (a friend and bishop of Rustenberg) would be celebrating his Silver Jubilee in January 2016. His anniversary of episcopal ordination always happens during our plenary session. Or nearly. This year we met earlier because of the Eucharistic congress in the Philippines. 

Bishop Kevin was hoping no one would notice it and nothing would be organised. He was wrong. Twice. Thank God.

On my side I was hoping it would not be the weekend after his anniversary because I would be abroad. 

During the plenary we got the news that his diocese had planned a celebration on Sunday 7 February. "I am aware it is too late for the bishops to make a plan" said Bp Kevin but some of us made sure we would be there while those who could not, would send their delegates.

Quick shot before the Mass with some of the bishops
The booklet of the Silver Jubilee Mass included a reflection by Bp Kevin on this 25th anniversary. Just that... it was the wrong one...! It was a letter he had sent to his diocese last year. He had prepared a new one that never made it to the final edition. This is how the one we got started...
“I feel humbled by all this, as I was hoping the date would pass by unnoticed. The reasons are personal. In many ways I have failed as bishop and therefore there is little to celebrate after 25 years – except, perhaps, that I have tried to be faithful to my calling to “serve” the diocese, its personnel and people.
I have had many really painful experineces, disappointments and setbacks over the years – but, that is to be expected for anyone who is tasked with a serious responsibility in the Church or society. Due to the many needs in this under-resourced diocese, I realised that a lot would be required of me. I chose as my motto: “Your servant for Jesus”, and this has been my goal in life. I have also tried to look after the diocesan administration so as to allow our priests the freedom and time to be present to their communities and people, and to fulfill their pastoral work commitments.
So, I have tried to do my best during the past years, working long hours every day without a break in order to respond to the needs of the diocese.
But the predominant feeling I have after all these years is one of failure, that I have failed as bishop to successfully motivate the full development of the diocese and the many pastoral and social programmes which reflect the National Pastoral Plan “Community Serving Hummanity” of the SACBC."

That was how he felt at least some months' ago. Understandably so. I guess we all feel like that sometimes. Our feelings about him were completely different but who would have a chance to say it? 

It came from Mrs Patricia who spoke passionately in the name of the laity: 
“People come to you. You share their pain, you have become their father… You always have time to listen and encourage… You encourage us to look at the bigger picture… I am very proud of my diocese… You make the social teaching of the Church a working document… 
Please, reduce the work load. When you are sick we all become sick. We cannot afford that. I wish someone would take your phone, your car keys, your laptop and your boots for a month. You are always everywhere. When you are not in Rustenberg,  you are in Sudan… the next thing you are here at Tapologo, then you are at the border… 
You are a person of the people and no matter where you are, you are following everything and you phone us asking us to help people here… 
Thanks for being there for us! If our thanksgiving could be turned into flowers you would have your own flower garden”
By the way, Bishop Kevin had not seen the "wrong text" had been inserted in the booklet and could not understand why Mrs Patricia was talking so passionately. He only understood it... a day later!

Then was the time for Archbishop Buti Thlagale OMI to say a few words in our name. Archbishop Thlagale was president of our bishops' conference between 2007 and 2013. Among other things he said:
I have not doubt in my mind it has been years of challenge, years of frustration, pain and suffering but also of overcoming obstacles, years of giving hope to many people, years of humble victories and of personal fulfilment…  
An outstanding quality that has penetrated and shaped the attitude of Bishop Kevin, his work and contribution for many years, is his preferential option for the poor. He has been an unwavering voice of the voiceless, he has always urged the bishops not to interpret the traditions of the Church in such a way that the poor are made to feel guilty and burdened and suffocated instead of experiencing through the Church God's mercy.
Bp Kevin has also been a public speaker of note. I remember once in Bulawayo he spoke so movingly about the injustices in that country that many feared he might not be able to leave that country or might be declared persona non grata in Zimbabwe.
One of his admirers - and I am glad he is here today, Archbishop (emeritus) George Daniel -  remarked on several occasions after Bp Kevin had spoken that he has a remarkably lucid mind and a rare ability to put things in perspective. 
Until today Bp Kevin continues to be one who formulates the resolutions of the Bishops' Conference but this that not mean he agrees with the resolutions he has written...! 
Today on the occasion of your Silver Jubilee the Bishops' Conference seeks to pay homage to you and to thank you sincerely for your outstanding contribution to the Church and to society.

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Bishop of the Diocese of Manzini (Swaziland)

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