Two gifts to the Vicariate of Ingwavuma

It was less than two months' ago when we received the great news of Pope Francis' appointment of a bishop for the Vicariate of Ingwavuma: Fr Siegfried Mandla Jwara CMM. As I said at the beginning of his episcopal ordination: "For the last two an a half years, both the Vicariate of Ingwavuma and the Diocese of Manzini in a special way, have been praying for this"

The Vicariate faced a huge challenge: to prepare an episcopal ordination in six weeks. At least twenty bishops immediately confirmed their presence. Hundreds of priests and sisters were expected to attend together with thousands of lay people from the Vicariate and the dioceses of Umtata, Mariannhill and Manzini among others. Radio Veritas would broadcast live the celebration.

It would be the third episcopal ordination in the history of the Vicariate (after Bishop Michael O'Shea's and mine) but the biggest event of all.

A team of priests and seminarians was set up to coordinate the preparation of the event. We were able to meet the bishop-elect to see with him how he would like the celebration to be done. 

The chairpersons of the Parish Pastoral Councils (PPC) we called and the team shared with them the plan and consulted them on the financial support from the parishes.

The "events committee" from Mtubatuba Parish (where the ordination would take place) was entrusted with the most demanding tasks: tent, chairs, decoration, food (!!!)...

On my side I would help from Manzini. After attending the first couple of meetings, I remained in touch with them by phone and email. 

The Bishop-elect asked me to preside the celebration as a sign of "handing over" the leadership of the Vicariate to him. Bp Dlungwane from Mariannhill diocese (where the bishop-elect was born) and Xolelo Kumalo from Eshowe (the neighbouring diocese) would be the two assistants. 

A week before the event I went to the Vicariate to be available in what would be needed from me. 

The spirit was amazing. 

Monday evening, the final meeting of the "events team".

Tuesday morning, eight cows were slaughtered.

Wednesday morning, the final meeting of the Vicariate team.

Thursday morning, rehearsal with altar servers, priests and two bishops.

Friday morning I found two tents already up.

Everything was working as planned. 

Blessing of the episcopal regalia at St Lucia
Most of the bishops arrived on Friday afternoon. They were hosted at St Lucia. 

In the evening we gathered for prayer at the "St Lucia Retreat and Training Centre" of the Vicariate. Bishops, religious sisters, priests and relatives of the bishop-elect gathered to pray for the bishop-elect. The pastoral staff, miter, ring and pectoral cross were blessed during the prayer. I was asked to preside.

"When we chose June 25 for the episcopal ordination, I never realised that our evening prayer the day before would fall on the solemnity of the birth of John the Baptist (June 24). This is how I feel... I feel as if I was John the Baptist preparing the Vicariate of Ingwavuma for the arrival of the Shepherd" I said.

After supper I was back at Riverview (Mtubatuba) The "garage area" of Mtubatuba Parish had been transformed into a kitchen where the food would be prepared. 

Everyone was busy, excited, looking forward to the event, wondering if everything would be ready on time... 

It was so. Looking back I cannot really think of anything that did not go as planned.

Adding to all the joy of the day was the high number of Catholics that crossed the border into South Africa from the Diocese of Manzini (Swaziland). "We want to be with you on that day, bishop" they had told me but I never expected so many from the different parishes of the diocese.

As I leave the Vicariate of Ingwavuma after seven years, I am grateful to have been able to offer these two gifts... 
  • to the new bishop... the gift of such a committed community of lay people, seminarians and priests;
  • to the people... the gift of a new bishop!
True that none of the two are really mine! Both are God's gifts and a constant sign of his loving presence among us.