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The previous Sunday we read a familiar passage: "‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’ Jesus said, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.’"

I was in Italy and was sharing at Mass how our diocese - together with projects we have been running for decades - has opened to new realities: 
  • Refugees - I still remember when - a couple of years' ago - members of the Swaziland Council of Catholic Women came to me saying: "Pope Francis has asked us to care for refugees. We would therefore like to commemorate "refugee day" at diocesan level". Though we have always been involved through "Caritas Swaziland", they were able to involve all the parishes of the diocese in this project.
  • Gender based violence.  Just a few months' ago we marched in Hlatikulu against GBV and we plan to do it in other regions of the country. Very frequently our media reports on this tragedy in our families.
  • Human trafficking.  The end of August saw us marching together with government and other Christian Churches in Mbabane raising awareness about this crime against humanity where people are bought and sold.
  • Disabilities.  Though not a new project, the death of Fr Ciccone got us more involved aware that our society still sees our children living with disabilities as "a problem".
  • Abuse of alcohol. Then, the one that took me to Italy. Invited by "Impegnarsi Serve" I met young people to talk about the reality of abuse of alcohol which is the cause of at least 50% of our accidents. 
The particular thing was that ... each one of these realities are also present in Italy. Enough to think of the number of refugees arriving daily, the situations of family violence being reported regularly and the sharing we had these days with young people regarding the abuse of alcohol.



There was a time when missionaries would talk about realities unknown in other countries. Not now. At least not regarding these ones. They are present in Europe and Africa, in the North and South of the world.

Globalisation seems to apply to these challenges too which call us to journey together, reflect together and support each other in prayer. 

The bishop is always the parish priest of the Cathedral. That is why he normally appoints an "administrator" (and not a parish priest) on whom he delegates the leadership of that community .

In my case, though, I had transferred the administrator to another parish because one of our priests have been sent for further studies and had to be replaced at the place where he was parish priest. Therefore, I am the part time parish priest of the Cathedral.

Friday saw me celebrating Mass at Lwandle primary school. Because of the number of children and the lack of a bigger place, the priest (or bishop!) celebrates two Masses (one group goes out and the other one comes in!). The children were amazing. Few of them are Catholic but they sang as if they had been members of our Church all their lives!


Saturday, together with another five priests, I presided the funeral of Dr David Mkhumbuzi Manyatsi who was a very active and committed member of the Cathedral community and the Salesian family. 

Sunday I had confirmations at Mater Dolorosa (Mbabane). When Fr Mahazule (parish priest) asked me for a date for confirmations I told him: "If you want me in your parish... you will have to replace me in mine!". So I took the two Masses at Mater Dolorosa and he took the three I was supposed to preside at the Cathedral. It was also good for him to be back at a place where he had been administrator under my predecessor.

The challenge came in the evening. The "Siege of Jericho" had announced in the Cathedral the beginning of their week of prayer at our "Little Flower" Church. I had no more details than that and thought no one would need me.

Wrong. They normally start their week with the celebration of Mass. Evening phone call. The people had arrived and they were waiting for me to start. It was even funny because I had not been able to organize properly the keys I was given and could not find quickly what was needed. The good thing is that we were all helping each other to get everything ready. 

As I finally started the Mass I said: "Please, be patient, I am still learning to find my way...".  

Having sent another priest for further studies I am now officially acting as the parish priest of the Cathedral (which is now being served by two part-time people!). This means among other things that my Sundays are - as far as possible - at the service of the Cathedral and the outstations. 

One of them is St Gabriel (Moneni). We still remember the very first visit. It was in March 2014. I decided to visit the outstations in the diocese starting from the Cathedral. 

On a Saturday afternoon Fr Ndwandwe took me to two outstations to learn the way for Sunday and added: "there is another one but we do not have time today". I replied it was not a problem because sooner or later I would visit them all.

That was my reasoning. It was not theirs.

Once they knew I would be doing those two outstations they phoned me on Sunday at 7 am to let me know I should celebrate Mass with them too on that very day. 

I tried my best to use every possible "logical" reason ... "Do not worry, I will visit you" ... "I could not see yesterday where you are" ... "I do not know the place".

That final one was the least useful. The answer was: "Do not worry Bishop, someone is on the way. She will lead you here. We are all waiting for you".

So it was. Few minutes' later I was starting Mass at St Gabriel. We never forgot the story and we still laugh about it.

Now it is different. I will be there every month. They know that and they are reminding me about the need to build a proper church. "It should be a mini-Cathedral being the bishop the one in charge". I am afraid to say anything. Knowing them, anything is possible!

« Organising the service of charity in Africa: the role of the Bishops »
Dakar, 18 - 20 September 2017

Final declaration

OUR MEETING

1. We Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops, Presidents of Episcopal Conferences and National Caritas from 43 countries of the Caritas Internationalis Africa Region, thank God for having gathered us in Dakar from 18 to 20 September 2017 on the theme ’’Organizing the Service of Charity in Africa: the role of the Bishops’’. This meeting took place five years after the one in Kinshasa in November 2012 on the “Identity and the mission of Caritas in the light of the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est”, sanctioned by a strong final declaration, insisting on the ecclesial nature of Caritas and its specific mission to the light of the Gospel and the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church.

2. We reaffirm the content of this declaration and invite those who engage in the Church's pastoral social action to continue to act and act as credible witnesses of Christ (Act 1, 8).

3. We express our gratitude to the Holy Father, Pope Francis for the message addressed to us through H.E. Archbishop Michael W. BANACH, the Apostolic Nuncio in Senegal; this message is a sign of Pope Francis paternal solicitude towards our Churches.

4. We thank the Church Family of God in Senegal for welcoming us and for its hospitality.

5. Our gratitude and appreciation, with the assurance of our prayers, go to His Excellency Macky SALL, President of the Republic of Senegal and to his Government for the exceptional facilities provided for us to hold our meeting.

6. We have had the joy of rereading the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est and the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, as well as the Motu Proprio Intima Ecclesiae Natura and Humanam Progressionem, and to understand more fully how much the charity service is central to the mission of the Church as a community of faith and love (Jn 4, 7-11).

7. The presence of His Eminence Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah TURKSON, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, His Eminence Cardinal Luis Antonio TAGLE, President of Caritas Internationalis, has been an encouragement to us and their interventions, inspiration in our responsibility as fathers of charity in our particular Churches. We welcome the creation of the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and encourage the start of its structuring and its approaches that we will take into account in our pastoral mission and organization.



 OUR FAITH

8. We share the faith of all those who, in the small cells of the Christian life in parishes and local communities, to the more global structures contribute to the effectiveness of charity and the presence of the Church and of Christ in the world. The enriching positive experiences shared during this gathering give the image of a Church on the move, resolutely committed to the service of every person and humanity as a whole (Populorum Progressio, 14) despite many challenges and which call for more and more imagination and creativity in our pastoral mission.

9. We take the thought of Pope Francis on the plane that brought him back from Colombia, on 10 September 2017, according to which Africa is not a land to be exploited but a friend to love, to help to grow. We are grateful to the organizations of the sister churches that accompany us and reiterate our willingness to walk with them in Christian hope, fraternal communion, support and mutual reinforcement without substituting ourselves for the service of the most disadvantaged who are our brothers and sisters, letting us evangelize them.
   
10. Our limited means of action must not be an excuse for a wait-and- see attitude, for the development of the poor can only be achieved by the poor themselves. That is why we strongly encourage South-South as well as North-South exchanges within our Churches, the capitalization of experiences and pooling of expertise and resources, harmonization at all levels of the guidelines that guide our collective commitment.

11. Our hearts are bleeding to see that the misery of our people is often caused by some of our own leaders, in collaboration with foreign powers, while these very ones are supposed to fight poverty and stem it out. In the end, they force us to act as extinguishers of the hotbeds of tension which they light and feed, thus pushing our young people into exile or turning them into militants of political or religious extremism.


OUR COMMITMENT

12. We implore the assistance of the Holy Spirit in order to be in our churches the first craftsmen and the good guardians of the service of charity (Mt 24, 45; Tt 1,7).

13. Hence we commit ourselves to:

1) stand on the side of the communities and individuals, whose God given resources and means of livelihood, including their land, are under threat of exploitation by both internal and external interests;

2) pay more attention to migration and refugee problems, to the consequences of political crises and natural disasters and, where appropriate, to work proactively upstream in order to better contribute to the eradication of the causes of poverty on a continent that is rich in its populations, especially its young people, its cultures and its natural resources;

3) involve ourselves in the preparation and participation in the next synod of the young people who are the wealth of the Church and of the nation and to do everything possible to make them feel at home in the Church;

4) create with our partners opportunities for these young people to contribute to their integral formation and to their Christian and citizenship growth;

5) strengthen the participation of women and make visible their contribution to the development of our families and communities;

6) encourage responsible leaders and elites who serve the common good and constantly denounce those who are corrupt and who maintain the impoverishment of the masses as a strategy for the maintenance or conquest of power;

7) progressively adapt our socio-pastoral structures to those of the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, according to the contexts of our particular Churches;

8) contribute to the improvement of governance in our socio-charitable works, by adopting appropriate constitutive texts and by appointing competent and appropriate persons;

9) integrate into the religious and priestly formation the systems of the social teaching of the Church and the minima of the principles of transparent management of the property of the Church belonging to the poor;

10) develop a genuine synergy of action at the level of the continent, sub- regions (zones), Episcopal Conferences and dioceses with a view to productive ecclesial communion in the service of integral human promotion;

11) strengthen fraternal solidarity with Sister Churches, interfaith collaboration and cooperation with civil society organizations for peace building and development in our regions, while respecting our Catholic identity and avoiding us to be guided by contemporary ideologies.

May the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Africa, intercede for us.

Dakar, 20 September 2017

Click on the photo below
for photos of the event (Flickr)

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The second "Meeting of Bishops President of Episcopal Conferences and Presidents of Caritas in Africa" (Dakar, Senegal) was opened this morning with Mass presided by Cardinal Tagle. Here are some notes from his homily.

* * * * *

All today's readings (1 Timothy 2:1-8 & Luke 7:1-10) speak about prayer. Intercessory prayer. Praying for one another. 

We need to realize we are interconnected, even before the label globalization or networking become famous. We are one humanity. What happens in one part of the world affects the others and, if for good or for ill, we affect one another, imagine the power of praying for one another!

When one person connects with God, the rest of humanity and creation also goes to God. 

In the first reading we are asked to pray for everyone, for those in authority, for kings and queens. As we get involved in works of service, let us accompany our work with prayer. 

Most of us had the experience of, having done what is humanly possible, all the negotiations and all the diplomatic skills have been used, we then still say "we pray to the Lord...!" 

The second thing is: Jesus invites us to pray with "faith". Very often we pray with memorized prayers. We get used to repeat them without having anymore that investment of the heart which the centurion had. The centurion, who was an outsider, believed in the power of Jesus: "just say a word"... "I believe in the power of your Word"! May our prayer be a prayer of faith.  As we pray together and for one another, let us do it with faith.

Finally, St Paul invites us to pray for those in authority. The centurion addresses Jesus as Lord. One of the most subversive things Christianity brought into the world is the proclamation that Jesus is Lord. This means telling those in authority "you are not the Lord". It is really surprising that human authorities still tolerate the Church, a Church that says "Jesus is Lord. You are not the one. We do not pray to you, we pray to the real Lord and we pray for you to the real Lord". 

How much we need to pray now for those who are in authority...! For those who think they are the Lord... but for us there is only one intercessor: Jesus. 

* * * * *

(He then invited us to keep in our prayers the Rohingya people and the visit of Pope Francis both to Myanmar and Bangladesh in November)

The title of this post is taken from Proverbs 22:9

This morning we met at St Joseph's (Mzimpofu) to receive the donation of a stove and food from "Swazi Spa" (https://www.suninternational.com/royal-swazi-spa/). 

The stove was very much needed. The cost of electricity makes it unaffordable to use an electric one when you have to feed 200 boarders.

It was a short familiar gathering as the leading team at St Joseph's, some of the children, Fr Mazibuko  OSM (representing the Servants of Mary) and myself in the name of the Diocese of Manzini, welcomed the representatives from Swazi Spa.

I shared with them the famous saying that a country is judged by the way she cares about the most vulnerable people. It applies to any community and, I believe, to any business too. We are grateful for this. 

As Christians, though, we cannot but remember the familiar passage of Matthew 25... "I was hungry and you gave me food". Sometimes we fulfill it by giving food... sometimes by donating a stove making sure that the food is properly cooked!!! In every case, we see Jesus in these our brothers and sisters that have been entrusted to us.

We then moved to the kitchen to see the stove and take some photos together. 


As we were going there we were joined by a representative from SOS Children's Villages Swaziland (http://sos.org.sz) who was also coming to bring a donation of shoes for Ekululameni.

They have three villages in Swaziland, at Mbabane, Nhlangano and Siteki and they are being helped by different organizations. 

As they shared with us, once they had provided shoes to all their children under they care, they still remained with some which they felt should not just be stored when others are in need. That is why they thought of Ekululameni. 

They hope to be back soon and bring books and other donations.


We cannot but be grateful by the generosity of so many people and organizations "who has a generous eye" and keep all these children in their hearts.

On our side, we entrust them all daily in our prayers.


Children thanked with a song



It all started few weeks' ago. Members of the Sodality of St Anne asked to see me at short notice to present an idea: they wanted to organize a march against human trafficking in Mbabane

The main idea was to have a prayer day and create awareness about human trafficking in our country supporting government efforts in this regard. 

Through Caritas Swaziland, our diocese has always been interested in partnering with government and other forces in the country against the trafficking in persons. Together with the dimensions of awareness and prayer we would like to be of help to those who have been victims of this crime. 

Being so, I immediately indicated that it should be a diocesan event and not just a local one (for Mater Dolorosa Parish, Mbabane) or for members of the sodality. The diocesan commission for Justice and Peace came on board too.

Being July 30 the "World Day against Trafficking in Persons", it was suggested to have our event on August 5. Unfortunately I would not make it as I would be out of the country. 

We were deeply grateful for the agreement and support we received from government. We were just asked to change the date to August 26 (and that made it possible for me to be there). We would leave from Mater Dolorosa Parish and march in town to "Prince of Wales" where the prayer day and speeches would be held.

Though cold and cloudy we had a great attendance from all walks of life: government, army, police, Christian churches... confirming that no one can address this issue alone and how much this affects us all.

We hope and pray to remain committed as a Church in the fight against this crime. We entrust this journey to the intercession of St Bakhita:

St Bakhita, a daughter of Africa,
who, yourself, suffered
as a victim of Human Trafficking
we honor and praise your name.

We humbly implore
that through your intercession
we may be able to persevere
in our battle to overcome this
terrible evil of human trafficking,
experienced by so many in Africa
and indeed throughout the world.

We know, St Bakhita,
that victims of human trafficking
are close to your heart.
We pray that they may feel
the warmth of your loving care
and the presence of our Lord
in their time of suffering and despair.

We pray especially for their rescue
so that they may once again
live in the freedom of the children of God
Amen.

* * *
Click on the photo below
for photos of the event

2017SZ_TIP

Saturday 26 August saw government, members of the police and the army, the US Embassy and the Catholic Church among others, coming together against Human Trafficking.

Below, my speech

* * * * *

Your Excellency, the Honorable Prime Minister of Swaziland
Honourable Ministers 
The Ambassador of the United States of America 
Members of Both Houses of Parliament
Principal Secretaries
Regional Administrator 
National Commission of Police
Chief Executive Officer – Municipal Council of Mbabane
Head of the Department of Human Trafficking 
Distinguish Guests
Reverends Fathers and Sisters 
Matter Dolorosa Parish Pastoral Council 
Women of St. Ann’s Sodality
Programme Director
Royal Swaziland Police Choir and Catholic Heavenly Choir
Media Representatives
Brothers and Sisters in Christ

You might be all familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan. A man on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho falls into the hands of bandits who strip him, beat him and make off leaving him half dead. Three people pass and they all see him: a priest, a Levite, a Samaritan. Only one – though – has compassion.
The trafficking in persons that gathers us today is a crime like the one in the parable. The difference is that no one seems to see it. The crime seems to be “invisible”. The victims seem to be “invisible” too. We all talk about it. We all read and hear about it in our media, but no one sees it and therefore the victims risk not having any good Samaritan; and our youth and children remain deeply at risk.

Pope Francis says, “Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity”.1 The dignity of our people, the dignity of the children of God is being destroyed.
Pope Francis adds: “Human persons created in the image and likeness of God are deprived of their freedom, sold and reduced to being the property of others.” 2
We are here because we are the Body of Christ and that body is today being attacked and trafficked. Our dignity, destroyed.
But it is not just the dignity of those being trafficked that is destroyed. Cardinal Tagle who is Caritas International president once asked: “Do the traffickers see human beings in those they are exploiting?” ... “Where is the humanity of those who exploit other persons?”
We, the Church, cannot remain indifferent. Like the Good Samaritan we need to stop and address this crime which is hurting us all.


I believe our approach has at least four “P”:

Prevention
Prevention can only happen by tackling both supply and demand. It is common knowledge that “several factors increase the vulnerability of the child victims, namely endemic poverty, inadequate child protection, ignorance and cultural constraints”3 in the places trafficking victims originate.
We need to talk about it. We need to help our children and young people to believe it is real, it is ugly and cruel.

Protection
Protection of children requires the protection of families. Therefore, policies and programs must provide families with the essential tools to protect and nurture their children in situations of vulnerability. Decent housing, health-care and education are essential. We therefore renew our commitment at these levels through Caritas Swaziland, through our health facilities and schools

Partnership
I believe no one can address this crime alone. That is why we approached His Majesty's government to show our wish to join hands with government and with many others. Together with the elements of awareness, housing, health and education, we wished we could partner in the care of those who have been victims of trafficking so that they are not also victims again not being able to insert themselves back in their families and society.
All of us are needed because we all have different abilities and skills: governments, churches, social workers, police, doctors... A crime against humanity demands humanity to come together to stop it.

Prayer
February 8th is particularly significant for the Catholic Church. We celebrate the feast of Saint Josephine Bakhita, a Sister who was kidnapped and sold into slavery at a young age in Sudan. When she was freed, she chose to enter a religious order and spent the rest of her life helping the poor and the suffering. On this day Catholics all over the world join in prayer.
We believe in the power of prayer!
Let us all pray – not just on that day – for the many people who are denied their dignity, people with no voice, people who are enslaved; and let us also pray for those who raise awareness about this crime, for our families and particularly for our youth and children.

In December 2014, thirteen leaders signed a common declaration and encouraged other religious leaders to add their names. 
They said: 
“In the eyes of God each human being is a free person, whether girl, boy, woman or man, and is destined to exist for the good of all in equality and fraternity. Modern slavery in terms of human trafficking, forced labour and prostitution, organ trafficking and any relationship that fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity, is a crime against humanity.”4 
May we all unite in this conviction that comes from our faith. May we all work together for the dignity of every person in the Kingdom of Swaziland and the world.

+ José Luis Ponce de León IMC
Bishop of Manzini



1. Address of Pope Francis to participants in the international conference on combating human trafficking - "Casina Pio IV ", Lecture Hall of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences - 10 April 2014

2. Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the celebration of the World Day of Peace – 1 January 2015 - “No longer slaves but brothers and sisters”

3. Michael Czerny S.J. - Under-Secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section: Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development – Speech at the 17th Alliance against Trafficking in Persons Conference “Trafficking in Children and the Best Interests of the Child” - Vienna, 3 April 2017

4. Casina Pio IV, 2 December 2014

Click on the photo below
for photos of the event (from Flickr)

2017SZ_TIP