A parish priest day

It was the first time I could attend the Parish Pastoral Council (PPC) meeting since I started acting as "parish priest" in the Cathedral. Every time there was a meeting I had to attend a diocesan event or I was out of the country. 

We spent the morning together going through the coming Holy Week, the report from the finance committee and the first steps of the Justice and Peace committee.

A workshop was planned for April on the role of the laity and the coming elections of the new PPC. It needs to be finalised before the end of the year when a new Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) will then be elected.

We finished after midday. The executive had organised lunch for all which was very good considering that some travel a long distance to attend the meeting and most of us seemed to have other appointments in the Cathedral.

In my case it was the meeting of the new Justice and Peace committee. I briefly shared with them how I see their role.

Our chairperson was involved with the youth. We finished our meetings at the same time. We then went to visit a couple of sick people in different communities. The voice had spread ("the bishop will be visiting the sick") and so another one added her name to the list.

Those sick at home are always very grateful for the visit and the prayer. They know they are being cared and it gives them strength in their suffering. 

Being no one

It was time to renew my South African passport. I am running out of pages. Just crossing between Swaziland and South Africa means four stamps on a return trip. This is my first "maxi" passport with more pages than the normal one but... did not last long enough!

I therefore started my visit to different "Home Affairs" offices. Arriving at the first one I found already a long queue of about 70 people, all outside under the sun. I was not sure if I was being unlucky or if it is always like that. It was also difficult to know how long it would take to reach the door of the building. Only when some would come out, others would go in. There was also one queue to apply and collect (?!)

I decided to wait and see. Just that, after half an hour, someone from the office came out and announced: "the system is down". I believe no one would be able to say "why" it was down or "how long" it would take to be back. 

A heavy storm looked on its way too... so I drove to another Home Affairs' office an hour away. The experience was the same. Long queues, no one able to say how long it could take to go in. I decided to come back to Swaziland. The day was gone and nothing was achieved.

A week later I tried in another two places. In the first one I was told that I had to get my name in a list of a 150 people that are taken for the day... and I was late. The list was closed. I should be back another day. Living in Swaziland makes no difference. One probably would have to sleep there the night before as our borders only open at 7 am.

In the second one instead I was allowed to queue. I was worried that it was already 11 am but I was told I would be able to go in. Easier to say than to believe it ... The queue seemed shorter than in the other places but a number of people were not really queuing. They were standing on the side.

Four hours' later I was still queuing... Panicked overtook us all because we understood the office would close and we would have to be back another day. It was not so. We were able to finally go in.

It hurts to see mothers with babies, widows... spending all that time in a very hot day. People do try to help each other. A young girl asked a young mother with a baby to sit down that she would keep her place (for free in case you wonder). Those selling drinks and food had more than reasonable prices and were not an extra burden on those queuing. I shared my umbrella with two more people to be protected from the sun. After some time one offered to hold it for us.

But tensions are easily fired. People need information and the person at the door many times does not have it. People then get angry and also does the one at the door feeling challenged. The exception was my final place where the man seemed to know things well and tried his best to make people understand. He would even distinguish between the troublesome in one queue and the well behaved (us!) in the other one.

Even inside, the personnel was friendly even though they were tired. They seemed to be trying their best to move things forward. The information was clear and precise. By the time it was my turn they had seen 180 people.

It was one of the few times I could be "no one" and somehow experience what anyone else has to.  I say "somehow" because I could visit four different offices and at the end was still privileged to have a car to go back home (even if that meant driving 300 km). Others were praying to have transport to go back to places which are one or two hours' away. I also do not need to ask "my boss" for another day off from work!!! But I felt really powerless, not knowing what I would do if I would not be allowed in and had to drive back again.

I had, of course, plenty of time to reflect on the way we welcome people when they come to our offices in the chancery, the Cathedral, Caritas... It was one of the few times when I could experience being on the other side of the desk.

The experience has not ended yet... I must be back in one or two weeks' time. This means driving again another 300 km and queuing for another two hours at least, to collect it.

First diocesan gathering of Altar Servers

Mater Dolorosa Parish (Mbabane) - Altar servers
The idea was not new. It just took us time to launch it. Saturday 24 February saw the first gathering of Altar Servers in the Diocese of Manzini. Practically all the parishes were present though not all the altar servers serving in them could join us. 

Fr Theodomir Sibomana (from Rwanda) worked on this idea during 2017. At the end of the year, when priests of the Diocese gather for the final meeting, he announced it would take place at our Cathedral. He then reminded them about it to make sure no one would be missed!

As told them at the beginning of Mass, it was an opportunity for me to bless them and thank them for this important service they offer in our communities. There are times when, presiding the 7.30 Mass at the Cathedral, I am alone and... I really miss them. 

But it was much more than a diocesan gathering. We have been working on the launching of an "Association of Altar Servers" which might be called "DIMASA" (Diocese of Manzini Altar Servers Association). The association will help them journey together, understand better the service they have been called to offer, run workshops and retreats. 

As the draft constitution says:
What the servers do, how they do it, and the reverence their actions bring to the Eucharist celebration can draw the people attending Mass to understand the Mass better and make their love for God stronger
After the homily I invited them to renew their commitment to serve in their parishes during 2018 and bless them.

Copies of the draft constitution were given to all the parishes so that they can study it in the next three months and share their comments with us.

The diocese offered them some snacks after Mass before going back to their parishes.

Group photo at the end of Mass


IMBISA on "Vatican News"

Archbishop Tlali Gerard Lerotholi being interviewed by "Vatican News"
The IMBISA standing committee met in Johannesburg from 19 to 23 February. I joined them as an "unofficial" member. While we were there, we got the chance to share with "Vatican News" the work being done by IMBISA. Below is the article published on their webpage.

* * * * *
By Linda Bordoni

Southern African IMBISA members gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa, this week to assess progress and set new goals for a plenary assembly next year.

IMBISA stands for the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa, and is an organ of liaison and pastoral cooperation between Episcopal Conferences of Southern Africa.

It includes representatives of 9 countries in 6 Episcopal Conferences, and its mission is to foster the spirit of communion within the Universal Church.

Archbishop Tlali Gerard Lerotholi of Maseru in Lesotho is IMBISA vice president. He spoke to Linda Bordoni about the main themes and focus of the just ended gathering.

He explained that this week’s meeting included members of the Executive Commission of the organization including representatives of all the member Episcopal conferences.

Lerotholi said it was meant to be a report back on the progress made on strategic planning, but the presence of members of the Justice and Peace commissions as well as the important political changes that have affected the region recently widened horizons and discussions considerably.

Click HERE to read the full article


Sharing with those who need it most

Twice a month I preside Mass at Our Lady of Assumption, our Cathedral. Twice a month I do it at the outstations of the Cathedral. 

This Sunday I was at St Gabriel (Moneni). I had not been able to be there before this year because of the meetings I normally have at the beginning of the year in South Africa.

Today I was particularly blessed because we were joined by members of CWL (Catholic Women's League) who are visiting the outstations.

It is, in fact, much more than a visit. They have committed themselves to help those who are most in need in our communities. To this end during their visit they carry buckets with food and toiletries. All the buckets are the same. They have identified a number of items to put in each one of them. 

Then, together with the leader of the community, they identify Catholics and non-Catholics who will benefit with them.

I shared my joy at the faithfulness of our church that, for the last 2000 years, always puts together prayer, the Word, the Eucharist and the care of the poor in our communities. 


Commissioning of catechists 2018

Like we do every year, more than 200 catechists from all over the diocese gathered at Our Lady of Assumption (Cathedral) to be commissioned. Fr Wiseman Nkomo, new catechetical coordinator, shared some reflections with them before Mass on the sacrament of reconciliation (click HERE to read about it)

His talk was followed by the celebration of Mass. The Gospel of the first Saturday of Lent presents Jesus' call to Levi on which I based the homily.

* * * * *

Some years' ago' someone sent me a message via WhatsApp asking: "as the Bible says 'love begins at home', would it be right if I used money I have put aside for the church to help a relative?".

I thought for a short while and then asked: "where is it in the Bible that we read that 'love begins at home'?"

My friend honestly replied: "I don't know". In fact it is not there. It is said in every continent but it is not in the Bible. We sometimes risk repeating things we hear without checking if it is true or not.

It made me reflect on our journey as catechists. We are called to help others to know Jesus. To know him, to love him, to follow him. We should be very careful never to teach something which is not true, which is not in the Gospels. We should, in fact, make them very familiar with God's word following what St Jerome says: "Ignorance of Scripture, is ignorance of Christ"

We should help others become excited about God's Word and to be amazed at what we read. Just think of today's passage. Jesus calls Levi to follow him. Couldn't he call anyone else? Did he have to call Levi out of all people? Everyone knew who he was: a tax collector! Still... Levi was Jesus' choice and Levi left everything and followed Jesus.

At the beginning of the same chapter we also read Jesus' call to Peter. He himself would reply saying: "Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man." but that would not scare Jesus. On the contrary. He said: "Do not be afraid; from now on it is people you will be catching".

The ones we journey with should come to understand that Jesus looked for sinners because "It is not those that are well who need the doctor, but the sick". They should never fear Jesus. They should never feel they cannot come close to him because they are sinners.

The passage not only tells us who Jesus called but how they answer to this call. It always touches me that Luke tells us that in Jesus' honour "Levi held a great reception in his house and with them at table was a large gathering of tax collectors and others"
Would that be your choice of people to invite for a meal in Jesus' honour? Probably not but he was indeed right. It was not Jesus who felt uncomfortable but the pharisees and their scribes. They complained to Jesus' disciples about it: ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?'
Levi seems to get right two things:
  • having left everything to follow Jesus, he does not feel better than anyone else. He is still surrounded by the same "friends";
  • he seemed to have understood Jesus' heart and that is why he brings to Jesus the sick who need the doctor

I wished we could help others become familiar with this and similar passages so that they can clearly distinguish between Jesus' way and the pharisees'. Wished we could help each other as Church to make choices according to His heart.


Not like your "new year resolutions"

Two words help us journey through the Lenten Season. Two words give the spirit to the Lenten season we are starting today: REPENT & REKINDLE. You might find others. I just chose these two ones. They are easy to remember and I believe they immediately click in you.


Enough for us to remember one of the possible formulas we use today. It could be: “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” or “repent, believe the good news”. Repent. Change way. Turn back. 
You want to go to Mzimpofu from Manzini. You take the Mbabane road. You are not sure it is the right road. You stop to ask for directions. Someone will tell you: turn back. You have taken the wrong way. You have made the wrong choice or choices.
I remember one evening going to the Pilgrimage in Florence. It was misty. I missed the road on the right. I kept on driving with the feeling that ... something is not right. 
Lent is an invitation to become aware of that feeling... something is not right in us and we need to turn back. 

When I was a teenager there was a love song (today is Valentine's day by the way) called: You don't bring me flowers. It is a dialogue between husband and wife. It starts: “You don't bring me flowers... You don't sing me love songs... You hardly talk to me anymore...”. Couples might go through those moments in which what used to be so natural, it is no longer there.
It is a great image of Lent. 
We are called to “rekindle our love”. In the book of revelation there is exactly that message to one of the churches. It says: “Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first.” (Rev 2:4)
It is not about doing anything wrong but a love that has lots its warmth. It is not the same. It is not natural. It has become cold. We might even do the same things but they are no longer natural or we do just what we have to do to make sure we have fulfilled our obligations.

In one way or another, we are called to turn back to the Lord in the words of the prophet Joel in today's first reading: “Now, now – it is the Lord who speaks – come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning.”
It is a matter of the heart:
“Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn, turn to the Lord your God again, for he is all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness, and ready to relent.”
and a matter of faith in a God who is all tenderness.

Every year on this day the Church invites us to pray, to fast, to give alms. 

Prayer makes us one with God. We are therefore asked to see the way we pray (and if we do pray!). Maybe you realise you always ask for what you need but are never grateful. Maybe your prayer is just for yourself and never includes anyone else around you. Maybe you just talk but never listen. The Word proclaimed to you never remains in your heart and never leads you. 

Fasting strengthens our power to choose. We always make choices. You chose to come. Others chose to stay home. 
We are all aware of the call to fast some days of Lent. We normally hear about fasting meat. Some people always do it because they just cannot afford it. I believe each one of us is called to choose what to fast from during Lent. It could be:
  • giving our cellphones and particularly "WhatsApp" a break so that we can lift up our eyes from the screens and see those around us (just make sure you keep on following the diocesan news on WhatsApp!!!);
  • fasting from our "evil" thoughts about other people and trying to learn to see the goodness in others;
  • fasting from envy... Some people are unable to see God's blessing in other people without being envious

Whenever you go to the doctor because you are see, you might be told to change the way you eat or the way you live and you do it because... you are afraid of dying. Lent invites you to fast from what is hurting you so that you can live more fully.

Give alms

Helping the poor not only makes you closer to them but also make you an expression of the merciful love of God. From the very beginning our church cared for the poorest, particularly the orphans and the widows. 
Our diocese has an amazing number of projects which are also fruit of your Lenten sacrifice:
  • I believe we had more than 700 requests this year of bursaries for high school. Out of these 700, Caritas Swaziland chose 260 to whom we are giving a little help in order to start the year at school;
  • Rain is back but not all over the country and therefore we have been providing water tanks to families who are struggling with water. When water comes they will be able to collect it but if it does not they can buy it and store it at home;
  • We are all familiar with our St Joseph's. Not sure who cares for children with disabilities like our Church does. Society does not and there are times when not even their families care. We are grateful to God we are able to continue running this project.


Two things. 
  • First of all, choose what you plan to do during the coming 40 days. It is your personal journey. I have mine, you have yours. We will support each other during this time. Chose what you plan to do regarding prayer, fasting and giving alms;
  • Second, make sure these choices do not finish like the "new year resolutions" which you probably have already forgotten. It is just for the next 40 days.
Keep your eyes fixed on the Easter celebrations and on God who is merciful, full of tenderness and compassion.

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Bishop of the Diocese of Manzini (Swaziland)

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