South Africa’s Blessed Benedict Daswa: an inspiration for all

2015-09-10 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) It will be a momentous moment for all South Africans on Sunday, 13 September, when Benedict Daswa is Beatified and put on the track to become the Nation’s first Saint and martyr.

Pope Francis in January authorized the signing of the proclamation for the Beatification of Daswa, a lay person from the Southern African province of Limpopo.

He was a dedicated Catholic husband, father and schoolteacher in the remote rural town of Tschitanini when he was brutally murdered in 1990 for having opposed witchcraft beliefs and practices.  

Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, will represent Pope Francis during the Beatification ceremony.

The diocese of Tzaneen, which encompasses the area, opened an inquiry into Daswa’s death that ended in July 2009. It resulted in 850 pages of testimonies from people who witnessed the life and death of Daswa. This was forwarded to Cardinal Amato after they were signed by the then bishop of Tzaneen, Hugh Slattery. 

Linda Bordoni spoke to the current Bishop of the Diocese of Tzaneen, Joao Noe Rodriguez, who says the Beatification ceremony is taking place in the village where Benedict Daswa came from.

Listen to the interview: 

Bishop Rodriguez says Benedict was born in that area and spent most of his life there and in the neighboring Nweli village where he helped build a Catholic Church and where he was Principle of the Primary School.

Rodriguez, who of course is in charge of organizing the event and has closely been following the whole process, says it is very difficult to make an exact estimate of the numbers of people who will be attending the Beatification as many will be travelling long distances from different parts of South Africa.

“On the other hand it is a big venue in terms of being able to accommodate from 20 to 30 thousand in the open-air area” and at least 20,000 are definitely expected he says.

He says it is a unique occasion: “we’ve never had anything like this before in South Africa but the word has got around (…) and people are opening their homes in welcome”.

Rodriguez explains that the main celebrant of the Beatification will be Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints who will be arriving with Monsignor Sarno.

He points out that most South African bishops will be present and will be concelebrating as well as South Africa’s Cardinal, Wilfrid Fox Napier.       

Speaking of the importance of the event for the Catholic Church in South Africa Bishop Rodriguez explains that the nation is made up of a very diverse population in terms of cultures.

He says that his own diocese is part of Venda Land after the name of the Venda culture, on the Eastern side there are the Tsonga speaking people and on the South Western side the Northern Sotho people, and then of course there are many other cultures and languages in South Africa.

“In a way the Beatification is a very important event for us who are Catholics because South Africa is largely a Protestant Christian country in the sense that most Christians belong to various Protestant Churches of different kinds as well as more recent Christian movements (…) so the Catholic Church is a smaller presence. But at the same time we are very organized and we have a good network so this event will bring many Catholics together and it will really be a celebration of our Catholic faith” he says.

Rodriquez speaks about Benedict Daswa and of how important his model is explaining that he was not born into a Christian family. He says: “they became Catholics and it is a unique fact that his mother, who is still alive, will be present for the Beatification.”

All of his children will also be present “so it will be a wonderful occasion to celebrate the joy and the grace of God” he says.

Rodriguez points out that Benedict is also an intercessor “so this growing devotion will also help Catholics to understand and appreciate that someone who is recognized as a martyr and a saint in the Church is someone who is praying for them and who has the interests of our life in his heart”.

He is also a wonderful model as he was a dedicated father and the Principle of a School, and Rodriguez says “education is so precious in our region, it is still a huge challenge, and he is an important inspiration for people involved in this field”.

Rodriguez lists all those who have been invited to attend the Beatification and those include political leaders as well as leaders of other faiths as well.

He speaks of the ceremony itself which will reflect the variety of cultures present in the Limpopo region but says English will be the main language of communication.

Pointing out that Benedict Daswa comes across as a very “approachable” figure; I asked Bishop Rodriguez if he thinks Benedict is a Saint for everyone.

He says the unique aspect of his Beatification is that he was not a well-known person in the sense he did not become a well-known figure internationally for political or other reasons.

“Benedict Dasia was really an ordinary man and we are not celebrating him for national achievements, but he was a man of great faith. And that is the wonderful thing (…) he was one of us but deeply committed to Jesus Christ, deeply committed in his family life, in his work life, in his community life. A man who was serving, helping, educating: an overall inspiration of faith for anyone”.

The beatification of Benedict Daws takes place on Sunday 13 September 2015 at Benedict Daws Shrine Site in Tshitanini near Thohoyandou (17 kms north -east of the Thohoyandou Stadium) in the Limpopo Province, South Africa. For more information click here.




(from Vatican Radio)