Benedict Daswa a Catechist: A call for the Church’s critical self-introspection

BENEDICT DASWA A CATECHIST:  A CALL FOR THE CHURCH’S  CRITICAL SELF-INTROSPECTION

It is good to note that Benedict Daswa was a catechist. The Church of Southern Africa, including the diocese of Klerksdorp is stronger today, as a result of many catechists who served and evangelized tirelessly in the past.

Bishop Emeritus, Hugh Slattery MSC, in his new book on Benedict Daswa, has this to say about this Servant of God “Nourished by prayer, the Word of God and the regular reception of the Sacraments, Benedict was deeply involved in the life of the parish. He was full of enthusiasm for the spread of the gospel through building up strong, local Catholic communities. He was a great missionary and in his area the Church was flourishing. He belonged to a Small Christian Community in his neighbourhood which occasionally met in his house. At these meetings they sometimes said the Rosary as well as sharing the Word of God. Benedict was enthusiastic and effective in promoting the Pastoral Plan of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference. He was involved in both the planning and carrying out of a number of pastoral activities. He was seen as a natural leader in the Church as well as in society. When the first Parish Pastoral Council was formed, he was elected as the Vice Chairman, but soon became the Acting-Chairman”.

He helped by teaching catechism to children and adults, leading Sunday service in the absence of a PRIEST. While he was encountering many problems in his life, his faith did not waver.” He used to tell youth groups, “I would die for my faith in Christianity.” He was sometimes referred to as a traditional Catholic because he fully accepted the teaching of the Church as noted by Michael Maliavusa, one of his youth leaders, “He believed strongly in Church doctrine which influenced and inspired him.” He had no time for those who wanted to decide for themselves what was right or wrong, what they would accept or not accept in the teaching of the Church. He wanted the truth and he lived it in love. One of his relatives, Tshililo Mafenya described him as, “A person full of love. He loved all people.” Another relative, his sister-in-law, Alice Daswa, confirmed this view, “His love did not have any boundaries. He loved everybody starting from those in the home.” Gabriel Malaka, a relative of Benedict, gives his impressions of him, “He was one person whom I would describe as a through and through Catholic with no compromise. He was a person who was committed to the Catholic way of life. He was not influenced by other churches, religions or practices.”

A CALL FOR CHRISTIAN FORMATION

Christian formation refers to the formative action with a particular scope: that of initiating people into the stories and wisdom of Christian faith and helping those who are already baptised Christians to grow in their faith.  Chiristian formation is an integral process, and it includes both doctrinal and human formation.  It is a process that is supposed to lead to growth and maturity in faith through intellectual and human formation.  Christian formation is a personal call to follow and imitate Jesus Christ, who invites us and draws us to God.  It is a search for the Spirit, and it is through formation that one is able to respond in fidelity to the Spirit within. It is a process which calls one to conversion, to coming alive in Christ and learning to live by faith, hope and love.

Christian Formation of children and adults in Southern Africa must consider that formation is a growth process, directed toward an ideal which goes beyond the limitations of anything human.  Following the example of Venerable Daswa, teacher, leader and catechist, we must uphold formation, not indoctrination.  Indoctrination is against human liberty, and usually results in extreme forms of fundamentalism as we can see the fundamentalism of some of the so-called rightwing Catholics who continue to criticize Vatican II and Pope Francis in a vicious manner.  A true Christian formation must not lead to conformity but to a life of true study, reflection and discernment.  It is a process in which there can be a search for the truth and which can lead a person to commitment and action, faith and action, prayer and action.

Christian formation is a process of sharing, of examining critical issues, of gathering information, of analysing  so that people are not used to ready- made answers, but are encouraged to reflect  and work for solutions. In this way, Christian Formation  becomes a process of personal conversion, and through analysis, a way to  understand what is wrong in society and to work for social transformation, understanding that God is the God of truth and justice.

A CALL FOR EVANGELIZATION

Venerable Daswa, a teacher and a catechists, challenges our commitment to Evangelization today. The church is called to be the evangelizer of all times. In 1975 Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi. He said: “For the church, evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new. The purpose of evangelization is precisely an interior change” (EN 18). St John Paul II said: “God’s salvific plan for Africa is the origin of the growth of the church on the African Continent. But since by Christ’s will the Church is by her nature missionary, it follows that the Church in Africa is itself called to play an active role in God’s plan of salvation. For this reason I have often said that “the Church in Africa is a missionary Church and a mission Church” (Ecclesia in Africa 29).

Jesus the Good News is proclaimed in evangelization, deepened in catechesis, celebrated in the liturgy and lived by the witness of our lives. The first step in being a Christian is being evangelized. Evangelization and catechesis must lead a person to a living faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Catechesis will deepen the understanding of initial faith and conversion and will nourish this faith. We must have a strong faith in Jesus and appreciation of the Teaching of Church.  The climax of any catechetical journey is the reception of Sacraments and must be followed by the life of witnessing.

Evangelization is an interesting journey of the Kingdom of God.  The African Synod has already indicated that all of church’s life must be inculturated. Our liturgy, our kerygma, our witnessing in Africa must be inculturated. This will help to make Christ and his message relevant and meaningful to the people of this continent and will allow his message to be rooted in our continent.  Jesus , Word incarnate, is no stranger to Africa, because where Christians are, they are members of his body. It does not make sense, preaching an alien or imported Christ, in a language that is alien to the listeners, in a way that is alien, making those who believe in Him feel like aliens in the church.

We are called upon to bring Christ and his undiluted, radical, transformative message to the people, using their language, their thought patterns, their idioms and the good, life-giving  values in their culture.

Evangelizers must see how they can use African imagery, African riddles and poems in the process of conveying the message of Christ to others. Inculturation relates to life. People who come into the church must really feel at home, they must see each other as brothers and sisters. The Gospel must be related to life, must be lived and shared by those who are committed to evangelize others. Our life improves radically when we begin to live the Word of God, allowing the Word to illumine our lives, our daily activities and our decisions.  Allowing the Word to give meaning to all we do or say. Evangelizers must also try by all means to proclaim the message of Christ, centred around Jesus’ teachings, as interpreted by the living tradition of the Catholic Church. Our proclamation must not ignore the issues, challenges and problems of our times. We try to apply the Word of God in the situation we find ourselves.

This evangelization is new in its ZEAL. What we mean here is that a person who has been baptized and continues the life of sacraments must also yearn to bring others to Christ. There ought to be a zeal for others to know that they are loved, that they are redeemed and that they can experience the fullness of life in Jesus (Jn 10:10). The Apostles, like Jesus, were passionate and zealous in their preaching. The Christian of today in Southern Africa is asked to be as passionate and enthusiastic about preaching the Word of God as the Apostles were so that lives may be touched, hearts converted and structures transformed.

This evangelization is new in its method. What we mean here is that Christians have to discover new ways, new techniques and new methods of bringing the same message of Jesus Christ to men and women of today. We must use our talents and creativity to bring this message to each person in every sphere of humanity. We must keep the words of Blessed Paul VI in mind when he said: “Evangelization will never be possible without the action of the Holy Spirit… Techniques of evangelization are good, but even the most advanced ones could not replace the gentle action of the Holy Spirit. Hence the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization (EA 75). We also speak of a new way of expressing the message of the Gospel. We have to use the radio, TV, Social Media, publications, personal contact, house visits, popular devotions, pilgrimages, night vigils, catechesis, Small Christian Communities, Renew, Alpha, the internet and crusades to proclaim the liberating message of Jesus Christ. This calls for more creativity and for us to utilize our finances and other resources for the work of implicit and explicit evangelization. I dare say that Southern African Catholic church is the weakest link, compared to other African countries, when it comes to New Evangelization, the use of modern means of communication and the involvement of young people and the laity in general in evangelization.

 A CALL FOR TRANSFORMATION

We have a lot of work to do. It is our task to link spirituality and everyday life, worship and action for justice, theology and social responsibility. How can we foster African self-respect, self-reliance, self-expression, responsibility and the recognition of African cultural and historical realities? Our church’s signs, values and symbols are dominantly western. Other parts of Africa have left us behind. Going to Kenya, Zambia and other parts of Zimbabwe, one can see and feel the Catholic Church in Africa having come alive. Most of their signs, values and symbols are African, relevant and meaningful to the people. We need to be critical of our own church, where our church’s architectural designs, vestments, liturgy, rites, music and theological writings are not complying with the call for transformation from  African Synod I of 1994. We must strive to have an authentically Catholic Church united to the Church of Rome and guided by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, while at the same time striving to be authentically African. With all the beauty that Africa has to offer. Let us let go of the past and embrace newness.

Let us also identify all the structures and symbols which alienates women and perpetuate their domination and discrimination by a patriarchal church.  Pope Francis made this clarion call in the Encyclical Evangelii Gaudium 104: “Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded. The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion, but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general. It must be remembered that when we speak of sacramental power “we are in the realm of function, not that of dignity or holiness”.

“The ministerial priesthood” the pope said, “is one means employed by Jesus for the service of his people, yet our great dignity derives from baptism, which is accessible to all. The configuration of the priest to Christ the head – namely, as the principal source of grace – does not imply an exaltation which would set him above others. In the Church, functions “do not favour the superiority of some vis-à-vis the others”.  Indeed, a woman, Mary, is more important than the bishops. Even when the function of ministerial priesthood is considered “hierarchical”, it must be remembered that “it is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members”.  Its key and axis is not power understood as domination, but the power to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist; this is the origin of its authority, which is always a service to God’s people. This presents a great challenge for pastors and theologians, who are in a position to recognize more fully what this entails with regard to the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church’s life.”

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