VENERABLE TSHIMANGADZO DASWA:
IMPLICATIONS FOR SOUTH AFRICAN CATHOLICS
(+ V.H. PHALANA)
It is my conviction that the Servant of God, Tshimangadzo Daswa is a martyr. In our Catholic Tradition, a martyr is someone who gave his or her life for the Christian Faith. The cult of martyrs arose early in the History of the Church. Altars and shrines arose over martyrs’ tombs and they were honoured during liturgical celebrations and through private devotions. Their lives of faith and conviction, together with their heroic deaths, became sources of strength and perseverance for persecuted Christians. They reminded Christians of the power of self-sacrifice and that, Our Lord gave up his life for many. They intercede for us. The intercession of martyrs, saints and angels is biblical. It is not a Catholic invention.
Thus, in Psalm 103 we pray, “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers that do his will!” (Ps. 103:20–21). And in the opening verses of Psalms 148 we pray, “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host!” Not only do those in heaven pray with us, they also pray for us. In the book of Revelation, John sees that “the twenty-four elders [the leaders of the people of God in heaven] fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8). Thus the saints in heaven offer to God the prayers of the saints on earth. Angels do the same thing: “[An] angel came and stood at the altar [in heaven] with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God” (Rev. 8:3–4).
Jesus himself warned us not to offend small children, because their guardian angels have guaranteed intercessory access to the Father: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 18:10). Because he is the only God-man and the Mediator of the New Covenant, Jesus is the only mediator between man and God (1 Tim. 2:5), but this in no way means we cannot or should not ask our fellow Christians to pray with us and for us (1 Tim. 2:1–4). In particular, we should ask the intercession of those Christians in heaven, who have already had their sanctification completed, for “[t]he prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (Jas. 5:16). (cf. Catholic Answers)
The coming beatification of Venerable Daswa in Limpopo on the 13th of September 2015, reminds us of the martyrdoms of Origen, St Cyprian, Tertullian, St Polycarp, St Ignatius of Antioch, St Perpetua and St Felicity, St Charles Lwanga, St Kizito, St Maximilian Kolbe, among others, who continue to inspire our generation to know that we can witness or we can testify by accepting suffering and martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel. He will be our first South African Catholic Church Martyr and Saint, recognized by the official church. We can, according to the norms of the Catholic Church and the direction of Bishop Joao of Tzaneen, ask Venerable Daswa to intercede for us before our God. God can and will bless us through his intercession. We believe that he is with God! He died a holy death! Faith in Jesus Christ our Way, our Truth, and our Life, combined with a martyr’s death, we believe, won for him eternal life and sainthood. Daswa, through the grace of God attained this privilege.
The Servant of God, Tshimangadzo Daswa just before his death, pleaded for his life. He begged his killers not to kill him. They promised not to kill him and he came out of the rondavel. Soon after that, he saw his persecutors coming towards him “with knobkerries and he knelt and prayed. Things then moved very quickly. The man hit Benedict on the head with his knobkerrie, crushing his skull; Benedict fell to the ground. Boiling water was then poured over his head, ears and nostrils. The burial mass was concelebrated on 10 February 1990. At it all the priests wore red vestments because they believed that Benedict had died for his faith. It was his stance against witchcraft which brought about Benedict’s death” (From the Novena Prayer Booklet of Tshimangadzo Daswa).
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Southern Africa produced a DVD on the Healing Ministry of the Catholic Church. I am one of the contributors in that particular DVD. I spoke strongly against our participation in divination in particular and in African Traditional Healing in general. I think that for us Catholics, if we truly celebrate Venerable Tshimangadzo Daswa and what he stood for, we need to take a stand, as he did, against traditional healing. Why? Because in submitting to the spirits, there is a risk in opening oneself to good or to bad spirits. There is also the danger of giving honour to God’s creatures instead of honouring the Creator. The Catechism of the Catholic Church advised us against this. We need to remain faithful to our baptismal commitment.
We also run the risk of dabbling in the occult. This happens when one performs or participates in magic rituals which aim at placating, invoking and/or manipulating hidden powers for personal gain and for happiness. By divination, one hopes to gain supernatural knowledge, which will help in avoiding calamities. Divination in most cases, depends on the skill of the diviner. It is a matter of chance. Demons and evil spirits, for their own good, can easily manipulate divination methods. Venerable Servant of God Benedict Daswa was asked to contribute R5 towards divination. This was a community effort to get a diviner to come and smell-out witches. He took a stand and explained to them that his faith does not allow him to do such. We need to read Deut 5:7-10; Luke 4:8; 1 Cor 8:6; 10:6-9; Deut 18:9-12; Lev 19:31; Lev 20:6, Is 47:11-15; Rom 1:16-32.
I regard magic as the art of bringing about results beyond human power by recourse to superhuman spirit agencies. Divination is closely related to magic since it is the art of foretelling past, present or future events and determining the cause of some misfortune. It is the art of gaining knowledge which is otherwise withheld from human beings. This must not be confused with miracles and prophecy as we know them in Christianity. Miracles imply divine power at work while the power operating in magic is not necessarily of divine origin. Prophetic knowledge depends on the power of the Holy Spirit which can be trusted and can never deceive us, while divination goes together with deception. Magic (In the West, In Africa, in Asia, etc.) is thought of as crude science based on erroneous assumptions, manipulating the impersonal forces of the world through incantations, medicines and magical rites. Some of these forces or agents include fallen angels, demonic spirits and spirits of the dead who do not enjoy eternal bliss and are not at peace with God. Why risk your faith in this way?
Venerable Daswa did not agree with the use of Mediums or Izangoma or Dingaka. Mediums can communicate with the sprits of the dead. Do they have a clear knowledge of the status of those spirits? My fear is that most of them claim to know and their word as often taken as gospel truth. I am also concerned that Mediums and those who have opened themselves to be used by the spirits can become vulnerable to evil and demonic spirits as well. There is a risk here that some of the spirits might use them for their own purposes. As people who are consecrated to God by Baptism, Religious Consecration and/or Ordination, we must know that we are “married” as Hosea pronounced. Is it possible that in consulting mediums or by being mediums we are practicing a form of “prostitution”? My fear is that one who entertains this world might be committing spiritual harlotry and does not honour the covenant relationship he/she has with God (Hosea 5:1-7; Acts 19:18-19).
The Charismatic Renewal in Southern Africa, the Emmanuel Community in Johannesburg, Catholic Alpha in Southern Africa, Koinonia John the Baptist in Umzimkhulu and St Paul Evangelization Ministry in Pretoria, are some of the ecclesial communities in the Catholic Church of South Africa, who have taken a clear stand against traditional healing, divination and the use of mediums. For that reason, they suffer a lot of persecution, unfortunately, at times, from some of the clergy, some of the religious and some of the laity. The message of these ecclesial movements is very clear: People were created out of love by a loving God. We sinned but God in Christ saved us. All of creation is good, people are good and the grace of God is available and active in the world. This grace gives us freedom, hope and protection against evil and against witchcraft. Satan and sin do not have the last word. Instead of relying on ancestral spirits for information, these groups ask the Holy Spirit for the gifts of knowledge, prophecy and discernment for the good of the people they serve. They do not encourage any form of divination or mediumship.
At the moment we have priests and religious lay Christians who are at the same time traditional healers and sangomas. Their explanation is that they feel that “ba na le badimo”. They feel that they are called, afflicted or possessed by ancestors and that they need to be initiated into that world of ancestors and of traditional healing. The movements I mentioned earlier are able to free people who are afflicted by these types of spirits through their courses or through their well-known seminar: Life in the Spirit. This seminar facilitates an encounter with Jesus Christ and a personal experience of the Love of God; it allows one to embrace salvation through Jesus Christ and gives you an experience of a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, thus “activating” the grace of the Holy Spirit we received during our Baptism and Confirmation. After this experience of the love of God, salvation through Jesus Christ and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, most people feel fulfilled and do not long to go and serve the ancestors anymore. They are filled, they are occupied by God’s grace and know their mission is to evangelize. They know the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Precious Blood of the Lamb – to an extend that they feel that they no longer need “muti” or “setlhare” or “ngoma” which were rejected by Venerable Daswa.
The Bishops’ Conference, through their DVD on healing teaches us that healing is a process that happens in God’s time. Those of us seeking healing and praying with others for healing need to be open to the Will of God and to pray with faith and with compassionate hearts. The Church is there as an instrument of God’s healing love. If we do not take the ministry of healing seriously, then we must not wonder why people go to traditional healers for healing, protection and good luck. We believe that the gift of healing remains present in the church as it was during the times of the Apostles. Healing becomes a symbol of ultimate salvation, of the total person- mind, heart, body, and spirit – which will be experienced fully in the eternal embrace of God in heaven.
Healing prayer is an attainable life-changing force. As we realize the healing love of God in our lives, we can begin to view life from the perspective of Jesus Christ. We can experience a new freedom that destroys the bonds that shackle us. We can learn to forgive and to ask for forgiveness with greater courage. We can become aware of our own brokenness and limitations, and develop greater sensitivity to the needs of the poor, the marginalized and the sick. Isaiah the prophet says: “Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as striken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon Him was the chastisement that makes us whole; By His stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)”
IMPLICATIONS FOR CATHOLICS
- The implications of celebrating Venerable Daswa, is for all of us to take our call of discipleship seriously (Luke 5:1-11). We need to learn from the Lord, to follow him and to imitate him. We must love the Lord above all other good things and if necessary above our own culture. God, not culture, must take the first place in our lives. To believe implies self-donation and self-surrender to the revealed truth in the Scriptures and in Sacred Tradition. It is unconditional surrender and trust in God. Faith is for me entry into the mystery of Christ, a real relationship of love and hope.
To be a disciple means to love the Word of God and to read the Word for daily nourishment. The Word frees us from the world of spirits into peace. Jesus teaches us to be people of Justice and love. Justice and love help us not to focus on ourselves but to reach out to those in need. We are to preach the Kingdom of peace, salvation, eternal life, justice and sharing. The disciples of Christ are those who understand that the world is hungry for the message of hope and love. Not a message of superstition, fear and dependence on muti and magic.
- In Liturgy we enter the action of Christ, we glorify God and we in turn are sanctified (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10). Vatican II and Ecclesia in Africa showed us that Liturgy has the ability to absorb local cultural expressions. Inculturation is an attempt to bring the Roman liturgy closer to the local cultural experiences of African believers. Some of the elements of the Roman liturgy are: sobriety, directness, brevity, simplicity and practical sense. We need to assimilate, in a creative way some elements found in African worship, which include: spontaneity; freedom; spending time in the joyful celebration of life, death and the afterlife. We honour the rich Christian heritage found specifically in the liturgy and at the same time liturgy must embody the riches of different nations.
In Liturgy, the people and their cultures, their signs and symbols, their values and norms which are compatible with the Christian Faith, are supposed to be accepted and integrated into the liberating specificity of Christ; remembering that the prophets made use of signs and symbols to give direction, convey meaning, and stimulate imagination and thought. In Africa, our joyful and lively liturgical celebrations must not disengage us from the needs and the problems of our times. African-Christian liturgies are places and moments of the healing of the individual and of the community. It is not a matter of following laws and rubrics, but of creating a life-giving event, a moment of personal and communal encounter with the living God. Our failure to do this will keep most of our people seeking for answers and help in Traditional healing. We will have ourselves to blame.
- Lastly, the celebration of the beatification of Venerable Benedict Daswa should lead us to become a serving community. We lead a sacramental life in the Church, and we make our talents available for the Church of God. The sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist are the heart of every Catholic Christian. We are called to serve. In the community, believers have an opportunity to share life experiences, to support one another, to break open and share the Word of God, to reflect on life situations, and to find a way together of contributing to the humanization and development of society. It is in the community that believers search for opportunities to serve humanity and to witness to the liberating love and compassion of God. The poor are of special concern to God and so should also be to us. In the community, unity and love of neighbour are not just ideas but real and tangible. That is why The Servant of God, Tshimangadzo Daswa was known by the community as a man of charity. He was generous. He defended defenceless widows and elderly women who were accused of witchcraft through divination. It was his faith that led him to charity.
The community: the Small Christian Community, the Sodality, Youth Club, the Parish should always encourage people to be creative and to use their gifts; it knows and cares for its sick and for the young. People must be encouraged to care and comfort the afflicted and those who mourn. The community educates the young and becomes not only a place of formation but an agent of evangelization as well. It is imperative that that there is not only the verbal proclamation of the Word of God, but total involvement in the transformation of the world through the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The community is the place where inculturation takes place. It is in the community that we find a clear interaction of the Word and culture. It is not only faith which penetrates culture, but we also see culture penetrating faith. People feel that God is truly in their midst and there is an acceptance of their culture, language, values and norms. Through reflection, they become enlightened about aspects of their culture which may need transformation or which need to be renounced.
In our discipleship, let us, like The Servant of God, Venerable Daswa, be ready the carry our crosses and follow Jesus, even to the point of death (Luke 9:22-25). Yes, let us go to Venda on the 13th of September 2015 , to celebrate his beatification. After the 13th of September he will no longer be called Venerable Daswa but BLESSED DASWA!!! Let us all go, at the same time … let us understand the implications of our going , and what he died for! Let us be ready to renounce all other contracts we have with other spirits and focus on our Covenant with the Lamb and on the Anointing of the Holy Spirit we have received. We are consecrated. We belong. We are loved. Let us be loyal.
From Bishop Victor Phalana