The man who consecrated the National Heroes Acre and officiated at the burial of Zimbabwe’s first national heroes, Josiah Tongogara and Jason Ziyapapa Moyo.
By Br. Alfonce Kugwa
When Alexio Much
abaiwa was born in Hwedza in 1939 no one ever dreamt the new born boy would become a priest, let alone a Catholic bishop. Instead, he was named “Churu” as his parents thought he would not live long after they had suffered the death of their firstborn child in infancy.
The name Churu suggested Alexio would be interred on an anti-hill that served as a family burial ground. But God’s ways are different from our ways.
This year, Bishop Muchabaiwa has landed 50 years as a Catholic priest and at 79 he is still fit and strong to minister to God’s people.
Born of Thomas and Lydia Muchabaiwa in Hwedza, under headman Chigwedere in Chief Svosve’s area, Alexio’s road to priesthood was not smooth like most priests of his generation who met with stiff resistance from their parents who thought priesthood was the preserve of white missionaries. Alexio’s father actually stopped him from going back to Kutama where he was studying, and he was forced to remain home herding cattle. This was in a bid to block him from missionary influence.
Alexio was only granted permission to go to Harare to look for employment and not to go to the Seminary.
“The issue troubled my father who stopped me from pursuing my studies at Kutama where he thought I was getting the influence. For some time I was herding cattle at home. After some reflection, I then asked him for permission to go to Harare to look for work and he conceded. I found work in Harare but the idea of becoming a priest did not go away,” said Bishop Muchabaiwa.
It was after protracted engagements with his father and the intervention of his grandfather that he was allowed to join the Seminary in 1957. Eleven years down the line Fr. Alexio was ordained as a priest in 1968. His classmates were Fr. Makunde ordained the same year at Makumbe Mission and later joined the Anglican Church and the late Fr. Cosmas Katuruza, ordained at St. Michael’s Mhondoro.
After his ordination Fr. Muchabaiwa worked at Makumbe Mission where he replaced then Fr. Patrick Chakaipa from 1969-1972. In 1973, he went to Gaba Institute in Uganda to do a diploma in Pastoral Theology. On his return in 1974, he was posted to St. Mary’s Highfields with Fr. Isdore Chikore before he moved to Chishawasha Major Seminary to become Spiritual Director of the students during Fr. Tobias Chiginya’s tenure as Rector.
Fr. Muchabaiwa took over as Rector of Chishawasha Seminary when Fr. Chiginya was appointed to lead the diocese of Gweru as its bishop. Archbishop Robert Ndlovu, Bishop Michael Bhasera, Bishop Martin Munyanyi and the late Bishop Xavier Munyongani were among his students. The Bishop Emeritus could not hide his joy that he produced an archbishop and three bishops.
Between 1979 and 1980, Fr. Muchabaiwa became the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Harare and was the Chaplain to the first African Mayor of Harare, Dr. Tizirai Gwata. Zimbabwe will not forget Bishop Muchabaiwa’s contribution as he consecrated the National Heroes Acre and officiated at the burial of the first two heroes to be interred at the national shrine, Josiah Tongogara and Jason Ziyapapa Moyo in 1980.
Although he never dreamt of occupying high office in the Church, he accepted the news of his appointment to lead the diocese of Mutare with humility.
“I was in Mhondoro in 1981 when I received a letter of appointment from Saint Pope John Paul II to become bishop of Mutare. I accepted the appointment with humility and promised to do my best in bringing people closer to God. At first, I did not like to be Bishop of Mutare as I grew up under the Archdiocese of Harare. Secondly, I did not know people here and this greatly affected me. But I came because the Church is universal and it is the Holy Spirit who decides who leads his people,” Bishop Muchaiwa said.
Contrary to his fears, Bishop Muchabaiwa was warmly received in Mutare when he took office of bishop in 1982. Since then, Mutare Diocese became his pleasant home, thanks to Auxiliary Bishop Patrick Mutume who helped him to settle till his retirement in 2016. Bishop Muchabaiwa will celebrate his golden jubilee to priesthood on 17 November 2018.
Reflecting on the Church in Zimbabwe the Emeritus Bishop said there was need for the Church in Zimbabwe to move with signs of times. He said the Church particularly that of Mutare has not embraced self-reliance as the norm as compared to other dioceses such as the Archdiocese of Harare.
The Bishop said: “The people of Harare have known self-reliance for a long time which is
different from the Diocese of Mutare. I am disturbed that the Church of Mutare is so slow in appreciating change as compared to other dioceses. Local people still expect the Church to support them instead of them supporting the Church. I feel that the Church should be owned by the people. People must be involved in the development of the Church so that they can defend it.”
However, he acknowledged the role played by the Irish Carmelites in opening up mission centres and schools, the Kiltigans and the Nigerian Spiritans for introducing local priests to pastoral work and self-reliance. When he was appointed Bishop of Mutare, the diocese had only 10 diocesan priests and today there are 52 ministering in different parts of the country.
Bishop Muchabaiwa said if he was to start again, he would emphasise more on self-reliance which is the basis of the Church’s sustainability and purity of faith. He said priests should first believe in self-reliance, be responsible as stewards and things will fall in place. The Bishop emphasised on the formation of priests and religious to avoid abuse in all its different forms.
“There is need to emphasise human dignity and the Church should be the pioneer in protecting this. The fact that we are failing in this regard is a serious tragedy. We are making cheap the Gospel of Christ and we have to rise above this problem. There is need to work hard in the formation of priests and religious to create a better environment that protects human dignity to prevent abuse of all kinds. We have a lot to give to the world and we need good formation,” stressed Bishop Muchabaiwa.
The retired bishop thanked the administration of Mutare Diocese, especially Bishop Paul Horan for taking care of him at his retirement home. He praised the new administration for making progressive changes in the diocese but cautioned for changes to be implemented with careful consideration.
Bishop Muchabaiwa celebrated 25 years as a bishop in 2007. He held several influential positions at the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference level including being Bishop Chairman for the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, Education Commission, Marriage and family, Seminary Board and the ZCBC Finance Committee. He has been President of the Bishops’ Conference for two terms.
Bishop Muchabaiwa is the third born in a family of six boys and one girl. He is the only surviving member of his family together with his sister Maria Gorreti, Mrs Chipiti who is in Harare.