By Br. Alfonce Kugwa
The Archdiocese of Bulawayo on 29 June 2019 celebrated 140 years of Christianity in Matabeleland and 25 years as a metropolitan see. The celebrations were a symbol of massive spiritual and infrastructural development by the Catholic Church in Matebeleland from the time of the first missionaries in 1879 and their settlement at Empandeni in 1887. The celebrations, held at Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Pumula South were coupled with the priestly ordination of Fr. Prize Kevin Madzivanyika CMM, Fr. Brian Francis Kandlela and Fr. Vusimuzi Golden Moyo.
The anniversary serves as a testimony of the deep Catholic faith that has taken root in Matebeleland and Zimbabwe as a whole. The Archbishop of Bulawayo, Alex Thomas confirmed this reality saying what the Archdiocese of Bulawayo is today was shaped by the sacrifice of the first missionaries who toiled to lay the foundation.
“Today we are standing on the faith and foundations laid by our predecessors. We have nothing to boast about. We are only carrying on what they began. The faith that was planted like a mustard seed at Empandeni Mission has grown into a tree reaching out to all the corners of Zimbabwe. But we have a responsibility to keep it, make it better and produce more fruits,” said Archbishop Alex.
The Archbishop hinted on the need to cherish, protect and advance the imprint left by the founding missionaries whom he said left a legacy of hard work, faith and commitment.
“It is very easy to receive something from others but to keep it and make it better requires extra effort, care, commitment and love. It is our bounden duty as believers to contribute towards the Archdiocese’s future,” he said.
Archbishop Alex stressed that the Church can only grow based on the strong faith of its members who do not compromise when it comes to faith matters.
He challenged the priests and religious to improve the quality of their faith and their service to the people as followers of Jesus Christ. He called them to emulate the attitude of martyrs whose blood is the seed of faith.
“We need that attitude of sacrifice for the Kingdom of God. Sacrifice is demanded from us and not just expected of us,” stressed Archbishop Alex.
The newly ordained priests and the entire clergy were reminded that priesthood in the Catholic Church is a sacrifice for the Kingdom of God and not a position, office, job or profession. It is only granted to the courageous and those committed in faith.
“That is why candidates for priesthood are chosen, trained and selected. Nobody can become a priest overnight like modern day prophets. Priesthood is not for the weak and feeble minded,” echoed the Archbishop.
The event was capped by launching of the book “Sowing the Word; From Zambezi Mission to the Archdiocese of Bulawayo”, the blessing and launching into space of the missionary rosary and honouring of catechists who devoted their life to spreading the Gospel within the region.
The history of Christianity in Matebeland dates back to the period of King Lobengula, who was only interested in the skills priests could teach his people but not their religion, which he felt would undermine his influence. According to records, the Church grew roots in September, 1879 when Fr. Depelchin S.J, Fr. Augustus Law, S.J and Brother De Sadeleer arrived in what was known as “Gubulawayo” and established the first mission “The Mission of the Sacred Heart” near King Lobengula’s royal residence.
Bulawayo Diocese was raised to a metropolitan see by Saint Pope John Paul II on 10 June 1994 and the first Archbishop was Henry Karlen CMM followed by Archbishop Pius Ncube and then Archbishop Alex Thomas.
The Archdiocese of Bulawayo has 20 missions, 27 urban parishes, 9 Centres for Early Development, 14 primary schools, 13 secondary schools and three vocational centres at Empandeni, St. Luke’s and St. Pius Bulawayo City, respectively. The Archdiocese of Bulawayo has 101 priests, 131 sisters and 9 brothers. There are two mission hospitals which are St. Ann’s Brunapeg in Matebeleland South and St. Luke’s in Lupane under Matebeleland North.