The 2nd February 1990 is still remembered as an important date in the history of South Africa. It was on that day that President de Klerk announced to the world that Nelson Mandela would shortly be released. Internationally, everyone knew that this would prove to be the beginning of a move to democracy and freedom in South Africa. It was therefore a day of great celebration.
On that very same day, a murder took place in a remote village in Venda. Of course we are aware that murders are all too frequent in this country. But this murder will also go down in Catholic history. On that day, a 44 year old school principal named Benedict Daswa, was murdered for his refusal to go along with the traditional belief in witchcraft. In doing so, he gave his life for his Catholic beliefs. He gave his life as a martyr.
Everything that is known about Benedict Daswa reveals that, even before his martyrdom, he was a man of deep faith. Coming from a very poor background he succeeded in becoming a teacher and then the principal of a local school. He is still remembered as someone who had a great respect for others, and did all he could to live his faith in such a way as to inspire others. At the moment of his death, as he was being attacked by his killers, he prayed “My God, into your hands I commend my spirit”. These of course are the last words of Jesus before his death on the Cross.
It is a great gift to the Church in South Africa, that Benedict Daswa’s life and martyrdom is about to be officially recognised by the universal Church. On the 13th of September he will be beatified in a religious ceremony in Limpopo province. From now on he will be known as Blessed Benedict Daswa. Movingly, his mother is still alive and will be present at the ceremony. So it is a great joy to us that even although the Catholic Church in South Africa is relatively small in numbers, we already have a martyr to inspire our faith and give us hope that each of us can live an ordinary life which also proclaims to the world the continuing love of God.
Limpopo Province remains a very rural and poor part of our country. Because of this, the Bishops’ Conference of South Africa has asked that each parish in the country has a special second collection, to help with the costs of the beatification ceremony and to help build up the Church in Limpopo. We will have that second collection on Sunday 9th August. I know that the parish will respond generously.
Let us therefore give thanks to God that our own country has been greatly blessed in Benedict Daswa, a man of compassion and faith, and a person who gave his life for his faith. He is an example to each and every one of us.
Fr Gerard, CSsR