South Africa-Eswatini: Strengthening community life in challenging realities

Visit to the parish of St Tarcisio in Osizweni. Photos: John Bosco

The 8th Delegation Conference of the Consolata Missionaries in South Africa- Eswatini, took place at Pax Christi Centre, Newcastle – Dundee Diocese from 13th to 17th May 2024.

By John Bosco Othieno *

The meeting was attended by 15 priests (all missionaries working in the Delegation) and two seminarians from Merrivale Theological Seminary. From the General Direction were present the Vice General Superior, Father Michelangelo Piovano, the General Councillor in charge of Formation and Studies, Father Mathews Odhiambo and the General Councillor in charge of the African Continent, Father Erasto Mgalama.

The Conference deliberations focussed on the various ways of enhancing and revitalising missionary spirituality and IMC charism, as well as boosting missionary animation and vocations promotion, formation (basic and on-going formation) of missionaries, and economic self-sustainability of the Delegation.

Participants of the Delegation Conference with Mons. Jose Luis Ponce de León

The need for reinforcements in the spiritual life of individual missionaries and community life, was greatly emphasised by both the Conference participants and the General Direction. This emphasis arose from a backdrop of the South African mission reality, whereby Parish communities often have single missionaries because of either Diocesan structures and policies, or personnel shortages on the part of the Delegation.

Father Michelangelo and the other General Councillors, insisted that community life is fundamental to the Consolata charism, and asserted that the care of one’s spiritual life and continuous deepening of one’s identification with the Institute’s charism are vital underpinnings to a healthy community life of whatever form.

“Some of you do not always live together, some of you live alone. This is a handicap. It is not our normal situation. For this reason, we need more maturity, more love for family, more identification, living all those aspects that you have planned as the basis of community life,” said Father Michelangelo. He added that the consistent espousal of these essential elements of the Institute’s life, would impact positively on how the missionaries share and participate in the life of the Delegation, and on the missions and people entrusted to their care.

Visit at St. Lambert Church in Daveyton

The Conference received an unequivocal commendation from the General Direction representatives, with appreciation for the well-organised preparations of the Instrumentum Laboris. However, the Delegation members were tasked to collaboratively dedicate themselves toward realising the goals of the Conference. “Support and love one another, and do not be discouraged by the challenges that may come along the way,” said Father Erasto Mgalama.

The Delegate Superior, Father Nathaniel Kagwima, in his speech before the conclusion of the meeting, thanked the General Direction for the visit and guidance offered to the Delegation, especially during the Conference. He further congratulated all the Delegation members for the effort put into the preparation and the success of the Conference. Nonetheless, he exhorted the missionaries to have commitment and readiness in implementing the Acts of the Conference. “By approving this Document unanimously, we have sealed a covenant of submission and adherence to it,” said Father Nathaniel.

In the evening after the official closure of the Conference, there was Holy Mass presided over by Bishop Graham Rose of Dundee Diocese, who expressed his gratitude to the Consolata Missionaries for the gift of faith in the Diocese. Basing his homily on the Beatitude “Blessed are the poor in Spirit”, he invited the missionaries to appreciate their constant need for God, who is the centre of everything. Bishop Rose added that “it is the Lord who holds people together as individuals and as a community and without Him, we start falling apart.”

On the morning of 17th May 2024, the day of departure from the Conference, Mons. Jose Luis Ponce de León, IMC, Bishop of Manzini Diocese- Eswatini, presided over the Eucharistic celebration. In his homily, he asserted that a Conference always offers a sort of penitential moment, precisely because “by looking at our lives as individuals, communities, and Delegation, we realise that we are a bit far from what we are called to be, and so, renew our willingness to that call.”

Fr. Mathews, Fr. Michelangelo, Fr. Erasto and Mons. Jose Luis

For this reason, said Bishop Jose Luis, two professions are to be made. The first is the profession of faith that affirms both one’s intimacy with the Lord, and the consequent dependence upon His grace and power. This profession gives the assurance that “through us, the Lord is at work in ways we cannot see”, affirmed. The other profession according to Bishop, is that of love that not only affirms one’s union with Christ, but also impels the person to encounter others in a mission of love, a mission of consolation.

The visit of the General Direction to the Delegation was officially concluded with a Holy Mass on 20th May 2024 in Merrivale Theological Seminary. On behalf of the General Government, Father Mathews who was the main celebrant, expressed his sincere gratitude and appreciation to the Delegation Council and all the missionaries for the hospitality given to them, and for the evident great work the missionaries are doing.

The General Councillor in charge of Formation and Studies, Father Mathews Odhiambo

He also encouraged the seminarians to give the best of themselves for the good of the Institute. “You are in the right place, and in the right hands. Consolata is a very good congregation, in a few years to come, the Institute will be in your hands, and it will be your responsibility to take it to the next level,” said Father Mathews. He concluded by giving a brief panoramic sketch of the Consolata missions in Asia, and particularly appreciated the seminary for always gifting the Institute with zealous missionaries to work in Asia.

* John Bosco Othieno, student at Merrivale Theological Seminary- South Africa.

Related content