by Juliana Valdez
While viewing EWTN recently, I was made aware of another apostle of Christ who is also of our era, just as Sts John Paul II and Mother Teresa. He is Blessed Benedict Daswa of South Africa. A member of the Lemba tribe, his native name is Tshimangadzo which means “miracle” or “wonder”. After learning his life’s story, I was able to see how aptly he was named, since his life reflected that he was indeed a “wonder”.
Benedict, a convert to Catholicism, at the age of 17 in 1973, was instructed by Fr Benedict Risimati, and was confirmed the same year. Benedict took his catechist’s name and went on to become an educator (teacher and principal), husband, father of eight and was viewed as a champion in the community where he worked alongside the residents to improve their living conditions.
Assisting in alleviating the needs of the less fortunate, Benedict built a school, the first church in the area, a house for him and his family and one for his mother, and grew fruits and vegetables which he sold or gave away. His motto was ‘Ora et Labora,’ Pray and Work.
He avoided anything which was in direct contradiction to the teachings of his Catholic faith, such as the occult and superstitious practices. After a football team which he founded in the community engaged in illegal practices to enhance their performance he left them and founded another.
Because of his refusal to pay a sorcerer who claimed to be able to end severe storms being experienced in the village, he was mobbed and beaten to death at the age of 43. Viewed as a martyr after his death, his martyrdom was confirmed and he was beatified in September 2015, with his feast day listed as February 1.
EWTN did a documentary on Blessed Benedict’s life, which included interviews with his family members and friends.
His sister: “After the early death of our father, Benedict assumed the role of provider, protector, counsellor for our mother and our siblings. He encouraged us to take pride in our studies.”
One of his sons: “To say I am proud of my father is an understatement. I have forgiven his murderers because I know it is what he would have wanted.”
Chris Maphaphuli, close friend and colleague: “Benedict’s example as a husband and father encouraged me to be better at those roles. In a society where housework and caring for the children were the responsibility of the women, Benedict did chores without reserve, placing great emphasis on family life.”
At his funeral Mass on February 10, 1990, the celebrants wore red to indicate their belief that Benedict died a martyr’s death. Witnesses to the attack said as he died, Benedict whispered, “God, into Your hands, I commend my spirit.”
Many bishops and priests, including Fr Augustine O’Brien who baptised him, concelebrated his beatification Mass in 2015. His mother, 91 years old, his eight children, relatives and friends were in attendance.
Called to share before the final blessing, the words of one son stayed with me. “Dad never did anything without first praying, invoking the Holy Spirit for inspiration and guidance.”
We are asked to emulate the holiness, the humility, the piety, the conviction of the traditions and teachings of the Church, and the lives of those whom we venerate as saints, in our efforts to live lives pleasing to God. As we celebrate this Pentecost, may the Holy Spirit of God continue to inspire and enkindle within us the fire of God’s love.