A Holy Man and Active Member of the Church

Benedict’s life was permeated by prayer. He spontaneously turned to prayer in facing issues and decisions in daily life. He used to travel with his Bible and a prayer book. He would start any journey with a prayer. We know from his sister, Thinavhuyo, that, “People would ask Benedict to pray with them if they had a child who was accused of some crime and had to go to court. He would pray with the persons before the court proceedings that they would be truthful, even if they were facing the possibility of being sent to jail for a time”.

Benedict at a Meeting

People sensed his closeness to God. One of his friends, Baldwin Mutshutshu commented, “When he spoke, you knew he loved God”. Sr. Angela Ruddy, a Missionary Sister of the Holy Rosary, who was the parish catechetical coordinator, worked closely with Benedict. She was very impressed by the holiness of his life, “I would go so far as to say that everything about him was Christ-like. To me personally I felt in the presence of an exceptionally graced man, a virtuous man, a peaceful, joyful, contented person who not so much talked about his faith as lived it deeply and quietly. I would say he intensely loved Christ and the Church”.

People remember Benedict as a man of strong faith. According to his sister, Thinavhuyo, “He was growing in his faith day by day. I believe this because although he was encountering many problems in his life, his faith did not waver”. He used to tell youth groups, “I would die for my faith in Christianity”. He was sometimes referred to as a traditional Catholic because he fully accepted the teaching of the Church as noted by Michael Maliavusa one of his youth leaders, “He believed strongly in Church doctrine which influenced and inspired him”.

He had no time for those who wanted to decide for themselves what was right or wrong, what they would accept or not accept in the teaching of the Church. He wanted the truth and he lived it in love. One of his relatives, Tshililo Mafenya described him as, “a person full of love. He loved all people”. Another relative, his sister-in-law, Alice Daswa, confirmed this view, “His love did not have any boundaries. He loved everybody starting from those in the home”.

Gabriel Malaka a relative of Benedict, gives his impressions of him, “He was one person whom I would describe as a through and through Catholic with no compromise. He was a person who was committed to the Catholic way of life. He was not influenced by other churches, religions or practices, not like Catholic people who are one day in church and another day consulting a sangoma. You might say he had two legs in the Catholic Church”.

Nourished by prayer, the Word of God and the regular reception of the Sacraments, Benedict was deeply involved in the life of the parish. He was full of enthusiasm for the spread of the gospel through building up strong, local Catholic communities. He was a great missionary and in his area the Church was flourishing. He belonged to a Small Christian Community in his neighbourhood which occasionally met in his house. At these meetings they sometimes said the Rosary as well as sharing the Word of God. Benedict was enthusiastic and effective in promoting the Pastoral Plan of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference.

He was involved in both the planning and carrying out of a number of pastoral activities. He was seen as a natural leader in the church as well as in society. When the first Parish Pastoral Council was formed he was elected as the Chairman. He helped by teaching catechism to children and adults, leading Sunday service in the absence of a priest, visiting the sick and the lapsed, and helping the poor and the needy. At the church he helped to start a crèche for the children.

Benedict was very involved in the building of the church in Nweli which is dedicated to the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven, the Patronal Feast of the Church in South Africa. He used his own vehicle to draw stones and other materials. Norman Tshifura recalls that Benedict got, “the youth of the area to collect stones to bring for the building of the church in Nweli”. It was typical of him that he wanted the House of God to be completed before his own house which he was building at that time. He believed in a thorough preparation for baptism which according to a fellow parishioner, Hendrick Mugivhi, could last up to three or four years. When criticised for this Benedict used to answer that, “This is what the Catholic Church wants and there is no way to change it”.

Benedict was involved in a number of charitable activities. His cousin, Ntshavheni Daswa, remembers Benedict as a religious and charitable man, “He would go and take some food parcels and some clothes and make sure that these things were given to needy people”. During a time of severe drought he worked closely with Sr. Mathew Staunton, a Holy Rosary Sister, and with Operation Hunger in distributing food parcels and running small development projects. He also helped elderly people get their government grants.

Our Lady of the Assumpion Church Nweli

Benedict was not only a person who did things, he was also one who reflected on issues and had a vision for the parish. He believed in proper consultation with the community before important decisions were taken, such as the building of a new church. Convince Makwarela tells us that, “Benedict advised Father that their plans would fail if they did not respect the culture of the people and consult with them before making a decision”. He had great respect for the priest and the catechist and supported them in every way. But he was concerned about the reluctance of the laity to get involved in the mission of the Church. Hendrick Mugivhi reports the words of Benedict that, “We should all try to serve. We must be there even when the catechist or priest is not there. We must try to assist so that the people see no difference. The Church is really there and we are the Church”. Michael Maliavusa echoes the same sentiments, “For Benedict it was his Church. He never saw the Church as belonging to the bishop or the priest. Benedict belonged to the Church”.

Benedict wanted the parish to become self-supporting. He himself was very generous. According to his friends he used a lot of his own money for the church. As well as his generous weekly and monthly contributions he constantly used his own vehicle and petrol for church and charitable works and never claimed any expenses. Benedict never saw the Church as something outside himself such as a rich organisation like the government or big business from which people try to claim the last cent. He used to say, “Let us give to God”. He was always giving to the Church and not taking from it because he loved the Church.

According to Convince Makwarela, “Benedict encouraged people to stand on their own saying ‘Let us contribute generously to help the Church. There is no one else coming as the Irish did. We have to do it on our own’”. According to the catechist Joseph Netshikulwe, “Benedict encouraged the people who had good jobs to be generous and to contribute to the Church. He made the point that the teachers among them who were employed by the government should contribute to the upkeep of the priest and the catechist”.

He wanted people to be proud of their Catholic Faith and to take real responsibility for the Church which he loved so dearly. This meant working for local vocations for priests and religious life, being active in the Church and supporting her financially. He insisted that lay people should always give their services free to the Church. Writing about his friend Benedict after his death, Fr. O’Connor tells us, “To sum up: Benedict loved the Mass. He went to the Sacraments regularly. He loved the priest. He loved the Catholic Church and it was his only guide for life”.