Our Problem Was an Opportunity
By Bishop José Ponce de León – At the beginning of the year I offered the priests of the vicariate of Ingwavuma, which I serve as administrator, to celebrate confirmations on the Sundays when I am in the vicariate. Once a month I spend a week in the Ingwavuma vicariate — in rural KwaZulu-Natal, bordering Swaziland, my pastoral area, and Mozambique — and it always includes a Sunday.
Fr Sfiso Mchunu OSM was the first priest to ask and we agreed to do it on a Sunday this month at the Star of the Sea church in Ngwanase where those being from the parish’s 15 outstations were being prepared.
As usual, I arrived the day before so that we could practise the celebration with the group.
The priest welcomed me and said: “Bishop, we have a problem. There are at least 100 people to be confirmed!” To be honest, I was not expecting that. Neither was Fr Mchunu as he had become priest-in-charge of that parish only last month.
“They are all here so that we are sure tomorrow we start on time. The parish is putting up a tent as our church is not big enough,” he told me.
It was getting late. The tent was already up but there was no electricity. We then placed three vehicles with their headlights on so that we could somehow see each other and practise — in the place — the different moments of the celebration.
As we always request a clear commitment at the time of confirmation, I asked the candidates to meet their priest in the coming two weeks and tell him what service they plan to do in their communities.
Things seems to be pretty clear, so I went back to the house.
Fr Mchunu remained with them. “I would like to have a session with them and see how prepared they are to be confirmed,” he said.
Early in the morning he looked fresh, so the session must have been short. It was not. He had stayed with the confirmands until midnight and then made himself available to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation.
One by one they went to him for confession. He finished at 3:00 in the morning! He probably looked fresh not because he had slept enough but because he felt encouraged by the way the people had responded.
The celebration went well. As expected, it lasted just under four hours.
Since I became bishop I have always laid my hands, together with those of the priest, over each one of those being confirmed. I make no exceptions. It must have taken us a long time.
During the homily and taking from the gospel reading the image of being “fishers of people”, I asked the confirmands how they planned to do that in their lives. Two asked to talk.
The first one said she hopes that by the way she lives, people will ask themselves what leads her and she will then be able to witness to her faith.
The second one underlined the importance of “works of mercy”. They were both very confident in the way they said it and prompted everyone to applaud.
Maybe, as it is sometimes said, we did not have a problem but an opportunity with the gift of those more than one hundred people who want to witness with their lives the presence of the Risen Lord among us.
Bishop José Ponce de León is the bishop of Manzini, Swaziland, and administrator of the vicariate of Ingwavuma, which he previously headed. This article is an edited version of his blog post on www.bhubesi.blogspot.co.za