Priest’s Long Journey in a Wheelchair
One day early into his priesthood, Fr Molibeli Lisene was involved in car accident which left him bound to a wheelchair. On September 11 this remarkable priest will celebrate the 25th anniversary of his ordination. Br Mxolisi Ndakana pays tribute.
As human beings, our lives are characterised by two conflicting opposites: there is up or down, left or right, warm or cold, and so forth. But there are two opposites that exist with us at all times: happiness and tragedy.
Preachers always encourage us to strive for happiness; but, more importantly, they encourage us to embrace tragedy.
In proverbial terms, they might say: “When life throws you lemons, make lemonade.”
This is the lesson behind the life of Fr Molibeli Lisene, a wheelchair-bound priest from Kroonstad diocese.
Some 21 years ago, after serving four years as a priest, Fr Lisene was involved in a car accident which left him wheelchair-bound and with no hope of ever regaining the use of his legs.
Before the accident, the lack of priests in the diocese of Kroonstad meant that Fr Lisene, like many other pastors, had to take care of more than one parish.
The accident that took away the use of his legs happened on a Sunday morning when he was travelling between his parishes.
There is no purpose in revisiting the tragedy or its immediate aftermath. But there is great value in observing how this priest responded to his calamity.
What is remarkable about this priest is that, after losing the use of his legs, he never gave in. More than that, this tragedy made him even stronger.
That helped him deal with the times when he was not welcomed in many parishes because of his “situation”. Some saw him as incomplete, or even thought that physical handicap limits mental capacity!
Fr Lisene never paid much mind to what other people thought of him. Rather, he continued to serve with zeal.
His life reflects the famous quote attributed to St Francis of Assisi: “Preach always and, if necessary, use words.” Fr Lisene’s life is and continues to be a testimony on its own.
I believe Fr Lisene is as enduring a person as this world has seen, firm and strong in character. He maintained his unwavering faith that God will always be with him.
His movements may be impeded at times, but this does not stop him from ministering to God’s people. Even bound to a wheelchair, he has proven to be a priest without borders.
September 11 will mark the 25th anniversary of Fr Lisene’s priestly ordination. Of these 25 years, he has spent 21 in the wheelchair, performing his vocation as every other priest.
He has worked in parishes in Monyakeng, Tikwana, Phomolong, Maokeng, Thabong, Kutloanong, Kgotsong, Rammulutsi and Meloding. Fr Lisene also worked closely with the late Bishop Johannes Brenninkmeijer, and with his successor Bishop Stephen Brislin (now archbishop of Cape Town).
Presently, Fr Lisene’s ministry is flourishing under the episcopal leadership of Bishop Peter Holiday.
Having once been a lecturer and formator at St John Vianney Seminary in Pretoria, today Fr Lisene is in charge of one of the biggest parishes in the diocese.
He is also the vicar-general, vocations director and spiritual father of the Sodality of the Sacred Heart at diocesan level.
Indeed, the will of God can never lead where his grace wouldn’t sustain! We, the faithful of Kroonstad and beyond, will always pray for him to continue pastoring the flock of God.
We can safely conclude that Fr Lisene is no ordinary man; he is indeed a blessing from God. A lot can be learnt from him and his life.
A rich harvest
He has contributed greatly to his diocese, helping to shape it to be what it is today. This is a man Kroonstad diocese truly can be proud of—our hero and a source of strength.
The diocese is harvesting vocations in great part because of the seed that he has sown. His faith remains certain and truly unshakeable.
Fr Lisene says he remains grateful for the support from the bishops he has worked under and all the clergy. He also cannot forget the support of the parishioners and the youth of the diocese, saying that they have been the source of inspiration for him.
Those who have shared ministry with him and worked under his leadership define him as a strict and humble man.
Deacon Johny Mphatse believes that “Fr Lisene’s wheelchair does not prevent his mission and ministry in touching many lives in our diocese”.
Fr Molula Mokhoamathe describes the priest as “a model of how we should not let our incapacities distract us from fulfilling the path God has paved for us”.
Fr Tebello Moeti says he is a hard worker — humble, yet not easily swayed. “Some of the things that he does are beyond what we, who are not in wheelchairs, can do.”
Bishop Holiday sees Fr Lisene’s courage and dedicated service to God and his Church as a blessing for us all.
He wishes that God may bless and continue to fill him with his love and peace in the years ahead.
Looking towards the future, Fr Lisene sees great blessings because the diocese is doing well in terms of vocations; he has played his part. He looks at his life now in the words of Pope Francis: looking at the past with gratitude, living the present with passion, and embracing the future with hope.
The whole diocese of Kroonstad remains grateful for the times we have spent with Fr Lisene, and we hope to cherish more and yet better days with him.
At the moment, Bishop Holiday is planning to build a retirement home for the clergy in the diocese, and that will be a place where Fr Lisene will be looking forward to ultimately settle.
But before it comes to that point, let us pray that God may bless and strengthen him in this ministry, on his 25th sacerdotal anniversary and always.