Who was Joe? Bishop Sandri Was Our Wiseman
Fr Robert Kinena Ndungu MCCJ, Pretoria – At Bishop Joe Sandri of Witbank’s funeral, the homilist posed the question: “Who was Joe?”
Bishop José Luis Ponce de León of Manzini, Swaziland, with his question, went deeper and deeper to bring to the fore all that any artist would to flesh out the portrait of Bishop Sandri.
When artists create, they bring into existence what is already conceived in their minds. They look at a log of wood or boulder and see in it the statue of a great figure like Prometheus or the Statue of Liberty; they look at a piece of canvas and see in it a great painting, such as “The Last Judgement” by Michelangelo or Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son”.
And Bishop Ponce de León, with his every word, just as the fine strokes of a painter’s brush or the chipping of a sculptor’s chisel bring out the final product, brought to life memories of the late Bishop Sandri.
While the Roman saying “Of the dead, say nothing but good” has been wholly embraced by all cultures, recalling the testimony of Bishop Ponce de León and those of many different people who attended Bishop Sandri’s funeral, I believe the Roman admonition concerning the dead needed no application.
Bishop Ponce de León reminded us of Bishop Sandri’s determination to restore dignity to the people of God, especially refugees and immigrants. This was demonstrated by his statement to Italian authorities: “You complain about refugees — unless you need them to work for you or use them as prostitutes!”
There was also Bishop Sandri’s availability to the college of bishops, priests, religious, and laity; his immediate responses to e-mails from the SACBC secretary-general; his attention to details that might have been overlooked in meetings; his proverbial joy and good sense of humour; his engagement with local politicians and his fight against corruption, as attested by eMalahleni mayor Lina Malatji; and his mastery of the local languages that enabled him to speak to the heart of the people.
Bishop Ponce de León presented Bishop Sandri as a good shepherd and pastor, a teacher and leader, a Comboni missionary charged with founder St Daniel Comboni’s vision of evangelising Africa with Africans.
Indeed, Bishop Sandri was a Wiseman pointing his finger to the sky for us and giving us a map that would lead us to treasure.
His Lent came early, and his Passion was long. He died on the feast of the Ascension, a solemnity that reminds us that death is not annihilation but transformation of life.
Now that he is gone, we are free either to look where he was pointing us to; or, like fools, look at his finger; or frame the map and thus never find the treasure; or gather courage and embark on the arduous journey of finding it.
The choice is ours.