The Appeal of Blessed Benedict Daswa
Interview with Daswa cause promoter Sr Tshifhiwa Munzhedzi OP
Sister Tshifhiwa Munzhedzi serves as the promoter for the cause for the canonisation of Bl Benedict Tshimangadzo Daswa. In an interview, the Dominican Sister tells Günther Simmermacher about the cause and about Bl Daswa, who would have turned 75 on June 16.
It’s quite remarkable that Benedict Daswa was born on June 16, a date that would loom large in the struggle against apartheid, and was martyred on February 2, 1990, the day FW de Klerk unbanned the liberation movements. Was Daswa political at all?
I personally do not know if he was or not. But I would tend to believe he was on the side of justice and the poor. My reason for saying this is that people of deep faith, even though they will say they are not political, tend to get into trouble with the powers that be because of their behaviour and asking questions like, “Why are we poor?”. Their concern to alleviate all that keeps people in bondage makes them come into contact with political powers mostly in ways that could cause some of them persecution or even death.
For us, as Catholics, I think February 2 has a greater significance than its political history in that it is the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord. Very interesting that as Jesus was presented to God in the Temple, Daswa’s life was presented to God his creator. What a day to be called to eternal life.
Daswa died at the age of 43. How do you think his life would have proceeded had he lived?
I wouldn’t like to speculate. But I would like to believe that he would have continued to grow in his faith. But I cannot guarantee it. I am also aware that people do lose their original faith. In his case, I am grateful that he died still a Christian. In his short Christian life of just over 25 years after his baptism, he remained faithful and steadfast, a gift that many of us wish for — to die as believers not just in word but also in deed.
Had he not been martyred, Daswa would have been one of the many unknown saints of the Church. Do you think that is one of the great attractions people have towards Daswa, that he was an ordinary person like any of us who lived his faith, rather than being a man who did extraordinary things?
There are a few things that make Bl Daswa attractive to people. Firstly, as a family man. The Church has many saints, but most of them are religious. Bl Daswa was an ordinary family man, married with children, and working like any family person would do to support their family. On the other hand, his process of canonisation shows that saints are ordinary people who do ordinary things. It is how they do these daily activities that make them different from many people. Each of their actions is influenced by their belief in God and constantly connects with their creator. This is what Bl Daswa did.
Secondly, as an educator. Bl Daswa fulfilled his job not just by focusing on the results in the classroom. He saw his pupils as human beings who need to be guided in all aspects of life. This he did, and thus he taught them responsibility and life skills. He was prepared to support the education of his pupils even when it was against the will of parents who didn’t know better. In educating the children he helped educate the parents also.
Thirdly, as a convert. Like the early Christians, his conversion to Christianity was complete. He accepted God and lived his life dedicated to the building of that relationship without being shy or ashamed to acknowledge it in public.
Fourthly, as a simple person. Even though Bl Daswa was educated, there is a certain simplicity about this man. I think this characteristic makes him attractive to people. It is as if even I can become what he was. I think it is in that simplicity that Christ could find a home and dwell there.
And fifthly, his generosity. Daswa was generous and yet he did not seem to be one who could be fooled easily. He shared what he had with those who did not have, but he also expected the person to grow in the process and uplift themselves by following his example. He was very much aware that an empty stomach cannot fulfil its work as it should. Thus, he had feeding schemes for his pupils and gave fruit and vegetables from his own garden to neighbours in need.
Daswa was beatified in 2015. As a martyr, he didn’t need a miracle to reach that stage of the process. But for canonisation, a miracle attributed to his intercession is necessary. What kind of miracles qualify?
A miracle should be anything that is not explicable by human understanding or behaviour. Anything that would involve his intercession and no human being would have been able to do it on their own, and neither they themselves nor science can explain it. A healing, for example, should not follow the usual process of recovery, but be extraordinary and people can see the transformation of the person. And any miracle should be permanent. I mean, if God provides a stream of water where there was no river, this river should continue to flow infinitely. Because it is of God, it will be permanent. So it is with the healing: it should be permanent.
That is why the Church advises waiting for five years or more to see if the condition reverts to its original state or not. If it does revert, then it cannot be accepted as a miracle, according to the Church.
Have you had credible reports of such extraordinary healings attributed to the intercession of Bl Daswa?
People have shared the stories of the favours or graces they’ve received from God when they prayed asking Bl Daswa to intercede for them. The favours continue to happen. I do believe that many people have received them, but only a few have sent us what has happened in their situation. We are grateful to each one of them who has shared their stories with us.
Is the Daswa family involved in the sainthood cause?
The answer is a “Yes” and “No”. Daswa came from a family which is still very much alive, as it is not so long since he died. So we do need to keep in touch with the family, out of respect for them and the fact that Daswa was a member of the family, not an island. They are interested in their child, brother, parent and relative. They are always there for any event that the Church organises. They are willing to share information concerning Daswa where we need them. At the same time, there are things that are beyond them because it is really a Catholic Church action and part of the Catholic Church’s faith which not every member of the family will understand.
The whole idea of getting Daswa canonised is a Church thing, it is initiated by the Church and continues to be driven by the Church’s beliefs. That is why right from the beginning, the Church made it clear that what we are doing is not to try and resurrect the criminal case. We are looking at who this man was, how he led his Christian life, how he influenced people around him because of his faith, what made him unique in his behaviour, and so on.
The Church is also aware there are many people who could have been canonised, but we only focus on the few who act as models and examples for all of us. In that sense, the canonisation cause is really a Church action, not a family-driven one.
Do you think Daswa is well-known enough in South Africa, and beyond?
No, there is still a great need to make him known. I do hope that more of his life will be known, so that we can continue asking him to intercede for us in this present time when many of us are confused and lost, faced with the events and behaviours of humanity towards one another and God’s creation which are contrary to who we are or created for. Evil exists. We need saints who can help us give names to it because evil takes shape in different ways. That is why it is important to make Daswa more and more known.
Is the Church in South Africa, on all levels, doing enough to support the Daswa cause?
The Church is doing all it can to promote the cause, from the bishops’ conference to the grassroots of the Catholic community. There are families, communities, parishes and dioceses which really promote him at all levels and times. These people are the key to the cause, because without them he will not be known.
The greatest support is prayer. There is also financial support which people give. Their generosity cannot be underestimated. People at every level are there all the way, praying and giving contributions and their time, so that Bl Daswa may become the canonised saint we need, and that we have a place we can visit for prayers of intercession.
But more can always be done. I look at it in this way: Are we, as Christians, doing enough to support the message of Christ? I would say “No”, because until all of creation believes and the behaviour of humanity shows that we have converted and the world is filled with the peace and joy of Christ, there is still work to be done. It is the same with the promotion of this man. As Church, we cannot rest on our laurels and say we have done enough — more can still be done to support this cause.
Even if he gets canonised one day, it will not be the end — the message of his life needs to continue to be spread among the people of God. Canonisation is the beginning of another step and process.
What more can be done to make the man and the cause better known?
Write about him for different groups of people: adults, youth, children, believers and non-believers, Christians and non-Christians. At the moment the two books we have about Bl Daswa are aimed at adults. We need more to be written about the different aspects of this man’s life.
Today society uses social media. We need his story appearing in many social media so that he is constantly touching people, even when they do not expect it. Who knows who will be touched?
Pilgrimages are also important. Visiting where his remains are [in the church of the Assumption in Nweli, near Thohoyandou] is the most important thing for each of us. There is nothing greater than being physically present in the place where he is continuing to intercede for us, even when we do not ask him to pray for us.
We also need plays, dramas, productions and any means possible to make his story known.
For more information on Bl Daswa and the cause for his canonisation, visit benedictdaswa.org.za
This article was published in the June 2021 issue of the Southern Cross magazine
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