The OMISA Provincial, Fr Neil FRANK, and the Provincial Treasurer, Fr Charles RENSBURG made the first trip to Zimbabwe since February 2020. The Covid pandemic had prevented travelling since then. There were many highlights during the 10-day trip. The Provincial had a meeting with the Archbishop of Bulawayo and signed the updated contract. A meeting was also held with the twelve members of the Mission, consisting of 8 Zimbabweans, an Australian, a Czech, an Indian and a Paraguayan.
The most significant impression is the dedication of the Oblates and the quality of missionary work amidst the socio-economic deterioration of the country worsened by the pandemic lockdown. We heard of and witnessed the innovation and creativity the Oblates had exercised. Fr Phumulani MLILO had a grotto and exterior Stations of the Cross built at the Divine Mercy parish in Mahatshula. Fr Aurelio AYALA had an eye-catching mural painted in the sanctuary at Body and Blood of Christ parish in Kenilworth, and was promoting the local artists, with many pieces of religious wooden carvings on display, including one of St Eugene.
We were astonished at the work accomplished at St John, Maraire in the Diocese of Masvingo. This is a new foundation for the Oblates in Zimbabwe and our first outside of the Archdiocese of Bulawayo since the start of the Mission in 1983. We had taken charge of the parish in Maraire in January 2020, but because of Covid the two Oblates appointed, Fr Charles NABWENJE and Fr Karel MEC could only take up residence in August 2020. We were welcomed by some members of the PPC Executive who gave glowing reports of the hard work of the two Oblates. There was much appreciation for having the two Oblates live close by, be available and give new hope to the mission.
We are grateful to Bishop Bhasera for completing the buildings as he had promised and for fencing the area. The Provincial Treasurer had raised funds from Oblate donors for a bore hole, for solar power and for a 60-tree orange orchard. We were amazed at how much had been achieved in the few months since the Oblates moved in. Many plants adorn the mission grounds; a vegetable garden is already producing veggies for the table; pawpaw trees, water melon vines and many other fruit trees are thriving. While Fr Karel is still mastering the Shona language we can see that the two Oblates work well together and are evangelising the people in the spirit of St Eugene.
The highlight of the visit to the Mission was attending Fr Edward CHIUTANYI‘s ordination. The travelling and experience, which occupied four days, was in itself a beautiful adventure. Fr Edward was ordained in his home parish, St Theresa of Avila Mission in Katerere, 113 km from the town of Nyanga. We had travelled from Masvingo on Friday, 28 May after fetching Fr Charles NABWENJE from Maraire, through Chivu and Marimbinda, where we discovered the Canaan restaurant that served a delightful piece of fried chicken and chips for $2. It was 5-hour journey to the Udu Camp in Nyanga National Park were we were to spend two nights. Fr Luck MANDAVA, the treasurer of the Zimbabwe OMI Mission had made the arrangements for 15 of us, including the pre-novices. He hired a cook to prepare our meals. The Nyanga National Park in the eastern highlands is one of the most beautiful places in Zimbabwe with breath-taking scenes of hills and dams. There was fresh evidence of waterbuck around our lodge but we did not see the animals, except for the rabbits. On Saturday, 29 May – the feast of Bl Joseph Gerard – we left to Katerere for the ordination.
It was a most spectacular two-hour drive into the valley, with the last 13km through a bumpy, twisting dirt road. The ordination was beautifully prepared. Young girls, dressed in white and blue danced for all the processions and acclamations. The choir kept the beat powerfully through the 4-hour long liturgy. There was much joy expressed by the people! It was the first ordination to be held at St Theresa of Avila Mission, but it was not the first for the parish. They have had several vocations of priests and sisters over the years, and they have experience of the richness of consecrated life: the mission was started by the Carmelites, then served by the Franciscans and the present parish priest is a Spiritan. Now, thanks to our brother Edward, they have been introduced to the Oblates. Fr Lucky MANDAVA preached the homily which captivated the people’s attention. He emphasized Fr Edward’s long journey in formation – 19 years. He came to the Oblates after beginning with the Capuchins; and he studied in Kenya and in Cameroun. We were very grateful to Bishop Paul Horan O’Carm for a wonderful and meaningful celebration.
We returned to Bulawayo on Sunday evening, 30 May, with one thing on our minds – ‘passing’ our Covid tests for the flight back to South Africa. We had observed all protocols during the trip and used Ivermectin to counteract any Covid virus we might have contracted. Many thanks to Fr Sholto DOUGLAS, the Mission Superior, for organizing the programme for our visit and ensuring we kept to the schedule.