The Southern Cross : May 2011
Page 12 May 2011 www.thesoutherncross.org.au The Southern Cross | feature Benedict Daswa was brutally murdered in February 1990 in Mbahe Village, Limpopo Province, South Africa, after refusing to contribute to a collection for a traditional healer to identify the "witch" responsible for recent lightning strikes in the region. His strong stand against witchcraft and the use of muti or medicines for protection against evil was at odds with the local tribal culture and ultimately led to his death. But the instigator of his cause for martyrdom and sainthood, Bishop Hugh Slattery msc, believes it is his ordinary life as a school principal, loving husband and good father to eight children that will strike a chord with Catholics around the world. It is this "ordinariness" that also gives rise to comparisons with Mary MacKillop, who began her good works as a teacher in a rural area and who, like Benedict, had a close relationship with God which enabled her to live a holy life. People who knew Benedict, who was baptised in his teens, say he prayed a lot and believed in honest, hard work as a way of glorifying God and of helping people in the community. He rejected witchcraft because it led to the death of innocent lives. For him, life was sacred. Emeritus Bishop Hugh Slattery msc together with the new Bishop of the Diocese of Tzaneen -- Bishop Joao Rodrigues visited South Australia, including Penola, last month with two Australian missionaries -- Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart -- Sr Christine Martin and Sr Sally Duigan who is from Adelaide. Sr Sally was greatly inspired by the canonisation celebrations for St Mary MacKillop which she attended last year here in Adelaide. As a teacher at St Brendan's Catholic Secondary School in the Diocese of Tzaneen, Sr Sally taught two of Benedict's children and still remembers the day of Benedict's murder. She attended his funeral and after that became friends with his daughter Helen. Both Sr Sally and Bishop Slattery said they were "amazed" by the support and hospitality they had received from those involved in Mary MacKillop's canonisation -- the Sisters of St Joseph in North Sydney, Fr Paul Gardiner, the Mary MacKillop Committee in Penola and especially Archbishop Wilson who said he would do everything he could to support the cause for Benedict Daswa's martyrdom and sainthood. "I wanted to find out how St Mary of the Cross was promoted as an Australian icon, not just a Catholic saint, because I think we need to do something similar," Bishop Slattery said. "We want Benedict to be well-known not just to the Catholic Church and to Christians but to all South Africans." The Diocese of Tzaneen has already completed a canonical inquiry into his life and death and a decree of validity has been issued by the Vatican. A postulator has been appointed to write a book proving he was a martyr and the diocese has been encouraged to promote devotion to Benedict. Although a miracle is not required for him to be beatified if he is considered a martyr, there would need to be a miracle for him to be made a saint. "He was an apostle of life; he stood up for life and stood up against his culture," Bishop Slattery said. With Catholics making up just seven per cent of South Africans, he said the aim was to not only help grow the Church but also to make a broader contribution to society by helping people to become aware of the evil of witchraft and muti. He added that the process could not be rushed and the Church had to be careful because Benedict's alleged killers were acquitted and still present in the community. "We have plenty of time and the cause will take on its own momentum," he said. CD2848 INSPIRED: Bishop Hugh Slattery and Sr Sally Duigan visited the Mary MacKillop statue by Judith Rolevink on their fact-finding mission to help them promote the cause of Benedict Daswa (pictured right). Sr Sally has been working as an AIDS co-ordinator for the Tzaneen Diocese for the past nine years and previously taught Benedict's children. South Africans follow MacKillop path The canonisation of Mary MacKillop has had a huge impact on all Australians and now her story is inspiring the Catholic Church in South Africa as it begins a campaign to promote a school principal called Benedict Daswa who many believe to be a martyr and possibly the country's first saint. Jenny Brinkworth reports.