(from our archives)
In mid September, 1988, Pope John Paul visited the tiny kingdom of Swaziland, in Southern Africa. It was a red-letter day, not only for the Swazi nationals, but for their neighbours from the surrounding countries. KwaZulu residents were well represented in witnessing the historic occasion. Fr. Mooney records some details of his people's experience of the Papal visit.
Months of preparations, bureaucracy, thumb-printing, applications for passports, identity cards and birth certificates, numerous visits to Home Affairs Office, Mtubatuba, fund-raising, transport hunting, headaches, frustrations, and disappointments, all came to an end as all obstacles were overcome and parishioners were almost set to leave for the historic visit of the Pope to Swaziland.
THE BIG DAY
On Thursday, 15th September, shortly after sunrise, parishioners from all corners of the Star of the Sea parish converged on the Mission.
They carried suitcases, blankets, and checkers (plastic bags) filled with provisions for the two day trip. For most of them it was their first time out of the Maputa area. The school children had spent the previous evening frying chicken pieces, roasting peanuts, slicing bread, and mixing juice. Everything was neatly packed in cardboard boxes and placed in the courtyard.
Brother Andy Motsko had left after breakfast, as he wanted to avoid the rush at the border post and also to be sure that he found a place to sleep.
Around 8 a.m., I made a trip to the village to check if any further travel documents had arrived in the post. A few were still outstanding. I then made a fast trip to two stations where people were to assemble, in order to check that each person had the required documents. It was necessary to announce the sad news to some: no documents, no journey. There were tears.
We expect transport to arrive late in this part of the world, but when the buses were two hours behind schedule I began to get worried.
They finally pitched up at 1 p.m. and were loaded up in record time. We were on our way. Fr. Fred Reiman stayed behind to look after the Mission.
Sister Thomas, Ann, Mary, and a few students, travelled in my vehicle, ahead of the two buses. A re-fueling stop at Mkuze took an hour. Then, en route, we stopped for a snack, only to be joined by the Bishop of Eshowe was also making his way to Swaziland. He took two of the Sisters in his car.
The next stop was at the Swaziland Border. It was now 5 p.m. There buses parked everywhere. The Mtubatuba and Hlabisa group were in line to enter the South African customs office. Luckily for us, a local policeman, on duty for the day, spotted his brother and sister and came across to greet them. He organised everything for our group. Thank God, we had all the documents. The refusal to visit the Republic by the Pope had not gone down too well with the authorities. The high-jacking the previous day, in Lesotho, had not helped matters either. Everything was searched.
Then, when the buses were called to cross over the Border into Swaziland, it was discovered that the drivers didn't have valid documents. I managed to get that sorted out and we were eventually out of the Republic. The Swaziland officials were gracious and helpful. It had taken us fifty minutes to get through.
A LOST BUS
At Hhelehhele corner I waited for the buses to catch up and to direct them to St. Joseph's Mission, where we were spending the night. The first bus turned and fled past me into the night. I presumed that the driver knew the way, so I let him go. The second bus arrived, some fifteen minutes later. I led it into St. Joseph's. There were plenty of other buses parked there, but no sign of our first one.
I asked the seminarians who were directing people to classrooms, to take care of our group. After wating another ten minutes or so, I set out in search of the missing bus.
The main road on which they were travelling, led to either Mozambique or to Stegi. I had visions of the driver going to Mozambique, the kids being high-jacked, and the bus out of diesel in the middle of nowhere.
Eventually, after forty-two kilometres, I spotted the bus coming towards me. Was I relieved! We got back to St. Joseph's at 10.30 p.m. The kids were half asleep but soon wakened to dine by candlelight in one of the classrooms. Brother Mfaniso Mthembu found me a bed in the community house. After a cup of tea, I hit the sack.
CAME THE RAIN
We didn't need an alarm clock to waken. There was so much activity around the Mission that you had no alternative but to get up. Besides, it was raining. Spirits were low, for no one had anticipated the torrential rain and only a few had umbrellas or raincoats.
After breakfast (an orange drink a drum-stick – I recommend it on trips), tickets for the Papal Mass were passed out and we left for Somhlolo Stadium. The kids had an opportunity to see Manzini, Matsapha and Lobamna, en route. The rain continued to fall and many wondered whether the Pope's plane would be able to land or would it be diverted, as on Wednesday, to Johannesburg!
A TUMULTUOUS WELCOME
On his arrival at Matsapha Airport, the Pope was greeted by Church and Swazi dignatories and a large crowd. The sun had already begun to show through the clouds, as the Papal cavalcade entered the stadium and John Paul II received a tumultuous ovation from the seventeen thousand ullulating Swazi and Zulus.
Strict security was passed up, as hundreds of people jumped the barriers onto the track. But the Pope had time for them. He alighted from his Popemobile and proceeded on foot to the stand, where he was again greeted as he mingled with the crowd. Excited, they stomped rythmically with their feet and clapped their hands, while the Pope just clasped his hands in respect. He roused another deafening ullulation as he ascended the stairs to the podium. Then he went into the stand to greet the priests and Religious, seated there for the concelebration of the Mass. He grasped my hand in his and a great cheer went up from the Star parishioners, who were in places right in front of the podium. I had met the Pope on Swazi soil.
While the Papal entourage was vesting for Mass, Her Majesty the Queen arrived at the stadium, followed by members of the Royal Family. By this time, the weather had cleared and the stadium was bathed in brilliant sunshine. Many more people entered.
The Pope processed to the altar and had just finished incensing it, when his Majesty King Mswati III arrived and was greeted with "praise songs" by the whole congregation. He then took his place in the royal box. The combined choirs (1,000 strong) of Swaziland, under the baton of the conductor of Mater Dolorosa, Mbabane, led the singing at Mass.
Bishop Louis Ndlovu, O.S.M., welomed the Pontiff to Swaziland and stated that the Catholics, here, are opposed to Apartheid, and that they have respect for their own country's customs and those of other nations. He also said that refugees from troubled countries were made to feel welcome in Swaziland. It was a privilege for a nation as small as Swaziland to be visited by His Holiness. The Bishop then added: "Catholics in this country worship God in good faith and have freedom of religion".
LITURGY AND THE POPE'S MESSAGE
The Liturgy was beautiful. The singing of choir and congregation, was fitting for the occasion. One could see from the expression on the Pope's face that he was enjoying it. The traditional drums, marimbas, handclapping and rhythm all added to the solemnity. The main parts of the Mass were in English, but the readings were in "isiswati". Pope John Paul preached clearly and distinctly in English, telling Christians to promote Swazi traditions. He said that the Swazi culture "can enrich the whole Church to the degree that it is filled with human wisdom and enlivened by moral values".
This and other topics of social welfare marked the highlights of the Pontiff's message to the nation. He came across strongly on the emphasis on family life and the policy of reconciliation which has been proclaimed in Swaziland. He talked on the monogamous marital union which provides the foundation upon which a nation can build a stable family, in accordance with the original plan of God for marriage. He called for Christians to help those whose marriages and family life are troubled by infidelity, promiscuity, drugs, alcohol abuse, and modern technology, in ways which do not always respect the dignity of human life. He was wildly cheered when he paid tribute to grandmothers who lovingly reared their grandchildren.
Bishop Ndlovu read the Pontiff's address in "isiswati". The Offertory procession was executed in traditional Swazi attire, while school children performed a symbolic dance. At Communion time, the Pope gave Communion to one hundred people selected from the parishes of Swaziland. At the same time, one hundred and twenty priests and Eucharistic ministers distributed at various points around the stadium. Mass ended shortly after 1 p.m.
His Majesty King Mswati made a short unscheduled speech before leaving, in which he said: "I request your Holiness to continue praying for the Swazi nation. The kingdom of Swaziland is honoured to be visited by His Holiness."
As the Pope left, the crowds broke into spontaneous song and dance. It was easy to see that he was touched again, as he pushed protocol aside and mixed with the crowd. Many of our parishioners touched his hand. The people were filled with love, joy and jubilation.
AT THE CATHEDRAL
Later in the afternoon, the Sisters and I went to the Cathedral, where the Pope met with the Religious, refugees and the handicapped. He mingled freely among them, listening to the handicapped from St. Joseph's Mission sining a Swazi song in his honour. Thanking the choir for their singing, he led a round of applause for them. He then praised the Servites for their work of evangelization and all the Religious for their contribution to the progress of the Church in Swaziland. Once again, he thanked the Swazi people for their welcome and their hospitality. It would be easier to pray for them, now that he had met them.
The Pope seemed to be in no hurry to leave the Cathedral. Going down the aisle, he greeted each one of us individually. Outside, the people were gathered for their last look at him.
Then, finally, as his white car drove away from the Cathedral, we were all left with a sense of pride.
We met up with our buses on the outskirts of Manzini and reached the Border at 9 p.m. The last to cross, before the gates were closed for the night, we thought that was the end of our worries. Not so. For, along the way, Security Police stopped and searched our vehicles. It was 2.30 a.m. when we got home. You guessed it – TIRED... but spiritually renewed.