Catechist, Martyr, Lay member of the Chevalier Family
In the morning of January 13, 2015, the Ordinary Congress (cardinals and bishops) of the Congregation cast a positive vote. During the afternoon of January 22nd, Pope Francis recognized the martyrdom of Benedict Daswa and ordered the publication of a decree attesting to this. Thus the Roman Pontiff has solemnly declared him “Blessed.”
The oldest in a family of five children, the Servant of God Tshimangadzo Samuel Benedict DASWA was born on June 16, 1946, in the village of Mbahé in what is now the Province of Limpopo in the Republic of South Africa. He was baptized on April 21, 1963, by Fr. Augustine O’Brien, MSC, and was confirmed on July 21 of the same year. After his primary, secondary and professional studies, he received, in 1973, his diploma as a primary school teacher and began teaching in the grade school at Ha-Dumasi. In 1974, he married Shadi Eveline Monyai, a member of the Lutheran Church, in a traditional ceremony. Four years later, on November 28, 1978, they were married in a civil ceremony. On January 1, 1979, the Servant of God was named Director of the primary school in the village of Nweli. On August 9, 1980, after his wife became a Catholic, the couple had a church wedding celebrated by Fr. Patrick O’Connor, MSC, who became the friend and spiritual guide of the couple. From Benedict’s marriage to Eveline eight children were born.
The spiritual journey of the Servant of God became easy because of his meeting the Irish missionary Patrick O’Connor, MSC, who helped him make progress on the road of Christian fidelity. It was above all, however, his church marriage to Eveline which marked the beginning of his understanding of a special call to holiness. He was a highly appreciated educator of youth and an exemplary husband and father. All the members of his little family prayed together daily and were regular participants in Sunday Mass. He also gave witness to his faith in his village and in the parish community through his different commitments as catechist, liturgical animator, promotor of works of charity and a builder of justice and peace.
The circumstances of his martyrdom
On January 25, 1990, lightning from a powerful thunderstorm caused a number of houses in his village to be destroyed by fire. For the people this was not something natural. They had to find the one responsible. The decision was taken to consult a sorcerer from a nearby village to find out more about the cause. To do this, each member of the village had to pay about 5 rands. Benedict was absent when this decision was made. When he arrived home, he stated that thunder and lightning are natural phenomena but his explanation was not accepted. The decision to consult a sorcerer stood. For the people it was very clear that Benedict refused to pay the required contribution because he claimed that his Catholic faith did not permit him to take part in anything related to witchcraft. Upset by this attitude, a group of men decided to get rid of him. They organized a plot against him and on the evening of February 2, 1990, he was cruelly assassinated in the village of Mbahé, not far from his home. While his executioners were killing him, Benedict was on his knees praying. He prayed until the last minute of his life.
His reputation as a martyr
The funeral Mass was celebrated on February 10, 1990, in the parish church of Nweli with about 600 faithful present. It was celebrated by Fr. John Finn, MSC, the parish priest of Thohoyandou/Sibasa, with a number of concelebrants, all of them using red liturgical vestments. They were persuaded that the Servant of God had died because of his faith. It was his opposition to witchcraft that led to his death. His fame as a martyr soon spread throughout the region. Each year, on the anniversary of his death, about 800 people make a pilgrimage to his tomb. The prayer vigil organized in 2014 on his death anniversary brought together more than 3,000 people.
The history of his cause
Because of the spontaneous and constant nature of his reputation as a martyr, after the Nihil Obstat from the Congregation for the Cause of the Saints was obtained on June 10, 2008, the diocesan inquest was held from April 15 to June 30, 2009,in the dioceses of Tzaneen, Shrewsbury, Dublin and Birmingham. The Congregation for the Cause of the Saints granted the decree de validitate on Nobember 5, 2010 and the Positio was then published. After studying the cause, the Theological Consulters in their meeting on October 9, 2014, gave a completely positive vote on the question they were to answer: whether the requirements for martyrdom were met in this case.
Importance and relevance of this cause
The cause for beatification and canonization of the Servant of God Tshimangadzo Samuel Benedict Daswa is of capital importance because of its great relevance. This is the first cause presented from the Republic of South Africa. The beatification of the Servant of God will contribute to the revitalizing of people’s faith and will encourage them to hold firm in the face of the difficulties they must face in their daily life. The fact that a son of South Africa is esteemed because of his virtue and his martyrdom will help bring together the men and women of this country with so many different ethnic groups, so many different religions and so many different Christian confessions. On the other hand, the present problem of witchcraft goes beyond the borders of South Africa: it is a problem found throughout Africa in general and in sub-Saharan Africa in particular. This phenomenon which causes fear and resignation everywhere does not even spare the Church in this part of the African continent. By his courage and his fidelity to the Catholic faith, the Servant of God Tshimangadzo Samuel Benedict Daswa is a model for all the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa. Through his beatification, they will understand that belonging to the Catholic faith implies a radical choice of Jesus as Lord and Savior and a complete rejection of religious syncretism.
Jean-Jules, Chassem, MSC
(A short presentation made for the Cardinals who will decide on beatification on January 13, 2015)