Pastoral Experience during the Covid-19 Pandemic: “Jesus Visiting His Flock!”


The challenge that one encounters when writing an article about personal experience is the temptation to employ an academic and scientific approach. This means that the article has to acknowledge the source of any ideas that its scribe has not authored or created. The word ‘created’ reminds me of a Physics class in secondary school. When studying matter in relation to energy, I came across the reality that “energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed/converted from one form of energy to another.” This can still be true, in my opinion, if applied to the Word of God. I would say, therefore, the Word of God can neither be created nor destroyed by any human person. We, as pastoral agents, can only transform or convert the Word of God from one form to another to cause positive effects on human beings.

I would say, as many do, that the Covid-19 pandemic caught the world off-guard. Nonetheless, even if we were to be on-guard, our lived experiences remind us of the fact that, our survival depends on God’s mercy and providence. Indeed, this humbles you and me. Consequently, we begin realising that one’s tomorrow, like that of Noah in the Ark, totally relies on God’s protection and wisdom.

As I recall my physics class, I notice that, in the Law of Conservation of Energy, the amount of energy in any system is inevitably determined by the following combination:

  1. the total internal energy of a system
  2. the initial internal energy of a system
  3. the work done by or on the system
  4. the heat added to, or removed from, the system

The same combination can be equally applied to our pastoral activities if you agree with the formulation that “the Word of God can neither be created nor destroyed by any human person, it can only be transformed from one form to another to cause positive effect on human beings.” We can leave this thought for another time.

When narrating our personal experiences, we can easily forget the key people, in particular, those who are very close to us. In order to avoid this error of omission, I therefore thank Fr. Lamec Ciza and Claude Nsengiyumva (Stagiaire) for the role they played in Henley-KwaMpumuza Community during the first wave of Covid-19 infections in South Africa.

Tirelessly, Lamec and Claude have been ministering to God’s family in Henley-KwaMzimba and St. Vincent-KwaMpumuza Parishes in the Archdiocese of Durban. The two were on the frontline preparing the ground in view to re-opening of churches. The preparations included: training of church leaders on how to conduct liturgical celebrations and services in compliance with Covid-19 regulations, forming compliance officers who would take records of congregants (temperature, contacts, etc.) and getting all materials ready (temperature scanners, sanitizers, posters, etc) before the date of re-opening churches. This, of course, drained their energy, disturbing their welfare, and stressed their minds.

Claude was supposed to have left the country for his holidays immediately after Easter (2020) and prepare himself to join the fourth phase of initial formation in Tangaza University College, Nairobi. Lamec was due for home-leave and yet he was still to handover the parish and join Lenasia parish in Johannesburg. Things turned out not to happen as planned. What a stressful situation! With these reasons among many, I sincerely thank both of them for their perseverance and missionary zeal. I pray that the Loving God may continue to bless and give them joy.

Henley Community of the Missionaries of Africa is situated in KwaZulu-Natal Province. It serves two parishes as mentioned above. During this time of pandemic as in other times, of course, we tried our best to draw our energy and wisdom as we allowed ourselves to be nourished and revitalised by the Eucharist. Everything began and ended in the community – we planned and evaluated together. This was so significant to my growth as a Sector leader. Our living together in community increased transparency, sharing and collaboration. Our community life radiated joy and hope to all those who surround us, especially leaders of Small Christian Communities, Eucharistic Ministers and families.

Despite the pandemic, the Small Christian Communities (SCCs) have proven themselves to be indispensable and the heart of Christian life. It was in SCCs that the first stage of re-opening of the churches was first experimented. It was here that the number of congregants, when celebrating the Eucharist, was ensured not to go beyond 50, including a priest and altar servers. The human mind is endowed with creativity and it excels even when hit hard by a pandemic. Creatively and thoughtfully, the Archdiocese of Durban allowed the parishes to celebrate the Sunday Mass during weekdays. Those who could not come to church on Sunday because the number was limited, had an opportunity to attend the same Mass in their Small Christian Communities. We managed to reach out to all the 35 Small Christian Communities.

The second stage in our plan included visiting the elderly and the sick who were unable to congregate on Sundays for obvious reasons. It took us five weeks to complete the first round of visitation in all the 35 Small Christian Communities. The elderly and the sick are categorised as vulnerable groups that are at high risk and exposed to Covid-19 infections. We needed to be very careful when visiting these groups. Indeed, it was a great moment in my life. I could see the face of each radiating joy because their priest ‘ubaba’ has finally visited them. My greetings, INkosi ayibe nani” (The Lord be with you), was met with a joyful response. This reminded me of a joyful encounter between the Blessed Virgin Mary and Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56). How joyful Elizabeth was and how the unborn baby, John the Baptist leapt in her womb when they both heard the greetings of Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:41-42). It was the salutation of joy and peace. Visiting the elderly and the sick, means bringing them peace as we greet them with the words of the Lord ‘Peace be with you’ (John 20:21). This experience when shared at home left each of us energised and motivated. Based on this pastoral experience, I have learnt that when we allow God to lead us, nothing can stop us from doing his will.

Through these encounters which I name ‘Jesus visiting His flock’ my faith and desire to serve God’s people is being strengthened and rejuvenated. However, this has been possible because everything was planned and organised at the level of community. It was not the fruit of personal enterprise, but rather an outcome of community discernment. Indeed, fraternal spirit at its best!

I also noticed that coming together as a community for recreation plays an important role in strengthening our informal and fraternal interaction. Sometimes Claude and I could simply remain seated enjoying beautiful melodies manufactured by Lamec’s competence of playing a piano. It was as well so fascinating to gather as community to offer prayers and petitions and to celebrate the Eucharist. This was also a moment of carrying into our prayers and Eucharistic celebrations, news and events that seemed to touch the lives of many parishioners including covid-19 related death cases. It is in prayers that one finds God’s presence, and in deep silence that one hears the voice of God saying: ‘Peace be with you!’ (John 20:21) and ‘Do not be afraid, I am with you!’ (Isaiah 41:10). One old lady in tears said, that she thought she would die before meeting a priest again. She was now happy to go in peace, if that was the will of God, she said, after having received the Eucharist. Other sick people also felt a great relief after being visited by their priests.

Through such encounters and experiences, despite the covid-19 pandemic, joy overwhelmed each of us. We felt that we were able to serve God’s people despite the worries and anxieties caused by the current pandemic. We also used such visits to encourage and urge people to always remain in compliance with the covid-19 restrictions and regulations. It was pleasing to see that each house we entered we found sanitizers on the table and everyone had put on his/her facemask. Social distancing was as well observed. Together we also reminded ourselves of the importance of continuing to pray so that God may accord us health and healing. In fact, our unity in prayers is the weapon to win the battle against fear and loss of hope.

We remain grateful to God for his presence among us and for the solidarity, fraternity and mutual support lived during this time of pandemic.

By Konrad Simon Millanzi, M.Afr.

A letter to Cardinal Lavigerie


Dear Father Founder,

I am very glad to write to you again on a piece of a paper after such a long time. Indeed, by God’s grace and mercy I am still alive and more zealous than ever to commit myself for the service of the African World. It is almost a year now since we went into the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. If I were to use the words from the letter to His Holiness Pope Francis from our Superior Generals, by then, the outgoing Richard Baawobr and the incoming Stanley Lubungo, it has been for me the time ‘to look at the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion and to look at the future with hope.’ The aim of this letter Dear Father Founder is mainly to greet you. Moreover, I would ask you continue to pray for your beloved societies and their mission in the contemporary African World. I believe that your intercessions may help us to receive God’s blessings and graces to fulfil our duties and responsibilities as “apostles nothing but apostles”.

Dear Father Founder, we ended the year 2020 and entered the year 2021 under the lockdown. There were no gatherings to celebrate and offer thanksgiving masses to the Almighty God to end and welcome a new year. Actually, I found it quite strange and contrary to my experience that, instead of people coming together to give a hand for each other in time of either joy or difficulty, the call now is to isolate in order to protect and help the other to live. Nevertheless, the life during the lockdown has proved that community life plays a big part in the ability to adapt to changing environment and nature of our pastoral activities. Besides, this ability to adapt has a deep root in a prayer life and unity of the community. Undoubtedly, ‘How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!’ (Ps. 133:1)

Dear Father Founder, in such a situation whereby coming together increases the risk of the Covid-19 infections, the world has to change its theories and ways things have to be done from the joy and rituals at the beginning of life to the cry and rituals at the end of life. In such an isolating situation one joins the Psalmist cry that “My soul yearns for your salvation; I hope in your word. My eyes yearn to see your promise. I ask, ‘When will you comfort me?’” (119:81-82)

Dear Father Founder, the Covid-19 pandemic caught the world off-guard and has tested greatly our way of life and believing. This automatically touches as well our spirituality. And here we see the important of the invitation from the 2016 Chapter. The Chapter ‘invites us to base our spirituality on the Word and openness to the Spirit so as to live fully the joy of the Gospel with all its challenges’ (pg.19). The life experience during the lockdown made us to re-actualize and contextualize our Missionaries of Africa charism. Based on our core-values, different communities lived our charism in their humble services to God’s people. It can be argued that through personal and community prayer, our spirituality has been sustained more profoundly during this time of pandemic. Even so, community life was very much challenged. Our communities never remained the same from the beginning of the lockdown. At least a member was either self-isolated or stranded out of the community. Consequently, the one or two who remained in the community could find it difficult to recite the psalm 133.

Dear Father Founder, I won’t exhaust you with many things today. I know our deceased confreres who worked or passed through South Africa would love to hear more. I promise to do so next time. However, there is one recent experience which I would not leave it for another time. During this period, we developed our skills in cooking. There was a time we had to cook for ourselves all the meals. Yet, you have to conduct funeral services and to attend to the needs of God’s flock. This is the time I came to understand more your insistence on a community of three confreres.

Dear Father Founder, the pandemic has taught us to be diligent, vigilant, patient, humble and depend totally to God’s Word and providence. It tested our faith, unity, vision and mission. How can one keep the lockdown regulations and teach others to do so yet going out to pasture God’s flock? We have many to talk about next time.

Please, dear Father Founder, send my regards to all confreres who are with you in heaven. Their brothers here on earth are continuing with the mission where they left it. Their prayers are needed. We appreciate their writings. We draw knowledge, skills and joy from them for the Mission.

Your beloved son,

By: Fr. Konrad Simon Millanzi, M.Afr.

Oath and Diaconate in Merrivale, December 15, 2017


18 New Missionaries of Africa

On Friday 15th December at 4:30 pm, in the beautifully decorated chapel of the Merrivale Formation House in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, eighteen young men were officially received in the Society of the Missionaries of Africa by pronouncing their Missionary Oath. Many relatives and friends had come from near and far to pray with them and witness this serious life commitment of these generous new confreres. Their Oath was received by Fr. Didier Sawadogo, M.Afr, one of the Assistants to the Superior General. The Provincial of the Southern Africa Province, Fr. Felix Phiri, M.Afr, as well as the Provincial Delegate for South Africa, Fr. Raymond McQuarrie, M.Afr, were also present. The occasion was also enhanced by the presence of Bishop Jan De Groef, M.Afr of Bethlehem Diocese (South Africa) and Bishop Sanctus Lino of Nebbi Diocese in Uganda.

Our new confreres are: Maurice Aduol (Kenya), Jean-Pierre Badjanga Titi (DR Congo), Jean-Paul Basikaba (DR Congo), Stephen Beru (Ghana), Ryan Contamina (Philippines), Philippe Dakono (Mali), Siby Dominic (India), Francis Eze (Nigeria), Eric Kambale (DR Congo), Christopher Nkandu (Zambia), Silas Nsambimana (Burundi), Robert Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso), Justin Ramde (Burkina Faso), Elie Sango (DR Congo), Victor Sanou (Burkina Faso), Martin Somda (Burkina Faso), Jean-Baptiste Todjro (Togo) and Pierre Chanel Ulama (DR Congo).

New Miss SA 1918 New Priests for 2018!

This makes a lot of 18’s! What a wonderful gift for our jubilee year, our 150 years of foundation!

Indeed, the day after the Missionary Oath, on 16th December, in St. Vincent Parish Kwampumuza in South Africa, we had the pleasure to celebrate the ordinations to the diaconate of the same eighteen new confreres for the Missionaries of Africa and two others for the Dominicans (O.P.).

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, ofm, Archbishop of Durban Archdiocese, presided the celebration assisted by Bishop Jan De Groef, Bishop Sanctus Lino of Nebbi Diocese in Uganda and over fifteen priests.  Everything went smoothly with the enthusiastic and brilliant participation of the local parish choir, the altar servers and all the other liturgical ministers.

After the four-hour celebration, the parishioners, under the wise leadership of their parish councillors, treated everybody to a delicious meal and to some great entertainments. This parish was recently taken by the Missionaries of Africa and we find the people very responsive and generous. They organised everything and contributed not only their time and energy but also all the food and drinks for this great occasion. Great! Siyabonga kakulu! (Thank you very much!)

God’s Family Is Expanding!

By Deacon Jean-Baptiste Todjro, M.Afr.

I was glad when I heard them say let us go to the house of the Lord’ Ps 122: 1. These words mark the beginning of our immediate preparation for our Missionary Oath and Diaconate Ordination. Indeed great was our joy to be accepted into the family of the Missionaries of Africa.

One word was echoed strongly throughout the celebration of our Missionary Oath and Diaconate Ordination: FAMILY. Prior to the celebration of the oath, Didier Sawadogo, representing the Superior General, presented to us the message of the General Council by giving to each of us the positive affirmation of our Society which states: ‘Filled with the joy of the Gospel and guided by the Spirit, we are an intercultural missionary society with a family spirit. Sent out to the African world and wherever our charism is needed, for a prophetic mission of encounter and of witness to the love of God’ (Capitular Acts 2016:17). It is with this sense of belonging and willingness that we responded YES to the call of God and the desire of making God’s love known and flourish in the African world. The word FAMILY was at the heart of the homily of Cardinal Wilfrid Napier who in addressing us insisted that we have to participate in the mission of the Church and identify the challenges that families are facing as our primary mission in collaboration with the universal Church. As such one can boldly say we are ordained to be APOSTLES TO FAMILIES, NOTHING BUT APOSTLES TO FAMILIES.

We wish to thank all those who made this event possible: our community, our formators and provinces of origin who believed we can contribute positively to the Mission of Jesus Christ within the Society of the Missionaries of Africa. Our gratitude also goes to you, our parents, friends and confreres who graced this event with your presence or with a thought or a prayer. Please, continue praying for us and supporting us.

Please remember us and all missionaries of Africa with this hymn that served as a procession and entrance hymn during our Missionary Oath:

À vous mes chers Missionnaires d’Afrique, l’amour est notre unique vocation. Dieu nous envoie en Afrique en mission, pour proclamer par notre vie son Amour. Aimons-nous d’un amour tendre et fidèle, soyons apôtres et rien que cela. Soyons unis pour que la vie soit plus belle, allons sans peur vers notre Dieu qui nous appelle. Nous sommes la présence, du Dieu de l’alliance. Qui nous parle dans le silence, Dieu d’amour et d’espérance. Nous sommes sa présence, ici en Afrique. Qui proclame ses merveilles, Dieu d’amour et d’un nouveau jour.

We are the presence, of God in Africa. Who speaks to us in the silence, God of love and God of hope. We are God’s presence, here in Africa. That proclaims God’s great deeds, God of love and of a new day.

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Souvenir of a very special meal.


pere-jacques-hamelBy Christophe Boyer, M.Afr

End of April 2017, I was back from holidays in France where the islamo-christian dialogue has improved a lot since the martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel during mass in a church. Of their own initiative Muslims have come to Church to show their opposition to violence and intolerance.

Toni RowlandI was wondering what could be done here in South Africa. One day I received a phone call from Toni Rowland who is in charge of the family apostolate at the South African Catholic Bishops Conference. She asked me to advise her about a Muslim invitation since I am a contact person for islamo-christian relations at the SACBC. I was lifted up by this answer to my question.

We went together to meet Ayhan Cetin the CEO of the Turquoise Harmony Institute. He told us that this year the Institute invites people motivated to inter religious dialogue to share the breaking of the fast in a Muslim family. Toni had already gone with the Institute to visit Turkey. We said it is a very good project and emailed the invitation to Catholics who might be interested. Toni went to such an iftaar and was delighted meeting such a diversity of people. So I asked Michel Meunier of Canada and George Okwii of Uganda, my two fellow priests in Edenglen if they would be interested in such an invitation. They answered without hesitations.

Then I registered on the Facebook page of the Institute and received an answer within the week with the professional assistance of Ayhan and his secretary. The 12th June at 17:30, we arrived at Sermin and Turker Isler’s flat not far from Nizamiye mosque. We were immediately warmly welcomed by them and three neighbours. I gave in an envelope the message of the Vatican for the Feast of the Sacrifice at end of the Ramadan and a small box of mint green tea. We sat with our three male hosts. The food was tasty and rich. We closed the meal with black tea.

Nizamiye mosque 2The conversation was lively: our respective lives, work, politics, soccer… One and the other went for a prayer at the end of the meal. Finally, after thanking the mistress of the house we moved at the invitation of our three male counterparts to the beautiful pastry parlour of the mosque. On the way we could admire the illuminated mosque in the night.

We were happily surprised to meet Uncle Ali, the builder of the mosque and the boss of the pastry who sat at table with us. There was another round of very refined Turkish delights one of them being hot ice cream…  The conversation became more spiritual. We need such table fellowship to anticipate the one at the end of the world when there will be universal love without discrimination of religion, race, gender, wealth or culture. We promised to follow up with other similar encounters even with the youth and during worship. We parted with a precious new memory in our hearts.

Souvenir of a very special meal

Link: Visit of Nizamiye mosque on Tuesday 5th July 2016.

South Africa Sector Post Cap Deliberations – Formation House in Merrivale, KwaZulu/Natal


Spirituality-Charism-Community-Mission-Service

post-cap-feb-2017-01cThe South Africa Sector held its Post Capitular Assembly from Tuesday 14th February till Thursday 16th February. We thank especially Fr. Bill Turnbull, M.Afr., from the Malawi Sector for preparing our documents and for guiding us all through our Post Cap. Bill put a lot of effort into this event.  He focused primarily on our fundamentals and foundation as Missionaries of Africa: our Spirituality-Charism and Community living, then looked at our Mission, with all its complexities of pastoral insertion; placing ourselves at the service of Africa at the existential peripheries; encountering and dialoguing with others, especially other faiths and Islam; addressing issues of poverty, corruption, land, racism and migrants, justice & peace and ecology.  Even though we had three full days, it wasn’t enough to really address and process the issues affecting us in our mission here in South Africa. Despite our very diverse cultures, languages and ages etc., we could sense a real unity of purpose and direction in the spirit of the Chapter. We look forward to the final Provincial Strategic Plan to come from the upcoming Provincial Council to be held in a couple of weeks’ time. 

Father, Son & Holy Spirit Guide Us

At the opening on Tuesday morning, following the Chapter’s example, we held a small ceremony of the lighting of candles which remained lit for the duration of our Post Cap. The candles represented the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Triune God, and we prayed this God guide us, and keep us united, through our sharing’s, discussions and deliberations. Bill composed three prayers which were read out as each of the three candles were lit. Each morning, as we opened our discussions, these candles were lit.

Ecological – ‘Paperless-Digital’ Gathering

One significant change of this Post Cap and the general Sector Meeting, which was held on the Monday before (13th Feb), was that we had a ‘paperless’, or ‘digital’ Post Cap. Basically, the only paper we used was the actual Chapter document itself. This was a first for our Sector and we will continue to be ecologically sensitive to how we run our meetings and gatherings. Everything was done on computer, using flash drives and projecting our documents onto a large screen. Feedback was done by a group spokesperson or secretary who typed up everything onto the group flash drive. This was then given to the moderator and to the Post Cap secretaries. We are happy that during this Post Cap we could begin to implement the call to be more ecologically sensitive.

Nkosi sikeleli Afrika

We pray for our Province of SAP, and we pray for each of the four Sectors. May we each be true witnessing Apostles and good stewards in our mission and service of Africa where we are – and may our Mother Mary, Queen of Africa, guide and direct all our actions to and through her beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. May His Kingdom come.

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