On Sunday, the 15th of September 2013, the parishioners of the Sacred Heart Mission in Qoqodala decided to give their new parish priest, Father Matthias Nsamba, a heartily welcome after he was transferred from Cathcart to them some months ago.
Father Matthias wanted to make from that function a meaningful event and so he prepared over the 60 youngsters for First Holy Communion on that day.
Seeing the reaction in his outstations, the enthusiast priest saw what was coming up and, full of joy he invited his confreres to come to Qoqodala for this for him so happy day.
Being originally from Uganda, he also invited fellow Ugandan citizens living and working in South Africa and even amongst them the Ugandan High Commissioner in Pretoria to take part in his joy.
It did not stop there: an invitation went to the Embassy of Ireland in Pretoria which was positively replied, and, from Uganda came the news that his Uncle, also a diocesan priest and his brother who is the Provincial superior of the Comboni Fathers in Uganda and Zambia would also come to see how their sibling was doing in South Africa…
Everything started very well: what was planned at 10:00 started at 10:00 South African interpretation, i.e. at 11:00!!! Leaded by the processional Cross, an impressive cortege formed by the Altar boys and girls, the First communicants, all vested in white tops and black trousers or skirts, the different choirs and delegations coming from the outstations in their beautiful traditional outfits followed by the concelebrating priests and Father Matthias, liturgically vested with a white and green chasuble which also portrayed Christ as the Good Shepherd, in between the invited dignitaries.
The church, a master piece of German engineering, Swiss Craftsmanship and South African know how, was filled to full capacity when Holy Mass started and the Congregation of the day made from this Mass a celebration in the traditional Xhosa style: singing, dancing, making processions and using their voices and some small instruments to give honour and Glory to God the Father Almighty and to Jesus Christ our Saviour, Good Shepherd and Redeemer. One of the readings was done by a young boy in an accent free English and after the readings, two deacons proclaimed the Gospel in isiXhosa and in English as well.
The brother of Father Matthias, Father Edward Kanyike Mayanja MCCJ (Comboni Fathers) gave the Homily and did this in a crystal clear language which could be easily understood by all the parishioners of Qoqodala. He told the congregation what a parish priest really is:
“the Parish Priest is the Mediator between God and mankind. It is the Parish Priest who brings God’s gifts to the people and the people’s gift to God.”
He stressed the point that he understood the people who wanted to welcome their new parish priest quite well and told them that for sure his brother will be very delighted when receiving all the welcoming gifts and words, but he also explained them what kind of presents they should bring to him all the time he will be amongst them. He told the congregation that Father Matthias would be extremely happy when they would shower him with the presents he wants to give further to God and those special presents are their sins, their miseries, their weakness and their wickedness on the one side, but also their hopes, their joys and their happiness on the other side. This are the things Father Matthias wants to see happen, because as a priest he is the other Christ who told about Himself that he was the Good Shepherd, doing everything possible to save one lost sheep in order to bring it back to the flock…
After the prayers of the faithful, a new procession started and came to the front side of the church where bread and wine was presented to the celebrant and where also the collection baskets were filled with the personal offerings of the singing and dancing crowd.
The First Holy Communion of so many children and growing up was a very moving moment. Once the Our Father was sung, they came forward forming a half circle in front of the altar. An overwhelming happy Father Matthias gave them Holy Communion and after this, their candles were lit and all of them received a blue rosary. And to prove that they were satisfactory prepared for that great day, they recited in front of the Congregation the Apostolic Creed!
Three hours after it started, the Mass was ended and Father Matthias together with his friends, faithful and first communicants posed for the camera in order to have fixed that important event into the archives.
After church, the second part of the event was reserved for the speeches, the welcoming addresses, the well-wishing and the presentation of the gifts coming from inside and outside the Qoqodala Mission. This all happened in a tent erected for that special occasion.
Group after group came forward dressed in their traditional outfits framing the speeches of their leaders with songs and dance followed by a presentation of their gifts towards their new pastor.
Besides the traditional groups like the Women of St. Ann, the Men of the Sacred Heart, the members of several local organisations, choirs etc… there were also representatives of the various parishes Father Matthias had served in the dioceses of Aliwal North and Queenstown. Some of the ladies pointed fingers telling him the truth or refreshing some old memories. Amongst them was an old Makhulu and she had to say her say!!! She did not want the use of a microphone and… her story was very long… It ended with three strophes of a well-known hymn.
Quite remarkable were the speeches of the VIPs invited to this function. The High Commissioner of Uganda residing in Pretoria, Mr Julius Peter Moto, was fascinated by the First Communicants and also by the youngsters. He wanted to see them again in front of him because he wanted to tell them something. They came up and sang something in their style and then came his speech. He congratulated the first communicants and told them to go on and not to stay away from church, and to the growing ups he said that he wanted to see them again in due time. Becoming clearer he said that he wanted to meet them again alive and not on the graveyard. He stressed also the importance of not spoiling a life the way it happens that much, namely by teenage pregnancies and contracting venereal diseases. If you want to have a splendid future, he said, you have to give your all in building up that future and that happens at the schools and the universities. On the question if they will meet him again in due time, he got a loud ‘YES” as an answer.
The biggest surprise came from the Irish Ambassador, Mr Brendan McMahon, represented by Mrs Miriam Nhlapho. As a Catholic herself, she said, she had enjoyed the Mass enormously. She also understood that Mission work is not free from problems and hardships, and, at the Embassy they had thought on how they could give Father Matthias a substantial help for that work.
Knowing that the roads in the districts are not of the best quality they found out that a suitable car for those roads could make the daily routine considerably easier… Upon this a jubilant crowd gave her a standing ovation and everybody left the tent to see the new Toyota Hilux given to the Parish Priest. Before she handed over the keys, she gave the car two things which will remain in it as long it works for the Church. The first thing was an image of Our Lady of Cork and the second thing was a white rosary given by the pope. After having received the keys, an ecstatic Father Matthias was waving exuberantly and finally baptised the new car with a bottle of Champaign, giving it the name “Maria”.
The function ended with a word of thanks of Father Matthias after he was introduced by his brother, Father Edward Kanyike who is the Provincial superior of the Comboni Fathers in Uganda and Zambia and Father John Lutalo coming from the Kiyinda-Mityana Diocese in Uganda. After all what happened on that memorable day with all its surprises, Father Matthias was unable to give the vote of thanks in a rhetoric way. In a simple way, but not without emotion he thanked God in the very first place and then everybody who had come to that event giving him hope, thankfulness and joy.
It was the Parish Chair Person who thanked the people for coming wishing them a safe return home. It was indeed a memorable day for Qoqodala.
Fr Edward Tratsaert SAC