S. African priest who resisted witchcraft on path to Catholic sainthood

(Photo: Vatican Radio)The Catholic Church is to beatify Tshimangadzo Samuel Benedict Daswa on Sept. 13, 2015 putting him on track to become South Africa's first saint and martyr.

Thousands of people are converging on a remote village for the beatification of Benedict Daswa under a Catholic rite putting him on track to become South Africa's first saint and martyr, the Vatican says.

Fellow villagers clubbed Tshimangadzo Samuel Benedict Daswa to death in 1990. His killing for opposing witchcraft was nine days before the release of Nelson Mandela on Feb. 2.

The ceremony will take place on Sunday Sept. 13 at the Benedict Daswa Shrine Site in Tshitanini near Thohoyandou (17 kilometres north -east of the Thohoyandou Stadium) in South Africa's Limpopo province.

Pope Francis in January approved signing the proclamation for the beatification of Daswa, a lay person from Limpopo, the Holy See said. Beatification precedes sainthood under Catholic rites.

Daswa's fellow villagers waylaid and killed him when he refused to participate in witchcraft saying his Catholic faith prevented him from doing anything related to witchcraft, which plagues some rural areas in South Africa.

Bishop Emeritus Hugh Slattery, who was bishop of Tzaneen at the time of Daswa's death, started the formal beatification procedures.

Slattery said, "In a wider society, Benedict made no secret of his stance against witchcraft, sorcery and ritual murder, which still have such crippling effects on the development and progress of society."

Daswa was born on June 16, 1946 in Mbahe Village, 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Thohoyandou. He was a herd boy before he started school.

The Pope has dispatched Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Holy See's Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, to represent him during the beatification ceremony.

Venda king Toni Mphephu Ramabulana, the premiers of Gauteng and Limpopo and Water Affairs and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane are expected as guests of honour.

The ceremony comes just days after the Vatican announced the pope, the man who focuses on inequities and poverty, is to make his first trip to Africa in November.

Pope Francis is to visit Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic for six-days from November 25-30, the Vatican said Thursday.

The Holy See says Daswa was a dedicated Catholic husband, father and schoolteacher in remote rural Tschitanini when he was brutally murdered in 1990 for having opposed witchcraft beliefs and practices.

The Tzaneen diocese, which encompasses Tschitanini, opened an inquiry into Daswa's death that ended in July 2009.

It resulted in 850 pages of testimonies from people who witnessed the life and death of Daswa being sent to Cardinal Amato after they were signed by the then bishop of Tzaneen, Hugh Slattery.

The current Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Tzaneen, Joao Noe Rodriguez, told Vatican Radio the beatification ceremony is taking place in the village where Benedict Daswa came from.

Rodriguez is in charge of organizing the event and has closely followed the whole process.

He said many people who are expected to attend the beatification travelling long distances from different parts of South Africa.

"It is a big venue in terms of being able to accommodate from 20 to 30 thousand in the open-air area" and at least 20,000 are definitely expected, he told Vatican Radio.

"The beatification is a very important event for us who are Catholics because South Africa is largely a Protestant Christian country in the sense that most Christians belong to various Protestant Churches of different kinds as well as more recent Christian movements," said Rodriguez.

"Benedict Dasia was really an ordinary man and we are not celebrating him for national achievements, but he was a man of great faith. A man who was serving, helping, educating."

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