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Bishop Gabuza of Kimberley named Coadjutor Archbishop of Durban

Pope Francis has announced the appointment of Bishop Abel Gabuza as Coadjutor Archbishop of Durban. The news was communicated to Gabuza on 26 November 2018 by the Apostolic Nuncio to South Africa, Archbishop Peter Wells. Gabuza is currently serving as bishop of the diocese of Kimberley.

Bishop Abel Gabuza, the bishop of Kimberley has been appointed coadjutor archbishop of Durban, having served in his own diocese since March 2011. The news follows the announcement earlier this year at the Chrism Mass in Durban by Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, the current archbishop, that he had been asked to remain archbishop of Durban by Pope Francis even after having reached the usual age of retirement. Bishops are required, by Canon Law, to offer their resignation to the Pope upon reaching the age of 75.

Gabuza announced the decision by the Holy Father to move him to Durban in a public letter dated 3 December 2018, the feast day of St Francis Xavier, who was the great Jesuit missionary.

“It was on 26th November at around 6.30pm when I took the call from the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Peter Wells […] This message came as a shock to me. This was totally unexpected. I was stunned. I had mixed emotions. I froze for a moment and was overcome with fear. Surely, I am having a bad dream, I told myself. Why me? I am sad because I had just landed in Kimberley and now, I am expected to uproot myself and start all over again.”

As this short excerpt shows, the decision has come as a shock for Gabuza who had expected to stay longer in Kimberley. He describes a certain loneliness, being forced to deal with the shock of his appointment in relative secrecy until the official announcement could be made in Rome. Describing his emotions in the intervening time as he awaited the official communication, he says that he “felt like a trapped wounded animal”.

The bishop in his thirty-fourth year of ordained ministry writes also of his anxiety ahead of his new appointment, pointing out in particular the move from a largely rural diocese to a much bigger city. He questions whether he will “have the stamina to venture into a new environment with all its complexities” and is fearful of “the high expectations that accompany the position”.

Through prayer and spiritual direction it seems that the bishop has begun to accept his new charge. He tells movingly of the shift that has taken place within himself that has allowed him “to dig deeper […] and eliminate what can hold [him] back”.

In his closing remarks in the letter to the Church in Kimberley, Gabuza invokes a phrase which has become popular among South Africans: “Thuma mina Nkosi!” (Send me Lord).

According to DFA, quoting a statement issued by the Diocese of Kimberley yesterday, 9 December 2018, Gabuza will only vacate his present diocese on 10 February 2019 and a diocesan administrator will be appointed within eight days of his leaving until such time as a new bishop is announced.

As coadjutor archbishop, Gabuza will serve alongside Cardinal Napier until such time as his resignation is accepted by the Holy Father. Gabuza will then, automatically, succeed Cardinal Napier as archbishop of Durban.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.