In a week that has seen the death of at least 11 senior church leaders to COVID-19 worldwide, South Africa also mourns the loss of Archbishop Abel Gabuza, who died on Sunday, 17 January 2021 after succumbing to virus-related complications. He is remembered for his warmth and generosity and his desire for a united Church that is responsive to the signs of the times. spotlight.africa reports.
The Church in South Africa has lost one of its dearly loved shepherds. Archbishop Abel Gabuza (65), who most recently served as the coadjutor archbishop of Durban, died earlier today after battling COVID-19 in ICU for a week.
In his message of condolence, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier noted his “gentleness, caring and warmth” that made an “immediate impact” on everyone he met.
Indeed, it was Archbishop Gabuza’s warmth that most struck Ricardo da Silva SJ, who interviewed him in 2019 shortly after his appointment as the coadjutor archbishop to Durban.
Da Silva recalls how his technical equipment failed but that Archbishop Gabuza “just waited patiently and told me to take my time.” Da Silva’s efforts were rewarded and he remembers that he “was able to capture his smile and warmth on camera and experience it in person.”
A desire for unity
Rewatching his interview with Archbishop Gabuza, who at the time was the head of the Justice and Peace Commission under the auspices of the Southern African Bishops’ Conference, da Silva notes the archbishop’s awareness of the importance a united voice from Church leaders:
“He often pushed to issue statements to respond in a timely manner to moments of crisis in the country but, the archbishop lamented that it was not always possible to get the country’s Catholic hierarchy to speak univocally about the pressing issues because opinions differed strongly among them.
Archbishop Gabuza said:
If we do that together—we put our names on any statement as bishops—people will be able to see that it is not just one, if can call it ‘crazy bishop,’ who has these ideas. It is the bishops who speak as a body. Secondly, I think impressions are very important.
I think we need to change our attitude and we need to do things differently. And I think if we do that, thirdly, we’ll be able to send a very powerful message that we don’t speak as individuals; we speak as a body of bishops who are leaders in the Catholic Church in this part of the world. I think we need to do that.
His advice remains prescient to the church at large; it rings especially true now in the United States where I currently find myself.
Waiting and listening
Archbishop Gabuza sought to respond to God’s call with openness and generosity. Da Silva shares his conversation with the archbishop about what it means to hear and respond to God’s call — a wonderful reminder this Sunday, when we read the Lord calling out to Samuel in the first reading, whoresponds to God’s call with openness and generosity: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
“Archbishop Gabuza shared with me of how he came to spiritual acceptance of Pope Francis’ decision to send him to Durban, where in the end he waited patiently for almost two years to succeed Cardinal Wilfrid Napier as its archbishop. Although that mission was never officially realized, I know that the archbishop had already won the affection of many there.
May his words hold hope and bring comfort and reassurance to us, in this time of national mourning for the Catholic Church in South Africa:
It became something natural to me to say, ‘Yes,’ of course with a certain amount of trepidation and anxiety. But I also remember that in the New Testament and in the Old Testament, there were figures. God called them. And they were caught unawares, they were not ready. But these individuals were able to say ‘Yes’ to God. And they were assured that God was going to be with them. And this is what I told myself: ‘I should not be afraid because God is going to be with me, and everywhere you go, God is going to be with you.
Your Grace, may you rest in God’s love and eternal peace. Thank you for your years of service to God’s people. You are, surely, already missed,” writes da Silva.
We continue to pray for our ordained clergy and all those who serve God’s people, especially those who are on the frontlines treating and ministering to COVID-19 patients and their families. May God may protect them from physical illness and strengthen them with increased faith, courage, and hope in these difficult times.