“Our Lady of hope” Catholic Church

by Fr Giorgio Massa IMC

Many years ago, in 1934, a group of “Mantellate Sisters Servants of Mary”, from Veneto, a north eastern region of Italy, came to Swaziland and settled in Mbabane. In 1938 some of them came to Hluti, a rural area, about 160 km from Mbabane and 40 km from Nhlangano.

There were no Swazi Catholics in this area. A Mr. Henwood offered them some huts and they started visiting the families around the place, taking care of the sick… One hut became a kind of a clinic.

Soon they were asked to open a school for the children of “mixed race” who were not accepted in the “white” schools nor in the “black” schools . A large piece of land was given to the Sisters By Mr Henwood and here is where the Mission developed.

A Catholic Priest came to help.

The Mantellate Sisters Servants of Mary opened several small clinics in the surrounding villages and little by little some Swazi accepted christianity and joined the Catholic church. With the passing of the years several little chapels were built to provide a place for meetings and for the celebration of religious services.

The Sisters always kept in touch with their Italian region of origin and with relatives and friends. Some of them beside helping with money, came to physically help to build a dam to provide water to the Mission, to build the Convent for the Sisters, the clinic, classrooms, houses for teachers…

In December 2001, a group of 5 or 6 volunteers, under the guidance of Mr. Giuseppe Bordin, a bricklayer and carpenter, came from Veneto for over 2 months and with the help of the local people built a nice and big church for the Catholic community of Elulakeni. It had been designed by the Parish Priest: Fr. Jabulani Dlamini. By February 2002 the church had the roof on and the volunteers went back home. Somebody else took over to complete the work. The electrical part though was never completed.

In 2016 the new Parish Priest of Our Lady of Sorrows, who is also responsible for the community of Elulakeni, in consultation with the Parish Pastoral Council, realized that it was high time to have the church of this community, dedicated to Our Lady of Hope and be officially consecrated by the Bishop. The preparations for this big event started in earnest.

The church was painted anew, the electrical wiring was completed, a big tank for the harvesting of the rain water was provided, the flash toilets were brought into operation, the grounds around the church were cleared of thornbushes and stones.

The whole Mission (the main church and the 5 outstations) were invited to raise money for the celebration. Every community contributed what was asked of it .

With the approaching of the 17th December (the date chosen for the Consecration of the church) a cattle was bought together with food and drinks. A group of women was given the task to do the cooking. A bus was hired to bring the people from Our Lady of Sorrows and Siphambanweni (outstation) to Elulakeni .

The Bishop, José Luis Ponce de León IMC, arrived in the company of Sr. Benny, as official guide. To make the occasion more solemn, Fr. Jabulani Dlamini, the architect of the church, joined us too.

Mr Giuseppe Bordin, the leader of the Italian volunteers who had built the church, came all the way from Italy with three other friends of the Mantellate Sisters to represent the whole group. Fr. Rocco Marra, a Consolata Missionary ,working in Swaziland was also present along with the President of the Ministers’ Fraternal of the Lavumisa Area and the Induna representing the chief who was attending the Little Incwala with His Majesty.

The chairperson of the PPC, Mr. Michael Skhosana,welcomed the Bishop, the Honourable guests and then presented a short history of the Elulakeni church. The Bishop opened the service by asking the Parish Priest, Fr. Giorgio Massa, a Consolata Missionary, to officially open the main door of the church . The Bishop proceded into the church followed by a jubilant Congregation praising the Lord Jesus in song.

During the Service the singing was led by the Choir of Our Lady of Sorrows with the help of the young Sisters and Novices of the Mantellate Sisters. Hymns were sung in Lingala (a language of the Democratic Republic of Congo) and tunes from Uganda and Kenya to show the universality of the Catholic Church.

The Bible readings, the sermon and the other Liturgical prayers were in Seswati . The visitors from Italy led the Procession of the gifts trying the Swazi steps; although not really in tune but with a big smile.

The Altar and the walls of the church were dutifully anointed with holy oil to express that this altar and this building were set apart for worship while incense was poured on the fire burning over the altar causing a perfumed smoke to raise on high to signify the prayers of the faithfull ascending to God.

At the end of the service beautiful vestments for the celebration of the Holy Mass and Candles brougth by the Italian friends, were shown to the whole congregation. A young Swazi man who had worked with the Italian volunteers at the building of the church, told the Congregation how beautiful it had been to work with these people in harmony, sharing with them the same spade and the same plate and the same food. Faith should bring us together. As we walked out of the church the Bishop stopped on the porch to bless a Memorial Plaque donated by one of the parishioners. It was now time to enjoy the food and the entertainment.