New Monastery and Church blessed in Zambia
Cardinal Kelvin Felix and Archbishop Robert Rivas OP attend




The weekend of May 23-24, 2014 will remain “red letter days” in the history of the Roman Catholic church in Zambia, and especially in  the Diocese of Chipata. For on Friday May 23, the first cloistered Benedictine Monastery for Nuns in Zambia, “Our Lady Queen and Gate of Heaven” in Msupadzi, Chipata, was blessed and the monastic church dedicated.  The principal celebrants  were Archbishop Julio Murat (Apostolic Nuncio to Zambia and Malawi) and the ordinary of the diocese of  Chipata, Bishop George Zumaire Lungu.  Also in attendance were His Eminence, Kelvin Cardinal Felix (Archbishop Emeritus of Castries, Saint Lucia), Archbishop Robert Rivas OP (Archbishop of Castries, Saint Lucia), His Excellency, Mgr. Pio Vito Pinto (Dean of the Roman Rota), Bishop Benjamin Phiri (Auxiliary Bishop of Chipata), Mgr. Patrick Anthony (Saint Lucia) and about 40 priests and religious from Zambia. Among the officials gathered was Her Excellency the Governor General of Saint Lucia, Dame Pearlette Louisy who was part of a contingent of twenty-six Saint Lucians on pilgrimage to Zambia for that special occasion.

The following day, May 24, Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, three Zambians, Sr. Giovanna Battista  Mabunda, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Mahashi and Sr. Mercy Masaka  became the first Benedictine Nuns to pronounce their Solemn Vows in their homeland. Eight years earlier, in 2006, at the Cathedral of the Child Jesus in Lusaka , three other Zambian women, Sr. Benedicta Chanda OSB, Sr. Stephania Banda, OSB and Sr. Lourdes Mukosa OSB had made their temporary profession. This, however, was the first time that Benedictine Nuns were making their solemn profession in Zambia.

For us in Saint Lucia and the Caribbean, the significance of those events was that the new monastery in Zambia was founded by the Benedictine Abbey of  Our Lady of the Assumption,  Mount of Prayers,  Coubaril, Saint Lucia,  and as such, is a  “daughter monastery” of the Abbey.

The celebrations were massive. Originally the plan was to have both the blessing of the monastery/dedication of the monastic church and the solemn profession on the same day, but that was proving a logistical nightmare. In the end, it was decided to have the blessing of the monastery and dedication of the church on May 23, and the solemn profession the following day, May 24. And how wise a decision that was! For on the first day, an estimated 600 worshippers filled the monastic church, although only clergy, religious, family members of the nuns and the workers who had constructed the monastery and their families were invited. The following day, over 1000  parishioners, villagers, along with clergy, religious, government officials, traditional leaders, dancers, choirs were expected.  Fortunately everything was planned for the open air.            The crowd was even bigger than expected.

The blessing of the monastery and dedication of the monastic church on May 23, was all done indoors, especially as the altar of the new church had to be consecrated.  The entrance  procession of clergy and laity began in the monastery’s library,  proceeded  through the cloister out to the back of the church and paused before the main door of the church. After welcoming remarks by Bishop Benjamin Phiri , remarks by His Excellency, Mgr. Pio Vito Pinto (Chairman of the building committee), Mr. Bonaventure “Ventus” Joseph (the  St. Lucian building contractor for the entire project) was supposed to hand over the keys of the church to the principal celebrant, Archbishop Julio Murat  who would then invite Lady Abbess, Mother Marianna Pinto OSB to open the church. The chief celebrant simply knocked on the main door three times with his crozier, and when the doors were opened invited Lady Abbess and her community to enter and symbolically take possession of their new church.

The rest went like clockwork : the blessing of the congregation with holy water; then the  cells and others  parts of the monastery; deposition of the relics at the back of the altar; anointing of the altar and the twelve crosses along the walls of the church (representing the twelve apostles) with chrism; the incensing of the altar and the church walls; the lighting of the church and the celebration of the Eucharist. At the lighting of the church lights it was explained to the congregation that all those lights  had been donated by “Friends of the monastery from St. Lucia” a symbolic jesture of sharing “light” from the “Land of Light” ( which is what the name ‘Lucia’ means; from the latin ‘Lux/lucis’ for light).

The liturgy was elegantly simple, with the hymns, prayers and readings mainly in English but some in the native language, Nyanja. After communion, Archbishop Robert Rivas O.P. led by candle-bearers, thurifer and other acolytes, processed from the newly consecrated altar with the remaining consecrated hosts  to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. There he blessed the tabernacle, placed the Blessed Sacrament in it and returned in procession to the main altar.

After the post communion prayer, His Eminence, Cardinal Felix was invited to offer  a general prayer of blessing over the social institutions which the Benedictine Nuns had built as part of their future apostolate in the area. These included a school, with staff quarters, a medical clinic also with  living quarters for nurses,  a wharehouse  for storage of agricultural produce, a police station and living quarters for two officers and their families. After the Cardinal’s general prayer of blessing Bishop George Lungu, Bishop Benjamin Phiri and a number of priests fanned out with holy water containers to sprinkle and bless each of the social institutions. By the time they returned to the monastery and all settled down to a sumptuous feast, it was 2.00 p.m. The ceremony had started at 9.30 a.m.; yet no one felt like it had lasted four and a half hours!

Likewise, the following day, the profession ceremony lasted five hours. But it was such a grand and joyous occasion, that some of the Saint Lucian pilgrims would ask afterwards, “when did the time pass?” From the entrance procession with dancing ‘Stella girls,’ women from the Catholic Women’s League, traditional Ngoni dancers to the long procession of persons bearing gifts for Mother Pinto and the community after the Mass, it was a wonderful example of Zambian Eucharistic inculturation. The splendid spectacle of devotion, gratitude and thanksgiving was a fitting setting for the permanent consecration of their lives to God by the three Zambian Benedictine Nuns. Supported by their families, their religious community and representatives of almost the whole church of Zambia, they prayed “Suscipe me domine…” (Support me, O Lord…) On this occasion the principal celebrants were Cardinal Kelvin Felix and Archbishop Robert Rivas O.P.

The construction of the monastery, the church and the attendant social institutions in Msupadzi had taken more than five years. The financial contribution of many benefactors - in very special way from the Italian Episcopal Conference at the time when the dearest Enrichetta Michisanti was the General Secretary of the Committee “Help to poor churches” -   had made this ‘work of God’ possible. Drawing the curtains to a close on the two days of celebrations a visibly emotional Mother Pinto lavished praises upon all those benefactors, living and dead. She struggled through a litany of thanks for all those who had supported that dream in one way or another: Cardinal Masombwe, Cardinal Felix, her brother Mgr. Pinto, Archbishop Rivas, Archbishop Murat and his predecessor, Archbishop Nicola Girasoli, Bishop Lungu, Bishop Phiri, the clergy and religious, especially the parish priest of Msupadzi, Fr. Peter Azele and associates, and Fr. Osric Banda and other priest at the Minor Seminary, members of the various planning committees, choirs, etc. She reserved special thanks for “her son”, Ventus Joseph, who had left his family and homeland St. Lucia for the last five years, to supervise the construction of this entire “Citadel of God”. His co-workers from Zambia she thanked profusely along with the architect and workers from Italy.

For the massive crowd who had witnessed it all, it was evident that this was “a day the Lord had made.” And in the works, the celebrations, the atmosphere, in the joyful faces of the people one could almost touch the presence of God.


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