By: Fr Damaseke Francis and Gabriel Kamlomo, Episcopal Conference of Malawi
A sea of the faithful and people of goodwill in ceremonially coloured face masks converged on Bembeke Cathedral grounds in Dedza today to witness the consecration of Fr. Peter Adrian Chifukwa as Bishop of the diocese of Dedza and his installation as bishop of the same.
The Episcopal Conference of Malawi now has a new member: new and young. Young in age but perhaps not in mind.
Definitely, not young in responsibility anymore in the local Church hierarchy from the moment Pope Francis appointed him Bishop on May 8th, 2021.
The new shepherd for the Catholic Diocese of Dedza, Bishop Peter Adrian Chifukwa, assumes office three years after his predecessor, Bishop Emmanuel Cosmas Kanyama, who died on February 17th, 2018.
“I am the way the truth and the life” is the Episcopal motto that Bishop Chifukwa has chosen as his guide taken from John 14:6a.
Bishop-elect Chifukwa presented himself in priestly garment before Archbishop Luke Msusa, the Consecrator, to make his required vows on the assumption of the office of bishop.
Bishop Chifukwa is the fifth to run the diocese of Dedza since it stopped being a Vicariate in 1959. The first Bishop was His Lordship Bishop Cornelius Chitsulo who in 1984 was succeeded by Bishop Gervasio Chisendera before Bishop Remi St-Marie came in 1998 as auxiliary Bishop but the Holy See appointed Rt. Reverend Emmanuel Cosmas Kanyama to head the Diocese of Dedza assigning Bishop St-Marie to Lilongwe as Bishop in 2007.
The diocese of Dedza has 17 parishes with three deaneries (Dedza Deanery, Ntcheu Deanery & Lakeshore Deanery) 355 church structures and 1,714 Small Christian Communities (SCC).
CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS
At exactly 9:33am, a joyful procession led by Archbishop Thomas Luke Msusa and the Apostolic Nuncio to Malawi and Zambia, His Excellency Archbishop Gianfranco Gallone, begun.
At 9:50am Bishop Musikuwa of Chikwawa diocese welcomed the gathered congregation on behalf of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM). Then Fr. Paul Kumkumbira read out the history of the Bishop-elect, Fr. Peter Adrian Chifukwa, spinning from 28th August 1973 (when he was born) through 21st May 2021 when he was appointed bishop of Dedza by the Holy Father, Pope Francis, until the 28th August 2021, the day of his consecration and assumption of office.
Consecrator, Archbishop Thomas Luke Msusa, called on all to pray with joy as “in his time, God makes all things beautiful and possible”.
In his moving homily after the scripture readings of the ceremony (Isaiah 6:1-9, Titus 2:1,11-15 and John 10:11-16) Archbishop Msusa reminded the congregation that;
“We have all the reasons to thank God. We foremost thank God for showing us love and mercy, in giving us a new Shepherd in the Church, in particular Dedza, after having a vacant see (Sede Vacante) for three years”.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Msusa encouraged the congregation to not forget to continue praying for the eternal repose of late Bishop Emmanuel Kanyama who, he said, was a selfless servant of the Church in Dedza until his death.
Turning to the new bishop, Archbishop Msusa said: “… be courageous and count on God’s help in your new role as bishop.
“A good leader is one who recognizes God’s holiness and his own finitude. Once a fish *gets rotten* from the head, things fall apart,” Msusa said.
The Consecrator urged the bishop-elect to teach the truth, give hope to all, help all to attain holiness and get salvation and also advance peace, unity and integral development which the Church has preached in the vicissitudes of time.
“Your appointment is a responsibility, not simply power. You are a Shepherd of all,” he said.
The homily landed by thanking all who had played a pivotal role for the bishop-elect to be where he is today.
At 10:55 the actual consecration rites began. The assembly Guide, Fr Gift Selemani, invited Monsignor John Chithonje who, until today, was the Diocesan administrator and Fr. Henry Chinkanda to escort Fr Chifukwa to the main Chapel.
At 11:02 the main Celebrant, Archbishop Msusa asked the Diocesan administrator whether he has a supporting document “the Papal Bull” for the bishop-elect to be consecrated. On its satisfactory production, Fr. Augustine Matchumbuza joyfully displayed the ‘Bull’ before the witnessing people of God.
Fr. Cosmass Kadzombe later read the ‘Bull’ in Latin followed by Fr. Peter White the Diocesan Pastoral Coordinator who read the Chichewa translation of the Bull.
At exactly 11:47 am, the Diocese of Dedza had a Shepherd, a new bishop and indeed a Father figure who had not been available for three years.
When everything was said and done, it was now time for speeches.
Speaking for the first time as bishop, Bishop Chifukwa started by saying “God does wonders”. He clearly expressed his bewildered as to why he, of the many priests in the diocese, had been picked to lead the diocese.
But he quickly reminded all about what John says in 15:16 “you did not choose me, but I chose you”
He thanked the Holy Father Pope Francis through the Apostolic Nuncio to Malawi Gianfranco Gallone for entrusting him with such a huge responsibility. Composed but with a fatherly voice, he outlined unity, self-reliance, charity, promotion of vocations, contact and dialogue as his priority tasks in office.
He finished his speech by inviting all to pray for him as he will conversely pray for all.
On his part, Archbishop Msusa who is also the President of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, thanked the people of Dedza for patiently waiting for their Shepherd, he ganged all to support and pray for the New bishop.
Addressing the state president, Archbishop Thomas Msusa expressed gratitude for honouring the invitation to grace the occasion. He then tackled other social-political issues affecting our country. He called for tolerance and coexistence in the country for the sake of peace and unity, after all, he said, “we are created in the image and likeness of One God. Having thanked the president and the entire government for ably hosting the 41st SADC Meeting, he reminded the president that the price of fertiliser among other commodities has skyrocketed which may affect food production next year. He also thanked the Tonse administration for removing duty on Church construction materials.
Archbishop Msusa finished by thanking the apostolic Nuncio to Malawi and Zambia for playing a crucial role and see to it that Dedza has a Bishop.
“Limba Mtima Mbale wanga” was the apostolic Nuncio’s opening and catchphrase in his speech. Ambuye Chifukwa, do not be afraid, God is with you, he emphasised. Using the words of the Holy Father Pope Francis, the Nuncio reminded the new bishop that “our only strength, is the strength of the Good Shepherd. closeness to God is the living source of the Bishop”
Like Archbishop Msusa, the Nuncio finished by thanking the vicar general monsignor Chithonje for the job well done in the past three years.
14:36pm, the State President rose to addressed the joyous congregation. Today’s celebrating is wiping our tears which we have had over the past three years for losing bishop Kanyama, he opened his speech.
To Bishop Chifuwa, the president had simple words, “khalani akulimbika Mtima” Do not move to the right or to the left.
He reminded the nation that he holds dearly the Catholic Church and Dedza in particular, for he is the beneficiary of Catholic Education, Mtendere Secondary school. He further retaliated to archbishops Msusa’s call for coexistence among the faiths.
He pledged the government’s support towards the Church. Further, the state president called for respect for the elderly and dignity of life “ageing is a blessing, therefore we must respect the elderly”