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Blessed Benedict Daswa: the South African martyred for rejecting witchcraft

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Blessed Benedict Daswa, who was martyred in 1990, and beatified Sept. 13.

Benedict Daswa, a South African catechist whose Christian opposition to witchcraft led to his murder in 1990, was beatified on Sunday as Catholic leaders praised his heroic witness to the faith. Pope Francis in his beatification decree described him as “a zealous Catechist, all-round educator who gave heroic witness to the gospel, even to the shedding of blood.” When Daswa was declared blessed at the Sept. 13 Mass, the crowd applauded and blew traditional animal horns to celebrate, Vatican Radio reports. About 30,000 people, including Blessed Daswa’s eight children and his 91-year-old mother, attended the beatification at his shrine in his home village of Tshitanini, more than 100 miles northeast of Tzaneen. Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, concelebrated the Mass with many bishops and priests. Millions of Catholics in Africa are believed to have followed the ceremony on television. Daswa is the first South Africa-born Catholic to be beatified. Bishop Joao Rodrigues of Tzaneen praised Dawsa (using his full name), saying that “by his courage and his fidelity to the Catholic faith, Tshimangadzo Samuel Benedict Daswa is a model for all the people in Africa.” Benedict Daswa was born in 1946 and belonged to the Jewish Lemba tribe in rural Limpopo, the northernmost province of South Africa. He grew up observing Jewish customs, then converted to Christianity and was baptized in the Church at the age of 17. He took the name Benedict after the sixth century monk and after Benedict Risimati, his catechist who instructed him in his faith as a teen. Daswa was a husband, and the father of eight. He helped build a parish, and was principal of the primary school and a teacher. He refused to take part in anything related to witchcraft or the occult. This would lead to his violent murder in 1990 at the age of 43, when he refused to join his neighbors in paying a sorcerer who claimed to be able to end severe storms. A group of men ambushed him for his stance; he prayed on his knees as they killed him. According to the diocese investigation into his death, when Daswa saw a man coming towards him with a club to deliver the final blow, he said, “God, into your hands, receive my spirit.” His grave, located in a small cemetery near his home, has become a site of pilgrimage. He was officially recognized as a martyr in January. Mutshiro Michael, 33, one of Daswa’s sons, reacted to the beatification. “Proud is an understatement to describe what I feel,” he told Agence France Presse. He added that he had forgiven his father’s murderers. Bishop Rodrigues said that Daswa’s death “makes him a hero for all Christians in Africa and elsewhere who are struggling to break free from the enslavement of the world of witchcraft.” Cardinal Amato also reflected on the beatified man’s life. “The Holy Spirit transformed this young South African into an authentic hero of the Gospel. His heart was full of love for God and neighbor. Benedict Daswa is like the first martyrs of the Church who, during the persecutions of the Roman emperors, defended their faith with prayer, courage and forgiveness of enemies,” he said in an interview. The cardinal said the beatification invites the faithful “to nourish only feelings of love, of brotherhood, harmony, solidarity beyond any ethnic, social and religious divisions.” A spokesperson for South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, also spoke at the beatification ceremony, as did South Africa's vice president, Cyril Ramaphosa. Pope Francis has declared Feb. 1 as Blessed Benedict Daswa’s feast day. During his Angelus address Sunday, the Pope praised Daswa’s great consistency, his courageous assumption of Christian attitudes, and his refusal of “worldly and pagan customs.” He said Daswa’s witness is united with “the testimony of so many of our brothers and sisters, young, old, children, children, persecuted, driven out, killed for confessing Jesus Christ.” The Roman Pontiff encouraged Catholics to “thank them for their witness and ask them to intercede for us.”

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