By Leonard Ncube in Hwange
Hwange Diocese has celebrated 60 years of existence since March 1, 1963 when Pope John XXIII erected the Apostolic Prefecture of Hwange into a Diocese.
Then aged 40, Ignatius Prieto, a priest who had pioneered since 1949 to 1958 the origins of the diocese and had been for five years rector of the seminary that trained missionaries in Spain, was made the inaugural bishop of Hwange.
He was ordained on July 7 1963. After him there have been three bishops in the diocese, whose laity and clergy population has grown tremendously. Archbishop Robert Ndlovu was the first diocesan priest to be ordained Bishop of Hwange and succeeded Bishop Prieto on 9 February 1999.
When he was reassigned to Harare, he was succeeded by Bishop Emeritus Albert Serano whose successor is the incumbent Bishop Raphael Mabuza Ncube who assumed head of the diocese in 2021. Bishop Ncube, with Bishop Emeritus Serano and Archbishop Emeritus Pius Ncube, celebrated the 60th birthday Mass for the diocese which also doubled as an ordination day for the two priests and five deacons last Saturday, 5 August 2023, at St Mary’s Shrine outside Hwange town.
Thousands of Catholics drawn from Binga, Dete, Hwange, Lupane and Victoria Falls deaneries attended the Mass. The Bishop lit a candle and a banner was also presented signifying the 60 years of the foundation of the diocese. The newly ordained priests are Rev. Brian Dube of St. Joseph Makwika and Rev. Pisani Nyoni of St. Mary’s Mission. Brighton Munkuli of All Souls Mission in Binga, Proud Muunga of St. Teresa, Hwange, Randy Tshabalala of St. Josephine Bhakitha, Victoria Falls, Gift Sibanda of St. Johns, Makwa and Steven Zulu of St. Joseph Makwika were ordained as deacons.
In his Homily, Bishop Ncube reminded the newly ordained priests that they were meant to perpetuate the work started many years ago, to shepherd God’s flock and grow the faith. He implored them to be diligent and true to their calling.
“Today is a day to celebrate 60 years which has been combined with the ordination of two priests and five deacons. Those who are being ordained today are meant to perpetuate the work started many years ago. They are all at the service of the people and have only one master who is Jesus Christ. “Their task is to climb the mountain and descend to convey the message. We need to pray for our priests because they share our burdens. But for you the newly ordained, know that God who called you will stand by you, be brave,” said Bishop Ncube.
History of Hwange Diocese as chronicled by the diocesan leadership
The diocesan leadership chronicled the developmental stages of the diocese into five eras starting with the period of the pioneers before 1952. This was followed by the period of the Apostolic Prefecture (1953 to 1962), the 25 years of the Diocese (1963 to 1988), the period of new developments (1989 to 2022) and the celebration of 60 years. The first stages of development in Hwange Diocese saw the development of St. Ignatius School in January 1924 by Fr. Joseph Esser in honour of the founder of the Jesuits, St Ignatius of Loyola.
After 1930 the Mariannhill missionaries who had replaced the Jesuits in Bulawayo regularly visited St. Ignatius. In November 1932 Fr Joseph Kammerlechner made the first trip into the rural areas by bicycle, with the idea of finding a place to open the first permanent mission in Hwange District. A month later Brother Aegidius Fister toured along the Zambezi to assess the area and in early 1933 a decision was made to open a mission station near the Zambezi.
They chose Mapeta village in the Simangani area but there was no road to reach the area and so it was decided to build one in August 1933, and Fr. Andrew Hotze and Brother Mauritius were appointed to open the new mission. Another school St. Peter School at Nekamandama near Lukuzhe river was opened in January 1933 as the first rural Catholic school in Hwange.
By the beginning of 1934 missions were established at Makwa and the first two sisters to go to Makwa Mission where Sr. Reginata and Sr. Notkera both of the Congregation of the Precious Blood, and Mr. Antonio Robo, a catechist who was later burnt down in Mozambique. The first local convert in Hwange was welcomed into the Catholic Church on 23 June 1934 and the first baptism took place on 7 July the same year. It was also in 1934 that Musuna School was opened near Musuna River. St. Mary’s, Lambo, Luseche, Nengasha, Milonga, Kanywambizi, Mbizha were opened.
In May 1949 a group of Spanish Missionaries arrived in Bulawayo Diocese and were posted in Hwange. One year later, Srs. Cecilia, Trinity, Dolores and Mother Jesus, of the Congregation of the Missionary Daughters of Calvary arrived also at St. Mary’s Mission. On 20th June 1953 the Holy See erected a new jurisdiction called the Apostolic Prefecture of Wankie now Hwange comprising the districts of Hwange, Binga, parts of Lupane and Nkayi North of Shangani River.
By the end of 1962, the Apostolic Prefecture of Hwange had twelve mission stations and parishes, 59 Catholic schools, four mission hospitals and over a hundred out-stations. On March 1, 1963 Pope John XXIII erected the Apostolic Prefecture of Hwange into a Diocese, resulting in the 60th anniversary celebrations on 5 August this year.
The elevation of Hwange into a standalone diocese was a sign of appreciation of the work done by the Jesuit, the Mariannhill, the Spanish missionaries, the Precious Blood Sisters, the Daughters of Calvary and the Franciscan Sisters, as well as the strong lay force of committed men and women.
The first profession of sisters from the Daughters of Calvary in Hwange took place in 1969 after undergoing their novitiate in Spain. The church underwent transformation between 1965 and 1970 with the introduction of the vernacular languages in the liturgy of the Church. Then the diocese had four deaneries, Western Deanery, comprising Hwange parishes, St. Mary’s, Sacred Heart and Victoria Falls; the Central Deanery (Dete, Kamativi and Kariyangwe); the Southern Deanery (Tshongokwe, Gomoza and Nkayi); and the Eastern Deanery consisting of four parishes of Gokwe.