Malawi bishop, two young Zimbabwe priests die in car accidents

Bishop Joseph Mukasa Zuza, President of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, represented Malawi at the Synod on the Family in Rome in October 2014

The Catholic Diocese of Mzuzu in northern Malawi, on Thursday 15th January, lost their bishop through a tragic road crash. His Lordship, Bishop Joseph Mukasa Zuza, who was also the President of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, was driving to his base in Mzuzu, after a visit to his home village. According to the Communications office of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, a rear tire burst and caused the bishop’s car to spin out of control; Bishop Zuza was in the process thrown out of the car. The accident happened at Nthungwa, in the Chikangawa forest reserve.

Further reports by Vatican Radio indicate that Fr. Filiyanus Ekka, a member of the Missionaries of Africa, who was travelling by bus to Mzuzu from the capital Lilongwe, spotted the bishop’s car by the side of the Chikangawa-Nthungwa road in Mzimba district. According to Fr. Ekka, Bishop Zuza was conscious all the way to the hospital; he died at the St. John’s hospital in Mzuzu.

Bishop Zuza was born on October 2, 1955 in Mzimba District, and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Mzuzu on July 25, 1982. Saint John Paul II appointed him Bishop of Mzuzu on March 9, 1995, and he was consecrated on May 6, 1995. In 2010 Bishop Zuza’s diocese was split, with the creation of the Diocese of Karonga, partly out of a desire to ease transportation problems in the area. At the time, Bishop Zuza said the split was “necessary, because it is quite taxing to travel to some places from headquarters”, describing difficult travel on poor roads in all-terrain vehicles to parishes as far as 250 miles away. Bishop Zuza was also the Chancellor of the Catholic University of Malawi (CUNIMA).

The Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa (AMECEA), described Bishop Zuza as “a Bishop who was kind-hearted, cheerful and always available to everyone.” AMECEA is a Catholic service organization for the National Episcopal Conferences of the eight countries of Eastern Africa, namely Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Djibouti and Somalia are affiliate members. Bishop Zuza once served as Malawi Delegate in the AMECEA Executive Board from 2008 to 2011.

Last September, two nuns, Sr. Magreta Raveli and Sr Anna Marie Kwidoti of the Sacramentine Sisters Congregation (from Ntcheu Parish, Dedza Diocese), died after their car collided head-on with a minibus, a few kilometers from the Malawian capital of Lilongwe.

Malawi is currently reeling from the effects of devastating floods, which according to reports have killed over 170 people. Vice-President Saulos Chilima said more than 100,000 people had been displaced from their homes, mostly in the south, with the government declaring a third of the country a disaster zone.

Across the border in Tanzania, the Archbishop of Tabora, Most Reverend Paul Ruzoka, is recovering from injuries he sustained last December after the car he was traveling in with a priest and a nun was hit by a truck. Under his leadership, the Catholic Bishops of Malawi successfully hosted the 18th AMECEA Plenary Assembly, which was hosted by the conference from 16th to 26th July, 2014.

Last October, Bishop Zuza represented Malawi at the Synod on the Family that was held in the Vatican. Speaking to Vatican Radio’s English Service for Africa, he spoke of Malawi’s concerns with regard to Western influences in his country. He expressed serious concerns about some organisations in Malawi that were using money to entice poor young people to adopt un-African lifestyles and unions at the expense of marriage between a man and a woman. “In Malawi, these organisations are using money to influence young people to promote same-sex unions,” Bishop Zuza said at the time.

From November 5-12, 2014, Bishop Zuza led his brother bishops on their ad limina visit in Rome. In his address to the Pope on behalf of the Bishops, he expressed gratitude to God for the growth of the Catholic Church in Malawi and noted that the strength of the Church in Malawi comes from the tireless dedication and collaboration of ministers, men and women religious, and especially lay volunteers and catechists. Addressing the challenges faced by the Church, the bishops spoke of the hostile environment in which Catholics find themselves in certain parts of the world and the growth of the spread of HIV-AIDS among married couples in Malawi. The bishops also noted with regret the increase of policies increasingly reflecting the secular interests of powerful governments and organizations outside Malawi, especially on issues such as abortion and same-sex unions.

In his address to the bishops of Malawi, Pope Francis expressed his “appreciation for the admirable spirit of the Malawian people, who, though faced with many serious obstacles in terms of development, economic progress and standards of living, remain strong in their commitment to family life. It is in the family, with its unique capacity to form each member, particularly the young, into persons of love, sacrifice, commitment and fidelity, that the Church and society in Malawi will find the resources necessary to renew and build up a culture of solidarity. You yourselves know well the challenges and the value of family life, and, as fathers and shepherds, you are called to nurture, protect and strengthen it in the context of the ‘family of faith’, which is the Church.”

Last month, Bishop Zuza officiated at the opening of the 36th Annual General Conference for Catholic Women Organization at Mary Mount Girls Secondary School in Mzuzu. The Nyasa Times reported that in his homily during the opening Mass of the conference, he challenged Catholic women to embrace the spirit of love amongst themselves and to the nation at large. He said women are crucial in advancing the socio-economic development of the society, and when they love one another and their country, the development of both the Church and country is achieved.

Several media agencies in Malawi reported the death of Bishop Zuza, describing him as a courageous man who thirsted for justice and protection of the marginalized, strongly criticizing the roots of the socio-economic problems of the country.

Just two days later, in neighboring Zimbabwe, the Jesuit Communications office reported the death of two young priests belonging to the Diocese of Chinhoyi. Fr. Ignatius Kariati and Fr. Alfred Matonhodze were involved in a car accident, early this morning (January 17th) while traveling from Bindura back to Mt Darwin in Mashonaland Central province, where they were stationed, as assistant priests at Kriste Mambo parish.

Reports indicate that their vehicle veered off the road and hit a bridge. Fr. Kariati and Fr. Matonhodze were ordained priests on September 7, 2013 and August 9, 2014 respectively.

The Requiem Masses for Bishop Zuza and for Frs. Kariati and Matonhodze will take place on Monday, January 19, at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Mzuzu and the Chinhoyi Pastoral Centre respectively. May their souls rest in eternal peace.

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About Allen Ottaro 32 Articles
Allen Ottaro lives in Nairobi, Kenya, where he is a parishioner at St. Paul’s Catholic University Chapel in the Archdiocese of Nairobi. He is a co-founder of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa, and is the former national coordinator of MAGIS Kenya.