South African Award-winning Marriage Counselor Eulogized for Dedication to Ministry

The late Cleopas Ray Vilakazi who, alongside his wife, helped more than 2,000 couples with difficulties in their relationship in the Southern African region. He succumbed to COVID-19-related complications on 24 July 2021. Credit: Fr. Paul Tatu

Cleopas Ray Vilakazi who, alongside his wife, helped initiate more than 2,000 couples into the institution of marriage, has been eulogized as a dedicated marriage counselor.

Survived by his wife, Eleanora (Norah) Elizabeth Vilakazi, Mr. Vilakazi succumbed to COVID-19-related complications on July 24 aged 85.

The South African who, together with his wife, received the “Benemerenti” Medal in 2015, a gold Greek Cross portraying Christ with his hand raised in blessing that is awarded by the Holy Father for long and exceptional service to the Catholic Church, became passionate about the need to safeguard the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony following a 1980 experience.

That year, both Mr. and Mrs. Vilakazi attended the Marriage Encounter (ME) weekend in Johannesburg.


The couple later recruited their former Parish Priest, the late Fr. Michele D'Annucci to also attend ME weekend. They all became passionate about the need to safeguard Holy Matrimony and chose to start off with a better preparation of those who were engaged.

They enrolled with the Catholic Engaged Encounter (CEE) and in 1981, started CEE weekends at Holy Redeemer Vocational Centre in Mmakau.

In an interview with ACI Africa, the Spiritual Animator of CEE, Fr. Patrick Rakeketsi described Mr. and Mrs. Vilakazi as a very dedicated and committed couple.

Fr. Rakeketsi recalled how he facilitated the Papal award for the South African couple, beginning with a letter to Archbishop William Slattery, then Local Ordinary of Pretoria.

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“It took us three years from 2013 to 2015 to establish all the facts, through the Nuncio and the Vatican Congregation for the Laity,” the member of the Congregation of the Sacred Stigmata (Stigmatines - CSS) told ACI Africa Thursday, July 29.

The native of Lesotho added, “The process was eventually completed in 2015, and on 1 May 2015, Mr. and Mrs. Vilakazi were presented the “Benemerenti” medal by Archbishop Emeritus William Slattery at their home parish Holy Cross Catholic Church in Ga-Rankuwa.”

In 1980, after 20 years of marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Vilakazi were invited to attend a Marriage Encounter weekend in Victory Park, Johannesburg, a weekend that marked a turning point in their devotion to the institution of marriage.

Since then, they have helped counsel and prepare over 2,000 couples for the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony, mentoring a comparatively young and very dynamic team of couples as Engaged Encounter Counsellors.


The immediate former communications Liaison officer of SACBC, Fr. Paul Tatu, told ACI Africa that the couple “spent their whole life” initiating couples into the marriage institution having been inspired by the Marriage Encounter weekend they attended in 1980.

Alongside the “Benemerenti” Medal, Pope Francis also accorded the couple the titles of “Lord Cleopas Ray Vilakazi” and “Lady Eleaneora Elizabeth Vilakazi”.

On the account of the immense work done for the institution of marriage, the couple also received, still in 2015, the Freedom of the City of Tshwane, an honor bestowed by a municipality upon a valued member of the community.

Arising from the medieval practice of granting respected citizens freedom from serfdom, the tradition still lives on in countries such as South Africa, the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

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The late Mr. Vilakazi was laid to rest July 29 after his Requiem Mass celebrated at his home Parish, the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Ga-Rankuwa in South Africa’s Pretoria Archdiocese.