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Late South African Archbishop’s Disposition “was that of Yes, similar to Mary”: Bishop

Late Archbishop Abel Gabuza.

The disposition of the late Archbishop Abel Gabuza has been likened to that of the Blessed Virgin Mary who said “Yes” to God’s call, accepting and consenting to the will of God for her life.

“The mission of the Church was more important to him than his ambition and emotional needs. His disposition was that of Yes, similar to Mary,” the President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), Bishop Sithembele Sipuka said in reference to Archbishop Gabuza who succumbed to the second strain of COVID-19 January 17 after a week in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Bishop Sipuka who was speaking Thursday, January 21 at the virtual memorial service of the late Archbishop added, “As we all know, Archbishop Abel presented a reserved personality that belied warmness.”

“His disposition was always that of yes whenever a call is made upon him, not because he felt that he knows it all or he is omnipotent,” the SACBC President said referencing the late Archbishop.

Archbishop Gabuza, Bishop Sipuka added, “accepted and responded to calls because as he liked to say, he was a son of the Church and after accepting he would give it his all, dying to his personal likes and comfort for the sake of the mission and the task he is called to.”

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“In regarding himself as the son of the Church, Archbishop Abel did not identify himself with the complacent and triumphant Church but with the Church as it is called to serve. He did not find satisfaction in being the Archbishop of a powerful Catholic Church but as it is called to serve,” Bishop Sipuka eulogized the late Archbishop.

He continued, “He agonized about complex problems and came to decision after having considered all angles. This is especially true when the matter was about people.”

“In the face of a dilemma, some of his occasional expressions were ‘what can you do, what can we do, what can be done, how do you begin this conversation,’” Bishop Sipuka further said, recalling the late Coadjutor Archbishop of South Africa’s Durban Archdiocese

“Although sometimes, if you are lucky the only response you get from him is a nod and if he responds to your long chat by saying ‘ja, you want to celebrate,’ he had moments of joviality and could be tickled when you tease or flatter him and laugh to tears,” Bishop Sipuka recalled the late Archbishop who reportedly loved jazz music.

Beyond his pleasantness, Bishop Sipuka says the members of the three-nation conference bringing together Bishops and Diocesan heads in South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland will miss Archbishop Gabuza “for his example of total dedication to which a Bishop is specifically called.”

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At the virtual memorial held ahead of the Archbishop’s Friday, January 22 burial, Bishop Sipuka who is the Local Ordinary of South Africa’s Mthatha Diocese went on to eulogize the late Archbishop as a compassionate man of God.

“In dealing with complex situations, he approached them with compassion similar to that of Jesus with its meaning of feeling with, of being moved from the bowels,” the Bishop who doubles as the first Vice President of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) further recalled.

He added referencing Archbishop Gabuza, “He agonized about the challenging situation of people; he got disturbed; and he was an agonizing Archbishop because he cared.”

Archbishop Gabuza’s compassion was also evident when he was at the helm of SACBC’s Justice and Peace Commission, a time during which “his insightful and clearly articulated statements, both in writing and in speech…were informed by this sense of care which sometimes led him to be scathing in his utterances against injustice,” the President of SACBC said.

“In the face of injustice, I have heard him say in disbelief ‘but how can you do that?’ He was pained and flabbergasted by injustice and helped the Conference to take a clear stand against injustice,” Bishop Sipuka recalled during the January 21 memorial service.

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The late Archbishop did all these “because he understood that the mission of the Church is to save and not to destroy, to persuade and lead to conversion, to reconcile and to lead to inclusion of everyone,” the Bishop of Mthatha further said.

“In an age where the attitude of entitlement than duty is given priority, where personal desires and attachment are prioritized over sacrificial service, where individualism prevails over pursuit of the common good, where mediocrity rather than excellence is cherished and rewarded, where slogans are shouted rather than walking the talk and where retaining your life at all costs rather spending it is the order of the day, the departure of Archbishop Abel is a great loss,” the 60-year-old South African Bishop mourned.

He continued, “In this situation, we have lost somebody who modelled with his life the opposite of what we see and inspired with his words commitment and dedication.”

With the late Archbishop having been expected to succeed 79-year-old Wilfrid Cardinal Napier as the Local Ordinary of Durban Archdiocese, the SACBC President bemoaned, “With his unexpected departure, we will forever wonder how the Archdiocese would have turned out under his leadership, and for this reason we are distraught about his unexpected departure”

“Yet distraught as we are and distraught as we should be, we must remember that in the eyes of God, Archbishop Abel has fulfilled his tasks because in God, time is neither here nor there. As one of the famous saying states, ‘in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years,’” Bishop Sipuka said.

He turned to God in gratitude saying, “Thank you, Lord, for the life of Archbishop Abel, for the brotherhood with him, for the work we have tried to do with him and for whatever salvific effect you will bring about by his embracing of the cross of COVID.”

“In making a spontaneous prayer, Archbishop Abel always began by saying ‘God our Father’; may he now experience the fullness of your love as his father. May his soul and souls of all the faithfully departed rest in peace,” Bishop Sipuka noted and implored.

Set to be held at Durban’s Emmanuel Cathedral, attendance to the Friday, January 22 burial of Archbishop Gabuza will be “severely restricted” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SACBC leadership  announced in a January 19 statement obtained by ACI Africa.